Friday, February 24, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2)

Untapped Gris Gris Down in the Bayou

By: John Caro, S. FL ThoroFan Member

Rachel Alexandra Stakes - Grade II - $200K – 1&1/16 miles - 3 Year Old Fillies

Welcome to New Orleans and The Fair Grounds three days prior to Fat Tuesday and the Mardi Gras. The weather should be ideal for the race today with sunshine, light breezes and a dry fast track.

Four of the runners have seen one another in the Silverbulletday Stakes last month for a rousing run through the mud. This may be a different test today. Farrell won by 2.75 over a long closing #6-Wicked Lick and the workhorse of the group, #7-Gris Gris. The new rivals include , #5-Valadorna, the runner up in the BC Juvenile Fillies,  #3-Shane’s Girlfriend, winner of the Delta Downs Princess and the Desormeaux’s California filly, #4-Majestic Quality who remains a maiden after six tries in California. 

I think we will see something similar to the Sulverbullitday as there are three who like to be on or near the front. #7-Gris Gris set the pace throughout last time with good fractions to finish third.  She does good work in front but has been known to reel in rivals when setting off the pace. #2-Farrell is a pace setter or leader when winning and tracked #7-Gris Gris down for the win last out.

#1-Untapped disappointed last time and that may have been the muddy track. She did not run up near the front as her past races show and appeared tired at the mile. With a dry surface she may shine better. Geroux loves this track and I expect #1 Untapped will not be looking at a lot of hindquarters. 

#3-Shane’s Girlfriend looks to go along with the leaders. If that is going to be the scenario I will look for the closing type and for me it is #5-Valadorna. This Curlin filly has the ability to sit late in the running and still progress. She’s been first or second in every outing and done well with Leparoux up. #6-Wicked Lick (love the name) is a plodder who can catch tiring runners but, I wouldn’t count on it for today. #4-Majestic Quality is a mystery to me but Desormeaux ‘n Desormeaux have pulled off some great wins at stakes races. Keith is 14% WINS AND 45% ITM in graded stakes company and a +2.77 ROI. The only person close to that number is Berny Flint (Gris Gris) with +1.22 ROI for graded stakes. 

Let’s bet:
$30 to win #5    $4 exacta  1,5 with 1,5,4,7
$3 trifecta – 5 with 1,2,7 with 1,2,7,3,4

I’m going to save some money out of this race and play the Risen Star.
Good Luck.

Handicapper's Corner: Risen Star (G2)

Rising Derby Contenders in Louisiana

By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers Off

Race 11: Risen Star Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:00pm CST

This year's edition of the Risen Star features a purse of $400,000, as well as 50, 20, 10, and 5 Road to the Kentucky Derby points for the top four finishers.  Inaugurated in 1973 as the Louisiana Derby Trial Stakes, this race was renamed in 1989 to honour Risen Star.  Risen Star won this race in 1988, following it up with victories in the Louisiana Derby (G3) and the Lexington Stakes (G2).  Third behind Winning Colors in the Kentucky Derby (G1) that year, the Louie Roussel trainee returned to his winning ways to take the Preakness and the Belmont that year.  He took the Belmont by a dazzling 14 3/4 lengths, faster than every Belmont Stakes winner up to that point save one: his sire, Secretariat.

Never has the winner of the Risen Star won the Kentucky Derby, though Master Derby (1975), like Risen Star, won the Preakness.  Other notable winners of this race other than its namesake include 2007 Champion Older Horse Lawyer Ron (2006) and 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic (GI) winner Mucho Macho Man (2011).  The Risen Star's most recent winner, Gun Runner (2016), has progressed since his victory in this race.  He won the Louisiana Derby (G2), finished third in the Kentucky Derby, and closed out his sophomore year by beating older in the Clark Handicap (G1).  The race has also had its share of curious winners, such as 135/1 stunner Ive Struck a Nerve (2013), and perennial bridesmaid Dollar Bill (2001), who finished second or third in nine graded stakes (including the 2002 Hawthorne Gold Cup), but captured his sole graded stakes win in the Risen Star.

The Risen Star Stakes drew a field of fourteen horses -- but it is a stratified field of fourteen.  There are "obvious" contenders who make a lot of sense...and for the most part, there are runners stepping up from maiden or weaker stakes company that will need to take a quantum leap forward to contend with the best of this field.

With that out of the way, there is one notable exception: a horse stepping straight out of maiden company who looks ready to take on the big boys.  That's Local Hero, and that's who this space tabs on top.  He raced twice last year, in one-turn maiden special weights on quality circuits, finishing second both times.  He got a two-month break, resurfaced at Fair Grounds, and tried two turns for the first time on January 26.  He aired.  Though that victory came on the front end, he showed enough interest on debut without getting the lead to suggest he may not need the front.  Local Hero also gets Florent Geroux back in the irons -- and Geroux hops off Takeoff, who finished third in the Lecomte (G3), to take this call on the less seasoned Local Hero.  He looks well-intentioned, and has solid upside.  In a competitive field, he gets the nod.

Guest Suite won the local prep, a muddy renewal of the Lecomte, in comfortable fashion over the likes of Untrapped, Takeoff, Arklow, and Shareholder Value.  This will be a reasonable step up in company, but he also has a right to step forward second off his winter layoff. On speed, he looks solid.  He has two-year-old form over dry tracks, as well, good enough to suggest that he is not just another Slop Monster.  On pace, Guest Suite has some tactical versatility, and rider Robby Albarado has been able to sit him either closer or farther from the pace as necessary, and bring him past the wire first.  Trainer Neil Howard emphasized after his victory that the Lecomte was just the first step toward future goals -- and given that Guest Suite appeared to win the race well within himself, those claims have a ring of truth.  A return to that effort makes him competitive here, and a step forward makes him look even better.

Mo Town has not run since winning the Remsen (G2) in November.  The Remsen, admittedly, has been less than franked.  Second-place No Dozing was a no-show in the Sam F. Davis (G3) two weeks ago, and third-place Takaful laid an egg in the Jerome (G3) next out.  But, Mo Town won that race with authority.  Also relevant, Mo Town won the Remsen off a two-month layoff.  Combine that with the sequence of bullet works and trainer Anthony Dutrow's 19% win rate with runners laid off for three months or more, and all signs point to Mo Town being cranked for his three-year-old bow.  Mo Town also keeps John Velazquez aboard; Velazquez rode him to his Remsen win, as well as his maiden win before that.  Expect him to take advantage of Mo Town's tactical speed once again, and get him rolling through the turn.  The price won't be great on the win end, but in multi-race wagers, Mo Town merits defensive use.


#3 Local Hero (4/1)
#6 Guest Suite (6/1)
#9 Mo Town (7/2)

Longshot:  Barring one of the longshots taking a huge step forward, this field looks stratified.  Among the massive bombs, James Graham could possibly have a shot to replicate his Ive Struck a Nerve miracle from four years ago with It’s Your Nickel (with the apostrophe, this time!)...were they not marooned out in the 13-hole.  Instead, for its long shot to watch, this space will try the "Asmussen B" angle with #2 Untrapped (10/1).  Yes, Local Hero may be the new hotness from the Steve Asmussen barn, but he has a solid claim to do well in the Risen Star.  Untrapped finished second behind Guest Suite in the Lecomte, beaten a length and a half.  That was his first start in two months, and his first attempt at a route.  He has every right to be sharper here, and he has fast dirt form from last fall.  He also has tactical speed -- Untrapped won't be right on the front end, but has some versatility in how far off the pace he can be to run well.  Finally, on connections, Asmussen isn't the only person he has going for him.  He keeps rider Ricardo Santana, Jr. from all three of his previous starts.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Southwest Stakes (G3)

Southwestern Cookin'

By: Dylan J

The road to the Kentucky Derby through Arkansas and Oaklawn Park starts with the GIII Southwest Stakes, a Presidents Day tradition. Over the years this race has featured some great horses including probably my all time favorite, Caleb’s Posse. Getting back to this year’s race, we have an interesting field of 13 and with showers likely on Monday, it’s wide open.
Oaklawn Park Race 9 – Grade III 1 1/16  Mile
 Post Time – 6:06pm (Eastern)

Advance Weather: Rain Showers, 70s

The pace of this race is a little tricky to figure out as there are some horses that have never run around two turns, combine that with a potential off track it’s hard to know exactly whose going to go and whose not. It certainly looks like #1 COOL ARROW (12-1) and #3 UNCONTESTED (5/2) are going to go for the lead. UNCONTESTED is going to get plenty of play at the windows as he won the Smarty Jones stakes last start on a sloppy track. You have to use him on your ticket but this is a much tougher race and will not be as easy to wire the field.

#11 ONE LINER (7/2). Trained by Todd Pletcher, he looks to have that perfect stalker running style that you need to win the KY Derby. He has plenty of questions though and betting Pletcher usually comes with a short price. He is stretching out around two turns for the first time and has never run on a sloppy track. Those are easy reasons not to bet a horse at a short price; I’ll use him underneath in exotics.

The horse I’m most intrigued with is #13 CHIEF KNOW IT ALL (12-1). A winner last start over this Oaklawn surface and is a hard-knocking, blue-collar horse. He gives you an honest effort every time, having been floated wide, trapped and blocked in prior races and still manages to hit the board. The outside post does not help but as long as he can save some ground on the first turn and sit mid pack up the backstretch, I like him with the upset.

My Plays:

Win: #13

Exacta: 13/1,3,8,11

Trifecta: 13/1,3,8,11/1,3,4,8,11

Good Luck!