Saturday, October 14, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: E.P. Taylor Stakes (G1)

Quidura Ready for Spotlight in E.P. Taylor Stakes

By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers-Off

Race 9: E. P. Taylor Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one quarter miles on the turf, post time 5:28pm EDT

The E. P. Taylor Stakes is a $500,000, Grade 1 event for filly and mare turf routers ages three and above.  The race was first run in 1956 as the Nettie Handicap, but was renamed in 1981 after Edward Plunket Taylor.  He started in the brewery business, with a brewery he inherited from his grandfather.  After World War II he diversified his holdings into fields such as food, forestry, broadcasting, and advertising through a holding company he formed, Argus Corporation.  When not wearing his business magnate hat, he participated in horse racing.  In the 1930s he began racing thoroughbreds; he and his wife Winifred began breeding them in the 1950s.  His breeding operation, Windfields Farm, is best known for breeding pivotal sire Northern Dancer. 

In addition to this race, the turf course at Woodbine is also named after E. P. Taylor.  Taylor himself won this race twice in the days before it was named after him: with Victoria Regina (1961) and Northern Queen (1965).  From a Chicago racing perspective, the winner of the 1992 E. P. Taylor Stakes is particularly notable: Hatoof, the 1994 Beverly D Stakes winner and onetime Arlington Park stakes namesake.

In a competitive rendition of the E. P. Taylor, local prep winner Quidura gets the nod by a nose.  She handled the Woodbine course well, and even if the going gets softer than that (a possibility with the weather), her score in a soft Valley View (G3) at Keeneland last year suggests she can handle some cut in the ground.  She has the pedigree to adore a mile and a quarter, being by Dubawi with stamina-rich German blood under.  Quidura did get one try at the distance earlier this year, finishing second in the New York Stakes (G2) at Belmont earlier this year.  But, that day, frontrunning Hawksmoor had a tactical edge.  Here, with the anticipated scratch of Sassy Little Lila?  Either Quidura sits right off the overmatched Puca (and possibly Kitten's Roar, who has some back form up front thought has more recently come from a bit off of things), or she herself becomes the one with the pace advantage.  In both cases, she should be well set to break through at the top level. 

Trainer Chad Brown sends a pair up here, Rainha Da Bateria and Fourstar Crook.  Rainha Da Bateria may get the greater attention of the pair, with years of graded stakes experience and a pair of victories at Woodbine. 

But?  It speaks volumes that Javier Castellano -- who rode Rainha Da Bateria to her Dance Smartly (G2) win earlier this meet -- instead takes the call on Fourstar Crook here.  The daughter of Freud gets a class test here, as most of her stakes experience has come against New York-breds.  But, her best races make her a factor here.  Her one graded outing was a good one: a win in the Dr. James Penny Memorial (G3) at Parx, where she beat sharp next-out Yellow Ribbon (G2) winner Cambodia by daylight.  Though Fourstar Crook is an off-pace type, she does not need to rally from the clouds, and she does not need a fiery pace in front of her to show her late-running flair. 

Nezwaah was seventh in this race last year, but she was just a three-year-old at the time.  Given a long winter break after that, she returned in the spring to win easily in handicap company first off the bench, and then left Rain Goddess and everyone else watching her tail in the Group 1 Pretty Polly at Newmarket.  That race was the same distance as today, a mile and a quarter.  She next stretched out to a mile and a half for the Yorkshire Oaks (G1), and though she was beaten five and three quarters lengths, she was only three quarters of a length out of second.  Five lengths behind genuine freak and eventual Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner Enable is not a bad place to be.  Though the ship is the question, she has looked good in the morning, and demands defensive use as the class of the field.


#3 Quidura (3/1)

#2 Fourstar Crook (8/1)

#6 Nezwaah (5/2)

Longshot:  Trainer Mike Maker and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey sprung the upset in last year's E. P. Taylor with Al's Gal.  This year, they have another live upset candidate in #1 Kitten's Roar (12/1).   

The daughter of Kitten's Joy steps back up in class after her easy win in the Ramsey Farm Stakes (named after her owners' operation) at Kentucky Downs last out.  That was a class break for her; she has been holding her own in graded stakes company all spring and summer, including a third-place finish in the New York Stakes (G2) behind Hawksmoor and Quidura.  Kitten's Roar also finished less than two lengths beaten in each of the two Grade 1 races she has tried, the Jenny Wiley and the Beverly D.  She has tactical versatility, able to contest the pace or rally from further back, a positive given that this race has a decent amount of possible speed, but no one-way speed with Sassy Little Lila expected to scratch.  One of her best races puts her right in the picture, and she has been consistent enough and enough different tracks to suggest she will bring her best north of the border.

Handicapper's Corner: Canadian International (G1)

Canadian International - Will there be an Erupt-ion at Woodbine?

By: Nick Costa, Trackside with Trackman

We head north of the border Sunday to visit Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Ontario, the scene of the biggest race of the weekend - the Grade 1 Canadian International. A quality group of horses, three-year old and upward, will travel 1 1/2-miles over the beautiful and spacious E.P. Taylor turf course for the winner's share of a very nice $800,000 purse.

A field of 10 will enter the gate for the 80th renewal of this elite event, including a pair of runners from two of the top American trainers, Michael Maker and Graham Motion. Also, another top name whose horses will grace the grounds at Woodbine on Sunday is legendary conditioner, Aidan O'Brien. The 48-year old Irish trainer, who sends over Idaho for this affair, is certainly no stranger when it comes to winning major world class races. He has amassed 300 of them, which span across four continents and nine countries. Among that success is two Canadian International victories (2002 - 2010). 

O'Brien has won 23 G1 races in 2017, two shy of the all-time record set in a calendar year, held by another legend, the late Bobby Frankel. O'Brien could equal or break the record prior to Sunday as three of his runners participate in G1 events Friday and Saturday in Europe. Another horse that gives the O'Brien team added ammunition is, Rain Goddess, the three-year old filly is entered in the G1 E.P. Taylor Stakes one race before the feature event. 

If the record does fall, this weekend, where will it happen? Europe or Canada? Only time will tell, but of course, hopes are high for the local population that they can witness the record breaking historical moment at Woodbine. 

Since its inception in 1938 when the race began on dirt, the Canadian International has seen its fair share of changes: Location/venue, distance, surface, and purse value. The race was switched over to the grass beginning in 1958. 

Back on October 28th, 1973, racing fans fortunate enough to be at Woodbine, witnessed the mighty Secretariat make his final start in the Canadian International. 
The distance of the race at the time, and right up until 1986, was 1-5/8-miles, and contested over the Marshall turf course, which was situated on the outside of the old dirt track, then would cross over the dirt to the inner turf course. 

It was a real challenge for horses to navigate such a setup, but with Secretariat being such an incredible athlete, neither the soft footing from the rains that were falling, the extra distance of ground, nor track configuration prevented the 1973 Triple Crown champion from winning on that cold, damp, dreary and foggy late afternoon. Big Red romped home, crossing the finish line 6 1/2-lengths in front of his nearest rival. His margin of victory is the widest winning margin in the history of the race.

By contrast, the nose victory by Mutafaweg in 2000 is the smallest winning margin.

The first Canadian International winner over the E.P. Taylor course, was Raintrap, in 1994. His winning time of 2:25.60 is the fastest recorded in the race for the 1-1/2 miles.

Post time for this year's edition, race 10 on the card is set for 6:10pm E.S.T.

Let's look at the participants from the rail out.

PP - Horse - Jockey/Trainer
1 - Oscar Nominated – Julian Leparoux/Michael Maker--He is a bona-fide turf runner who has been very consistent throughout his career. Hasn't really thrown in a start that can be described as a poor performance. Even his two G1 races where he finished seventh and eighth at Monmouth and Arlington, respectively, were good showings as he wasn't beat by all that much in either event. He's been on the fringes of graded stakes success all year and last time out at Kentucky Downs, the drop to G3 company got the job done.

2 - Flamboyant - Joel Rosario/Patrick Gallagher--Following a half-dozen races in France, he arrived here in North America into the care of his current trainer and promptly won his U.S. debut at Santa Anita in a minor stakes. Other than a couple of trips to New York and another to Dubai, he's strictly been campaigned in California. Owns plenty of experience in turf marathons and graded stakes, but this multiple G2 winner hasn't won a race in nearly two years.

3 - Enterprising – Rafael Hernandez/Michael Maker--Spent his entire juvenile and sophomore seasons racing in California where he had some success in listed and black-type stakes. He did manage to win the G3 La Jolla while out west. Registered back-to-back graded stakes victories at the Fairgrounds earlier this in the year, and ran very well when finishing fourth contesting the G1 Arlington Million, despite being in tight quarters in the stretch run. His nine wins from his 33 races have been sporadic and against softer competition.

4 - Idaho - Ryan Moore/Aidan O'Brien--As a three-year old colt last year sporting a fancy record, he was made the betting favorite, but ended up disappointing his backers when finishing fifth. Launched his four-year old campaign with a non-threatening 6th-place finish in the Coronation Cup, then had back-to-back races at Ascot, winning the G1 Hardwicke Stakes and finishing third behind Enable in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. He faltered again as the betting choice in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, then checked in eighth in the 18-horse Arc de Triomphe, captured convincingly by Enable.

5 - Johnny Bear – Luis Contreras/Ashlee Brnjas—Has only raced at three different tracks, Tampa Bay and Gulfstream for winter time and here at Woodbine, where he's based the rest of the year. Made a gigantic leap into G1 company last out in the Northern Dancer Stakes, and the rise in class proved successful when he chased down the leader with a determined stretch run, catching that foe near the wire and getting the victory.

6 - Postulation – Jorge Vargas/Edward Graham--After coming over from Ireland where he won a few races, he's competed stateside for a couple of years before finally breaking through this season with a wire-to-wire score in a minor stake at Delaware Park. Doubled up in the win column with a convincing score in the G3 American St Leger, then lost a tough stretch battle by a head last out at Kentucky Downs. He now encounters the winner of that affair in here. This marks his first Grade 1 appearance.

7 - Bullards Alley – Eurico Rosa da Silva/Tim Glyshaw—Well-traveled with visits to 11 different racing venues, including here at Woodbine back in the summer where he just missed winning the G2 Singspiel Stakes. He's winless this year and has never won above the G3 level. This is his first go at Grade 1 competition.

8 - Messi – Jose Ortiz/Graham Motion--Seven-year old has raced on this side of the Atlantic since last summer after arriving from Germany where he was bred and began his career. He's won a Grade 3 and a Grade 2, so connections are hoping he can finally add a G1 title to his long resume of races. He came close to getting that G1 in the Northern Dancer last start over this turf course, but he was blocked in the stretch, and when finally clear, his rally up the rail was short by three-quarters of a length. He won the 10-furlong Sky Classic Stakes here last summer.

9 - Erupt – Junior Alvarado/Graham Motion--Has earned frequent-flyer miles with stops on three continents. Won the first four races of his career in France in 2015, then didn't win another race for 15-months when he erupted (pun intended) at 12-1 odds to win this race last October. Defending champion is winless in three starts this season although he finished fourth in his seasonal debut in the G1 Prix Ganay behind winner Cloth of Stars, who subsequently was runner-up in the Arc behind filly sensation Enable. 

10 - Chemical Charge – Oisin Murphy/ Ralph Beckett--Irish-bred invader has also made several stops at different racing venues, but over in Europe, where he's done all his racing. Won a Group 3 on the Kempton Park Polytrack last month. He's run very well on turf this year with two wins, two seconds and a third. All but two of his 13 races have been at a-mile-and-a-quarter or beyond. Testing the Grade 1 waters for the first time.


Like any major turf race that involves the Euro's, that where I begin my handicapping assessment. Why?  1) Because runners shipping from Europe are often among the best grass horses in the world, and 2) European shippers have dominated the International in recent years, winning the last six years.

European racing is so far superior to North American grass racing, that horses coming out of the Group 1 events over in England, France, Ireland and Germany sometimes appear to be taking a drop in class when they meet opponents in Grade 1 races on this side of the Atlantic. And when the Grade 1 race here lacks bona-fide North American Grade 1 horses, as is the case in this year's International, the Euro's often hold a distinct class edge.

A quick perusal of the running lines of both Erupt and Idaho indicates the strength of the company they have faced. A few of the opponents they have fared well against are top rated racehorses on the globe that would tower enormously over this field if sent over to contest this affair. 

Erupt, looking to defend his title, enters this race off an identical layoff as last year, and gets first-time Lasix for a high-profile trainer with a high win percentage in the category. Idaho, exiting the Arc de Triomphe, arguably the greatest horse race in the world, where his eighth-place finish in the 18-horse field was far better than it appeared, looks to improve upon last year's fifth-place outing. Both certainly have the class, having proven themselves several times at the highest level of racing, and one of them should prevail here.

Note: There is a 90% chance of precipitation for the Toronto region on Sunday, so the impending weather could factor heavily in the outcome. Erupt, prefers his turf firm, while Idaho’s best results have come on rain softened footing. With that said, I’ll side with the O’Brien runner and hope fans can witness history again.

Some thoughts about a few of the others I will use in exactas and superfectas. Chemical Charge, another invader from Europe, has plenty of experience at this marathon distance with excellent results, and wasn't that far behind Idaho at Ascot. He too goes first-time Lasix. Messi was blocked in the stretch of the Northern Dancer at a critical time, and it may have cost him the victory in the Northern Dancer.

The winner of that race, Johnny Bear, the Woodbine horse that took a quantum leap forward to G1 company, will receive plenty of local fan support, and is currently in the best form of his life. Oscar Nominated just never seems to run a bad race and is always in the mix.

Good luck, and as always, enjoy the race.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Handicapper' Corner: Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1)

Givemeaminit to Figure It Out

By: Laurie Ross, IMT Breds

The Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) has returned to its former glory as a key Breeders’ Cup Challenge race since the switch back to dirt in 2014. The winners of the last three editions of the Breeders’ Futurity carried their form into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. 2014 and 2015 Breeders’ Futurity victors Carpe Diem and Brody’s Cause placed second and third, respectively in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Last year Classic Empire swept both races to complete a Championship season. 

A dozen colts and a lone gelding will contest the 1 1/6 mile race. Ten City is the only contender with experience at the distance and with a race over the track.  Six of the thirteen entrants exit a stakes race. 

Post time favoritism may be split between Free Drop Billy and Givemeaminit. The pair finished a head and neck behind Sporting Chance in the Hopeful Stakes (G1).

Free Drop Billy was the more impressive of the duo, swinging five wide on the turn while Givemeaminit took the shorter route up the rail. Their Trakus final furlong bears this out.  Free Drop Billy’s final furlong of 12.64 was the fastest in the Hopeful.  Givemeaminit clocked a 13.11 while Hopeful hero Sporting Chance was slowing down and timed his final furlong in 13.33. 

Both colts have the pedigrees to handle two turns. #9 Free Drop Billy (Union Rags - Trensa, by Giant's Causeway) is by a Belmont Stakes winner. His distaff line is filled with long-winded turf routers. The Chestnut colt is a half-brother to Hawkbill, an international multiple Group 1 turf router who has been successful at 1 1/2 miles over the lawn. Their dam Trensa is graded stakes placed at 1 3/16 miles on turf. Free Drop Billy’s second dam Serape adds dirt sprinter speed to the pedigree; she captured the seven-furlong Ballerina Handicap (G1) in stakes record time. Train Dale Romans saddled Futurity winners Brody’s Cause (2015) and Dullahan (2011), and Robby Albarado last sat in the Futurity winner’s circle in 2007 on Wicked Style.

#7 Givemeaminit (Star Guitar - Powerful Nation, by Turkoman) is by a three-time Louisiana Horse of the Year. Star Guitar raced for six years and retired with a ten-race win streak. The son of Quiet American won from six to nine furlongs and racked up a 30-24-0-2 race record with earnings of $1,749,862. Givemeaminit is a half-brother to restricted stakes placed Real Dingo and Star Celebrity, both showed ability at middle distances. Star Celebrity bore a stakes placed sprinter, and she’s also the second dam of Seeking the Ante Stakes winner Cause we are Loyal.  Givemeaminit’s dam Powerful Nation is graded stakes placed at 1 1/8 miles.

#4 Ten City (Run Away and Hide - Maiden America, by Rock Hard Ten) has two advantages over his rivals in the Breeders’ Futurity; a victory over the Keeneland dirt and experience at 1 1/16 miles.  The Ken McPeek trainee dragged raced through 4 1/2 furlongs in :51.34 in his mid-April debut at Keeneland, winning by seven lengths. The dark bay colt tried two turns for the first time in the Iroquois Stakes (G3). Ten City raced three-wide near the back of the pack in the Iroquois. He swung six wide on the final turn and, while slightly green, made a powerful, sustained stretch drive, missing the victory by 3 3/4 lengths.  Ten City got his final quarter in 25.54, fastest in the race, and recorded a 1/16 split of 6.78, faster than the winner, Tabulator (7.07). Ten City will be piloted for the first time by Corey Lanerie, who won the Futurity in 2015.
Ten City has a speed over stamina pedigree. Physically, he resembles his damsire Rock Hard Ten.  Ten City is the second foal to race out of an unraced mare. His half-sister won one of two starts over the lawn. Their dam Maiden America is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 Stakes winning turf router Wonder Again, and to Grass Wonder, a Group 1 winner in Japan.

Six Breeders’ Futurity contenders are last out maiden winners. The last two winners of the Breeders’ Futurity were last out maiden winners. Let’s take a closer look at which of this year’s maidens could pull off the upset.

#2 Ezmosh (Tizway - Eagle Island, by Fusaichi Pegasus) has improved his speed figures in each start while adding distance. He wired the field in his final start, getting a mile in a sharp 1:35.59. He traveled his last furlong in 12.62, easily the best in the field. Ezmosh has a miler’s pedigree, and the extra distance should be within his scope. He likes to run on or close to the lead and may have to fight for the lead.

#8 Bourbon Resolution (New Year's Day - Vindicated Ghost, by Vindication) has improved his speed figures in a trio of starts. After two runner-up finishes, the Ian Wilkes trainee won at seven furlongs by 2 1/2 lengths. He’s by a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ out of a half-sister to the speedy multiple graded stakes winners Salute the Sarge and Cherlokee.  Jockey Julien Leparoux won last year’s edition of the Breeders’ Futurity on Classic Empire. Leparoux won three races, including the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (G1) to kick off Keenland’s fall meet yesterday. 

#3 Lone Sailor (Majestic Warrior - Ambitious, by Mr. Greeley) improved tremendously in his second start, swimming off to an eleven-length victory over a sloppy Saratoga track. Lone Sailor’s distaff line is filled with blacktype and filled with Phipps Family bloodlines. His dam is a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Altesse, a winner from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles; Mine That Bird Derby hero Where’s the Moon, and to stakes placed Alchemist, dam of Withers Stakes winner Far From Over, Stakes winning miler Analyze and multiple graded stakes placed And Why Not. This year’s Peter Pan winner Timeline is also a member of the family. Second dam Aldiza was a competitive sprinter, in the money 16 of 18 starts, mostly graded stakes. 

D. Wayne Lukas owns six Breeders’ Futurity trophies, the last was with Consolidator in 2004. Lukas may have lost a step in the stakes department, but every once in awhile the sneaky ahem, codger pulls off the upset. This year, Lukas and the underrated Jon Court team up with #5 Bravazo (Awesome Again - Tiz o' Gold, by Cee's Tizzy). The colt has the pedigree to improve with distance and maturity. He strolled away from a maiden field by 4 3/4 lengths in his last start. Yes, his time was slow 1:38.19, but he wasn’t under pressure and his post-race breeze times have picked up. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

Race keys since the switch to dirt:  Colts exiting the Iroquois Stakes have hit the board in the last three editions of the Breeders’ Futurity. Last out maiden winners won the last two Futurities. Speed folds in the Futurity. In the last three editions, one pace setter held on for third place while the rest were out of the money. Although I didn’t pick him to hit the board, #7 Givemeaminit does have a good shot. We’re going for a price!

#4 TEN CITY (10-1)
#3 LONE SAILOR (12-1)

Anything can and does happen in a large field. So, depending upon your bankroll, you’ll either want to place a few $2 wagers across the board (win, place, show) on logical longshots, have fun with the $0.10 supers and hope you get lucky, or throw caution, and perhaps your money, to the wind and place multiple exotic bets.

So, here’s how I’ll spend ThoroFan’s (fictitious) $100:

$1 Trifecta Key: 4/3, 7, 8, 9/ 3, 7, 8, 9 = $12

$1 Trifecta Key: 9/3, 4, 7, 8/ 3, 4, 7, 8 = $12

$1 Trifecta Key: 7/3, 4, 8, 9/ 3, 4, 8, 9 = $12

$0.50 Super: 4,7,9,8/4,7,9,8,3/4,7,9,8,3 = $48

$6 WPS #5 (odds of 5-1 or higher) 

Total: $90

$10 to drown my sorrows.

Handicapper's Corner: Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI)

Jockey Club Gold Cup: There May be a Few Tears Shed After this Race is Run

By: Michael Amo, ThoroFan Chairman

The Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) race is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Race which entitles the winner automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic to be run on November 4, 2017. The seven-horse field are well established runners. However, none of them have won a previous Challenge race giving them an automatic ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. We can expect a very exciting race with a great deal on the line for each connection.

Morning Line odds have landed squarely on one horse, Keen Ice. Yet, others will easily challenge that status. Let’s look at the rest of the field.

    1.   Diversify (Bellamy Road) is the lone speed out of the gate and may try to wire the race as he did in his last stakes race at Saratoga. Distance and class will be his problem. But, he should not be left out of exotics.

   2.   Highland Sky (Sky Mesa) is the long shot trying dirt after many grass attempts. His performance over the Belmont turf course in the 10-furlong Belmont Derby needs not to be overlooked. Trainer Tagg is not great running turf to dirt (17%). Be cautious.

    3.   Good Samaritan (Harlan’s Holiday) shocked many with his win in the grade two Jim Dandy at Saratoga in August. He regressed in the Travers, but keeps Joel Rosario as his jockey. The 42 day rest since then should have him back in top form. He gets blinkers for the first time –a Mott angle. His age may work against his chances.

    4.   Pavel (Creative Cause) was beaten soundly by Good Samaritan in the Jim Dandy. He came back in the Smarty jones at Parx. That race took a lot to win and with only a 33 day layoff, look for a bounce. Another 3-year-old against older.

    5.   Rally Cry (Uncle Mo) stayed competitive with Gun Runner, until the latter decided to shift gears and run. Without Gun Runner in the race, he will be tough. He regressed slightly last out. Should be ready to run a nice race using his tactical speed effectively.

    6.   Destin (Giant’s Causeway) is trying to regain his 2016 form. His last two suggest that he is on the right path. Jockey Velazquez decision to stay with Rally Cry over him may be the “tell”.

    7.   Keen Ice (Curlin) is a strong 5-year-old that is always competitive. The distance is a plus. His strong Beyer figures and current form validate his morning line favorite status.

The two 3-year-olds in the race, Good Samaitan and Pavel, will be challenged by the more mature. Neither look like the likely winner. Early speed duel between Diversify and Destin might set the race up for a rush down the stretch in the last quarter mile. The benefactors of this scenario will be Keen Ice and Rally Cry. Keen Ice has only one win in 2016-17, although his last could be excused by the stumble out of the gate in the Whitney Stakes (GI). Rally Cry has had only one throw-out race in his last six. Here is how they will likely finish:

    1.   Rally Cry (#5)
    2.   Keen Ice (#7)
    3.   Highland Sky (#2)
    4.   Diversify (#1)

    A.   $20 to win on Rally Cry (#5) ($20)

    B.   $10 exacta box---Rally Cry (#5) and Keen Ice (#7) ($20)

    C.   $20 Exacta ---  Rally Cry (#5) 0ver Keen Ice (#7)    ($20)

    D.   $2 Trifecta Key --- Rally Cry with Keen ice (#7), Highland Sky (#2), Destin (#6) and Diversify (#1)

   E.   $.50 Trifecta Box -- Rally Cry (#5), Keen Ice (#7), Highland Sky (#2) and Diversify (#1) ($12)

That leaves $4 to tip the bartender.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Zenyatta Stakes (G1)

Six Fillies Vie for BC Berth in Zenyatta Stakes

By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers-Off

The day of major west coast Breeders’ Cup preps at Santa Anita gets truly underway with the day’s fifth race, the Zenyatta Stakes.  The race is a Win and You’re In for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.  But, even so, it lacks the flavor of so many of the classy distaff-division races out west: there’s no Stellar Wind, and there’s not even Vale Dori, who always seems to be there to nab the Grade 1 races that Stellar Wind decides to pass.

Instead, this year’s Zenyatta drew a field of six horses headlined by three-year-old Paradise Woods.  The big questions in the Zenyatta Stakes hinge on Paradise Woods: was her massive performance in the Santa Anita Oaks back in April a fluke?  Or, can she find that version again when she returns to Santa Anita, the course over which she has done her best running by far?

Let’s find out.

Race 5: Zenyatta Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 2:30pm PDT

Given her form at Santa Anita, even though it is her first try against older horses, it would be difficult to go against Paradise Woods if she looked to get an easy time on the front end.  Yes, she passed horses in her maiden win, but she passed...maidens.  She wired the Santa Anita Oaks, and last out in the Torrey Pines (G3), she was sunk after she broke poorly and did not strike the front.  Here?  Stretch-out sprinter Rockport Babe reliably shows front-end gas at one turn, making her almost certain to be a gadfly up front in this two-turn race.   

Yes, Paradise Woods is lightly enough raced and young enough to continue to show development, and it would not be a massive surprise to see her survive the front end and carry the day.  But, the price will almost certainly be underlaid, and it make sense to look elsewhere on top if there is a credible candidate.

Faithfully looks the most likely upsetter, and the more attractive win wager.  The four-year-old from the barn of Bob Baffert got the “third behind Stellar Wind and Vale Dori” medal in the Clement Hirsch (G1) two starts back, plenty of class to contend against this bunch.  Her record at Santa Anita is consistent, with two wins and three seconds in six tries, and she has three wins and two other money finishes going a mile and a sixteenth.   

It suffices to say this is Faithfully’s best distance.  Her speeds have taken a step forward through the summer, making her a clear best unless Paradise Woods runs back to her freakish top.  And, Faithfully has proven she can do a thing that Paradise Woods has not done yet: rate and rally reliably.

Of course, Faithfully will not be a real long shot; she’ll likely be the second betting choice behind Paradise Woods.  With Motown Lady an underneath type at best against these types, and Midnight Toast too slow without a massive step forward, it’s Shenandoah Queen who appeals most of anyone off the beaten path.   

The Mountaineer form lines from last year are a bit of a concern, since form from the Mountain so rarely translates elsewhere.  But Shenandoah Queen has won at Gulfstream and Del Mar since moving on from that circuit, and the very fact that she was privately acquired by connections as shrewd as owner Hronis Racing LLC and trainer John Sadler speaks volumes.   Though she was flat in her Del Mar debut, that came over turf – and then she returned to upset the Tranquility Lake Stakes on August 25, over the dirt.  That race had her stalking, dueling, and proving best – suggesting that she could get first run on the likes of Rockport Babe and Paradise Woods, and that she may have the guts to make the more lauded candidates at least have to work for it.

#1 Faithfully
#4 Paradise Woods
#6 Shenandoah Queen