Thursday, March 27, 2014

Down to the Wire: UAE Derby, Florida Derby, & Louisiana Derby

We Miss Artie stamped himself a spot in the Kentucky Derby via his win in the Spiral Stakes last week and runner-up Harry's Holiday was one of ten late nominations following his good showing in the fifty point prep at Turfway Park. In the Sunland Derby, the Bob Baffert duo of Chitu and Midnight Hawk finished one-two and although I don't believe they can stay for ten furlongs, these are two horses who always seem to run well and that's commendable. 

3/29/2014: Meydan Race 4 -- UAE Derby (all weather, about 9.5f):
My choice in here is the Aidan O'brien trained Giovanni Boldini, who most recently finished second behind Outstrip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. I discussed this race, as well as, the full Dubai World Cup card in detail in my Dubai World Cup Preview and Picks post.

3/29/2014: Gulfstream Park Race 14 -- G1 Florida Derby (9f):
A big race with rain potentially in the forecast makes for an interesting dynamic for the marquee race of the Spring at Gulfstream Park. Cairo Prince will be the heavy favorite here and deservedly so. A multiple graded stakes winning son of red hot sire Pioneerof the Nile, Cairo Prince's only loss was when he lost to Honor Code by the smallest of margins in the Remsen. His draw will be a tricky one, however, as he drew stall three and will start between probable pace setter Constitution and Wildcat Red, who should also be forwardly placed. Cairo Prince has relished running on the outside in the clear in all of his runs and will likely be forced inside and behind horses and while he's more than capable of handling those circumstances, playing a horse at short odds who will likely be forced into a situation he's yet to encounter is usually a bad bet. Constitution has shown himself to be headstrong and he'll do whatever he needs to get the lead, which probably won't bode well in a race such as this that appears to be loaded with speed. Wildcat Red and General a Rod have gone toe-to-toe all year and to me are the ones who I'm looking at to run a big race here. Both of them have distance concerns (as does just about everyone in this field) and both run their best races when on the front end early, so I do expect them to be forwardly placed. If they make the Derby gate, I believe General a Rod has more upside of the pair of them and he's the one who would interest me more as a Derby prospect, but in this race I'll side with Wildcat Red. The Fountain of Youth winner, Wildcat Red has won two straight, he's shown an ability to rate just off the pace in the past, and he should be able to save ground along the rail. Velazquez gets the mount.

Pick: Wildcat Red to win
Bankroll Play: $10 on Wildcat Red to win

3/29/2014: Fair Grounds Race 11 -- G2 Louisiana Derby (9f):
Many of the contenders from the Risen Star return here, but a longer distance and much different post positions for the top runners should provide for a different result than we saw last time around. Vicar's In Trouble had no chance when drawn out wide in the Risen Star. He rated off the lead in that race, which was a change from what we had seen from him prior to that run and he made a big move going into the far turn to get close to the leaders. When he was unable to snag the lead, he looked like he may have given up a little and he did come home a bit flat, so it will be important to see how he handles the extra half furlong here. Albano was forced to the lead when he drew the rail in the Risen Star. I'd expect him to go back to his pressing style here, but drawing outside does not help his cause especially considering he tired late in the Risen Star. The winner of the Risen Star Intense Holiday also returns in this spot. I expect him to run well here, but he'll be a short price come post time and drawing the rail probably won't help him much, as he tends to make one sweeping move along the outside. In Trouble is a newcomer to the Fair Grounds who most recently finished a close third behind Samraat and Uncle Sigh in the Gotham, but the probable pace scenario will not be in his favor with Rise Up and Vicar's In Trouble likely joining him on the front end. Commanding Curve is incredibly intriguing to me in this spot. With Rise Up and In Trouble mixing it up on the lead, Commanding Curve should get a solid pace to close into. The Risen Star was his first start since November and he had a similar wide, plodding, but closing type of a trip to Hoppertunity in there. He should improve off that effort, he's put in a number of five and six furlong works recently, and should be fit and ready to go here. Whether or not he's fast enough to compete will be the question, but unlike many of the others, I'm not concerned about the distance with this son of Master Command.

Pick: Commanding Curve to win, place, show and Exacta Box: Commanding Curve & Vicar's In Trouble

Weekend Quick Picks for Saturday, March 29, 2014:

Dubai World Cup: Picks for the Dubai World Cup races can be found on my Dubai World Cup Preview and Picks post

Gulfstream Park Race 2 -- Allowance Optional Claiming: #6 Kaigun  (scratched)
At this course and distance, Kaigun is as consistent as they come. He appears to have steadily improved since the Fall and he nicely used his speed to win a $62,000 optional claimer last time out. Back in November, he finished a good third in a G3 at Churchill Downs behind River Seven and Frac Daddy, so there's no reason to think this step up in class will be too much for him.

Gulfstream Park Race 6 -- G2 Gulfstream Oaks: #6 In Tune
Daughter of Unbridled's Song is undefeated in two starts, her most recent of which was over 8.5f in a NW1 allowance in which she easily defeated a field of nine. She has all the looks of a filly who's getting hot at the right time and she should be in control of the early speed again here.

Gulfstream Park Race 9 -- Allowance Optional Claiming: #1 Danalin
I've been a fan of this daughter of Curlin since her debut and although she hasn't won since then, she has run well aside from a foray onto the dirt, in which she struggled. She returned to the turf last time out and closed strongly to finish fourth, beaten 1 1/4 lengths after encountering trouble at the start. She returns to the same course, distance, and level here.

Fair Grounds Race 10 -- G2 New Orleans Handicap: #8 Palace Malice
It's been billed as the showdown between Palace Malice and Normandy Invasion, both of whom won their most recent starts going a mile at Gulfstream. Normandy Invasion may be more well meant in this spot and Palace Malice did have to really work to win last time out, whereas Normandy Invasion had an easy prep over a smaller, weaker field. Normandy Invasion gets the slight weight edge and if he were ever going to beat Palace Malice, it would be here, but I think Normandy Invasion will ultimately go off favored, which is why I'll side with the Pletcher trained son of Curlin.
**Suggested Double: 8 / 6,7

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dubai World Cup Preview and Picks

After a fantastic Carnival season at Meydan, it's finally time for the prestigious Dubai World Cup meeting. Although this meeting is light on it's number of American participants, there are still a few who've made the trip from the States and, regardless, this looks to be an exciting race card filled with competitive races from top to bottom. 

Godolphin Mile (AW, about 8f):
Defending champion Soft Falling Rain is the superstar in this field and another win from him wouldn't surprise. He'll improve off of his ninth place showing last time out, but I'm not sure that will be enough to get it done in this spot and at what will be a short price, I'll pass. On form, the ever consistent Variety Club would've surely been his primary competition, but he drew an absolutely brutal post and that will be tough to overcome. Ultimately, I'm going to side with Shuruq, who won the Burj Nahaar, which is a primary prep for this race. She won twice at this distance this year at Meydan and her only poor run this year was when she gave it a go on the turf.

Pick: Shuruq to win

Dubai Gold Cup (Turf, about 16f):
Simenon will make his second start of the season after finishing fifth in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy, and while I wouldn't be incredibly concerned about his draw if you're a fan of last year's fourth place finisher in the Melbourne Cup, personally, I'm not sure he's good enough to beat defending champion Cavalryman. He my be eight-years-old, but this son of double Eclipse and International Stakes winner Halling looked fit and ready when winning the Nad Al Sheba and there is no reason to think he won't improve off of that effort.

Pick: Cavalryman to win

UAE Derby (AW, about 9.5f):
Although Long John seems to be the talk of the town following his big win over Emirates Flyer last month. For me, this one is all about the Aidan O'Brien trained Giovanni Boldini, who most recently finished second behind Outstrip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Last year, O'Brien took another War Front in Lines of Battle and made the BC Juv Turf to UAE Derby work splendidly. He finished just behind two of the best two-year-olds around in Outstrip and Toormore in his two starts that he didn't win last year and to me, he's the obvious choice given his form and his trainer's record in this race.

Pick: Giovanni Boldini to win

Al Quoz Sprint (Turf, about 5f):
Defending champion Shea Shea looks incredibly tough in this spot. He won the Meydan Sprint over Ahtoug in what was his first start in over six months last time out and he's one of the best there is on turf at this distance.

Pick: Shea Shea to win

Dubai Golden Shaheen (AW, about 6f):
It's hard for me to see past the market leaders, Rich Tapestry and Sterling City, both of whom have primarily run on the turf at Sha Tin. There's little doubt that Sterling City is the more talented and consistent of the two, but Rich Tapestry is proven over course and distance and for that reason, he gets the nod.

Pick: Rich Tapestry to win

Dubai Duty Free (Turf, about 9f):
While Dank and The Fugue may be more well-known to us in America, Just A Way is the one to watch here. Not only is he incredibly consistent against top competition back home in Japan, but he appears to be entering here on top form after most recently winning the Nakayama Kinen with style.

Pick: Just A Way to win

Dubai Sheema Classic (Turf, about 12f):
From a handicapping perspective, this race is a mess. It looks to be quite a competitive contest, but several of the top contenders are drawn out wide, which makes it tough to decide who will ultimately get the win. Gentildonna finished second behind the dearly departed St. Nicholas Abbey in this race last year, but she has not ran nearly as well since then and she finished a disappointing sixth in her prep race last month. Cirrus Des Aigles drew stall fifteen, which all but seals his fate. Breeders' Cup Turf winner Magician was one of the only favorites who survived the draw, but why go with him at a short price, when fellow BC Turf runner Twilight Eclipse will likely be a massive price. Although he finished sixth (2 1/4 lengths behind Magician) in that race, his run was much better than it looks on paper. Entering into the far turn, Twilight Eclipse was running just inside of Magician, but running room was a bit tough to find and it wasn't until he shifted to the outside behind Magician about halfway down the stretch that he started to close like a freight train and appeared to finish the strongest of everyone save the winner. Since then, Twilight Eclipse has done nothing but win and he does hold a recency edge over top competitors Denim and Ruby and the aforementioned Magician. Typically, taking American horses on the turf versus international fields is a bad idea, but this may very well be the perfect setup for one of our own to finish on top.

Pick: Twilight Eclipse e/w

Dubai World Cup (AW, about 10f):
His post isn't ideal, but with a few of the big guns including Ruler of the World and Red Cadeaux also being drawn wide, the thirteen stall may turn out to not be as bad for Mukhadram as one would think. Last season, he was competitive against some of the best in England, having finished only a neck behind Al Kazeem in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot and he backed that up with a third behind Al Kazeem and Declaration of War at Sandown, and a win over Grandeur and Arlington Million runner-up (after DQ) The Apache at York. His only disappointing showing was his most recent start, which was in the Champion Stakes at Ascot, but that was over soft ground, on which he does not do his best running. The only question is whether or not he'll take to the Tapeta, having only run on turf to this point, but progeny of Shamardal have historically done very well on the all weather. Chief threats could be Akeed Mofeed and Military Attack, but they have also only run on turf to this point and I'm not nearly as high on their chances to carry their turf form to the all weather. Ruler of the World is perhaps the most talented in this field, but he probably wants further and he is another one who is unproven on this surface.

Pick: Mukhadram e/w


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On the Outside Looking In: Kentucky Derby Edition

It's hard to believe we're only a little over a month away from the Run for the Roses, and yet somehow, someway it's true. This week spells the start of the all-important final round of 100 point prep races, which will be the "make it or break it" point for many hopefuls who have yet to garner enough points to make the starting gate. Below are five horses who do not yet have enough points to run in the big one on the first Saturday in May, but could prove to be major players should they earn the necessary points in their finals preps. 

1. Bobby's Kitten (0 points)
Expected Next Start: Blue Grass Stakes
Scoff if you'd like, but in a year where the Frontrunner, Cashcall Futurity, Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and Remsen winners have already been declared "Off the Trail," a son of Kitten's Joy remains as one of the few members of this three-year-old crop who has proven class, as he has a G3 to his name along with a third place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. His most recent run, which was over a mile on the turf at Tampa couldn't have been more impressive. He settled nicely on the lead, set reasonable fractions (which was a big improvement from his BC Juv run) and easily dispelled of a good horse in Global View without really being asked. Unlike some of the other Derby hopefuls, this son of Kitten's Joy seems to have matured mentally since the end of his two-year-old campaign. Whether or not he will take to the dirt remains to be seen, but in my eyes, everything seems to point to him running a big one in the Derby if he's in the field.

2. Tonalist (0 points)
Expected Next Start: Wood Memorial 
If you were ever wondering if there exists a Tapit who isn't a complete headcase, the answer is yes and this handsome bay would be that colt. He impressively broke his maiden after rallying five wide to win a nine furlong Maiden Special Weight by four lengths and he followed that up with a nice runner-up finish behind Constitution in an Allowance. In that most recent Allowance run, Tonalist showed much more early speed than he had shown in his prior starts (likely due to the clearly biased nature of the main track at Gulfstream that day). Regardless, that's a versatility that few of the Derby hopefuls have displayed to this point. He's bred to go long on the dirt and prefers to run as a closer. Given all of the speedy, sprinter-types who already appear to have enough points to make the Derby gate, he appears to be one who could relish the likely Derby pace scenario if he can secure a spot in the field.

3. Cairo Prince (14 points)
Expected Next Start: Florida Derby
It's hard to believe this son of Pioneerof the Nile likely does not have enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby just yet, given that he's a multiple G2 winner, but he hasn't run (by design) since his win in the Holy Bull in January, so he finds himself in a scenario where he will likely need to finish in the money in order to secure himself a spot in the Derby. On paper, he's clearly the most accomplished of this crop at this point, but whether or not he will continue to progress remains to be seen. The biggest question mark on him in my book is that he has never ran behind horses in a race. That hasn't proven to be an issue for him to date, but I doubt he'll stay ten furlongs if he has to run four-wide in the clear all the way around Churchill Downs. Here's to hoping we see what he's really made of in what will be likely be a very speedy Florida Derby.

4. Giovanni Boldini (0 points)
Expected Next Start: UAE Derby
He may be an Aidan O'Brien trainee, but Giovanni Boldini is in fact the 2013 West Virginia Horse of the Year. Should he finish in the money in Dubai and make the trip to Louisville, I would expect him to be more competitive than UAE Derby winners of years past. Not only are there dirt influences in his pedigree, but don't forget that a fellow War Front in Declaration of War took to the dirt, albeit at Santa Anita, just fine in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Giovanni Boldini has ran well in tough company, in that he finished third (four lengths back) of the highly regarded Toormore in a G1 at the Curragh (in what was only his second career start) before winning a listed stakes and then finishing second to Outstrip (and ahead of Bobby's Kitten) in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. International travel clearly isn't an issue for him and he's another who could very well be one of the few off the pace horses if the Derby pace scenario shapes up to be loaded with early speed, as is expected.

5. Noble Moon (10 points)
Expected Next Start: Wood Memorial 
Last time we saw Noble Moon, it was when he put in a winning effort to take the one mile and seventy yards G2 Jerome at Aqueduct. It was hardly a breathtaking run, but given he was being run nearly six weeks later than was originally planned after him breaking out in hives forced him to be scratched from the Remsen, it was a solid effort. It's unclear if he'll run in the Wood Memorial after he was off the work tab for parts of January and February, but the work reports on him are promising and he may very well be rounding into shape at the right time. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spiral Stakes + Sunland Derby Day Preview and Picks

In last week's Kentucky Derby preps, we saw the emergence of a new player in Hoppertunity, who ultimately survived a very physical four-way tussle on the wet fast track at Oaklawn Park. While he ran a fantastic race, I'm not so sure I'm on board with him as a Kentucky Derby contender being that he never ran as a juvenile and would likely be making his sixth start of the season in the Derby, assuming he runs in one more prep. Tapiture, on the other hand, stole the show for me in the Rebel. I had previously mentioned that although he had shown to be physically talented, I wanted to see more mental strength from him. Ultimately, Tapiture settled nicely behind horses before having to force his way through what was perhaps a non-existent opening down the stretch and he showed an incredible ability to manage chaos in doing so. That's a trait that I look for in all of my Derby candidates who aren't front runners. None of the others overly impressed me, Ride on Curlin did well riding the rail on a wet track that I think he enjoyed and Strong Mandate showed once again that he wants no part of ten furlongs, but on to this week. 

3/22/2014: Turfway Park Race 11 -- G3 Spiral Stakes (9f, polytrack):
El Camino Real Derby winner Tamarando highlights a solid field of twelve in what will be one of the final two fifty point Kentucky Derby preps. The aforementioned son of Bertrando has been one of the most consistent performers on this year's Derby trail. In ten career starts, seven of which have come on synthetic tracks, he's only finished outside of the top three once (finished fourth in his debut). He's never going to be the flashy type, but he's a deep closing grinder who always seems to find a way to get himself into the mix when it matters. The Todd Pletcher-trained, Ramsey-owned We Miss Artie returns to the synthetic after finishing a disappointing eighth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. He did make a nice middle move in that race although it did not make much of an impression on that day's biased track at Gulfstream. It's worth noting he won his only race on synthetic, the Breeders' Futurity, as a juvenile at Keeneland last October. The last of the "big names" in this race is Almost Famous, a son of Unbridled's Song, who will likely be the pace setter in this race. He ran very well to finish fourth despite being forced to set a solid pace in the Holy Bull and his last run can be excused, as he was steadied at the start. Personally, I'm intrigued by Solitary Ranger, who ran big in victory locally last time out when beating Poker Player and Harry's Holiday in the Battaglia. I am slightly concerned about him and Almost Famous being drawn next to each other, as that makes for a realistic possibility of a duel, but if that is avoided, he should be a major player at a decent price. Despite having not run in a major prep to this point, he did finish second behind highly touted juveniles Pablo Del Monte and No Nay Never last year and he easily won a G3 at Arlington over Whyruawesome. If he runs back to his form last time out, that should be enough to seal the victory.

Pick: Solitary Ranger to Win

Bankroll Play: $10 on Solitary Ranger to Show

Weekend Quick Picks:

3/23/2014: Sunland Park Race 3 -- Allowance Optional Claiming (OC 50000b): Forest Mouse has won two straight, the most recent of which was going 6.5f locally. He's eligible to improve in his second start off the layoff and given his form, he should relish stretching back out to a route. Last year, he finished just two lengths behind Suggestive Boy in the G1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile and he's won locally going further. Jaycito being in the field all but ensures him from getting bet down any further. (ML 2/1)

3/24/2014: Sunland Park Race 4 -- Allowance Optional Claiming (OC 12500n1x): Last year, this track was souped up for speed, so it will be important to pay attention to the earlier races to see if that will be the case again this year. Unbridled Giant looks to be the lone speed in this one and although he hasn't won in a while, he was pressured early up front in nearly all of his recent starts. If he's let go on an easy lead here, watch out and if the track is speed favoring, he's your single. (ML 7/2)

3/24/2014: Sunland Park Race 5 -- New Mexico Breeder's Derby: Another horse who appears to have an inherent speed advantage D E Lover lines up here. He most recently won over 6f locally and does step up in class here, but he's ran in tough company having faced the undefeated multiple stakes winner Proceed on more than one occasion. (ML 5/2)

3/24/2014: Sunland Park Race 8 -- Sunland Park Oaks: While all of the hype surrounds the Baffert-trained Awesome Baby, I quite like Empress of Midway in this spot. She's only run twice in her career and could very well improve in what will be her third start and first time routing. Although Mike Smith chose to stay on the Baffert runner, she does get Velazquez aboard and her speed figures to suggest she fits. (ML 7/2)

3/24/2014: Sunland Park Race 11 -- Sunland Derby: Baffert trainees Midnight Hawk and Chitu have shipped in from California and will surely be major players in this official Kentucky Derby prep race. Of the two, I prefer Chitu who finished second to Candy Boy in the Robert B. Lewis last time out, although I'm not completely convinced of his ability to get the distance. I'm instead going to take a flier with Rebranded, who finished third in the Strong Mandate/Tapiture MSW in what was his juvenile debut. He's been bet heavily in all of his starts and appears to be getting better with time. He most recently finished second to the undefeated Proceed over 8.5f locally and he enters this after having posted a bullet local 5f work. (ML 12/1)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Down to the Wire: Rebel Stakes

Last week, we had two wire to wire winners on opposite ends of the country in Ring Weekend and California Chrome. California Chrome, winner of the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita was incredibly impressive, although after two massive efforts in a row, I wonder if perhaps he's peaked too soon. Ring Weekend, who was gelded at the start of the year, is a very interesting prospect, who seems to be getting good at the right time. This week, we have the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. 

3/15/2014: Race 10 G2 Rebel Stakes (8.5f)--
A smallish, but talented field of eight lines up at Oaklawn for the Rebel. The likely favorite will be Tapiture, who to this point has shown me he needs everything to go his own way in order to win. If Strong Mandate, who lines up to his outside, outbreaks him and gets to the lead, forcing Tapiture to possibly settle behind a wall of horses, that could be troublesome for Tapiture who looked uncomfortable when in a similar position in the Iroquois as a two-year-old. If he doesn't get boxed in along the rail, however, Tapiture will be very tough to beat. I couldn't consider Strong Mandate for the win after his run in the Southwest, however, unless it rains because his best race to date was on a sloppy track. Kobe's Back is very interesting coming off his big win over Cherubim and Rprettyboyfloyd in the San Vicente. He's only gone two turns once, but he clipped heels in that race, so it's tough to gauge whether or not he'll get the distance. That being said, if he gets the distance, the pace should be in his favor and even if it rains, his pedigree suggests he should be able to handle a wet track. Ride on Curlin is one to consider after finishing third despite a horrendous trip in the Southwest, but the fact that Calvin Borel jumped off him to ride Street Strategy is a bit off-putting.

Pick: Kobe's Back to win

Bankroll Play: $2 exacta wheel: 3,8 / 2,3,4,5,6,8

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The "Dirty" Attitude of American Racing

This is not Europe or Australia, where the Frankels and Black Caviars are revered; where greatness comes in all forms. This is America, where the classics, the classic distances, and the dirt reign supreme; where grass milers and sprinters will always be segregated and discriminated against in the history books -- Steve Haskin in "Another Opportunity for Wise Dan"

If there is one thing I've come to realize since I've followed American racing more closely, it's that this quote couldn't be more true. Whether it be the announcement that Del Mar would be swapping it's synthetic track for traditional dirt, a general lack of interest in international races, or Wise Dan's lack of respect in the American racing community, it's clear that if you're not a ten furlong dirt runner, you simply don't belong.

I understand the thought behind it all. We are a racing nation, which was built on good old fashioned dirt, it fits with our traditional blue collar values and ten furlongs, well, our most prestigious races: The Kentucky Derby, The Santa Anita "Big 'Cap" Handicap, Travers Stakes, and the Breeders' Cup Classic are all run at that distance. It's only natural that one would give attention to horses who run in those races, but why does it have to be at the expense of everyone else?

Take Wise Dan, for example. There was no question he has been the most consistent runner in America for the past three years, and yet he is still unable to gain the respect from the racing community that he deserves for no other reason than him being a turf miler. "He isn't challenging himself," say some. "Who is he really beating anyway," say others. "Who cares if he wins when it's on the grass?" Wise Dan is one of the few horses who has won graded stakes on turf, All Weather, and dirt. He's as versatile as any horse we've seen in recent years and has had more success than any recent runner on every surface imaginable, and yet, he's apparently not good enough. Animal Kingdom didn't get the same criticism, although being a Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup winner surely aids his case, and yet in their one meeting, Wise Dan emphatically defeated the Derby champion on one of the biggest stages in American racing, but that's not enough to gain the respect of his own country.

If turf is such an inferior surface, why not suggest all of the best dirt runners take a crack on the green stuff. There's no arguing that Tiznow and Funny Cide are two of the best horses in recent times, but of course, nobody suggested they have a go on the turf, that would be ludicrous. And yet, Wise Dan, who has by far been the most versatile of that trio, whilst still being just as, if not more, dominant than his peers as those two greats, is repeatedly bashed.

Yes, the traditional American horse is a dirt router, but why do outdated traditions dictate our contemporary thoughts?

Perhaps the 'Sport of Kings' needs to get in touch with reality, for it's own sake and for the sake of gaining back the respect of the international community. This unnecessary need to cling onto "what is American," whilst bashing every race and every horse who doesn't fit the bill is only hurting the sport, and yet so many of us are willing and ready to take a "my way or the highway" approach when it comes to this issue, and instead of working with the other nations to create truly international racing meetings that will garner the attention of the "big dogs," we're the stubborn thorn who's not only unwilling to cooperate, but innately judgmental of those who aren't on our side.

I may not have been alive when Secretariat ran his historic Belmont Stakes or when Damascus and Dr. Fager went toe-to-toe, but I have the utmost respect for American racing history and for the people and horses who made the sport what it is today.

That being said, I firmly believe we're in the wrong, and that greatness does in fact come in all forms.

Nobody told Michael Jordan he needed to become a center to be the best basketball player of all-time, Wayne Gretzky never had to take a crack at goaltending to cement his status as a hockey legend, heck, Steve Prefontaine didn't line up in the 100-metre dash and yet we still acknowledge his legendary track prowess.

So why can't the same apply to racing? Why can't we simply celebrate horses like Wise Dan, Groupie Doll, or Speightstown as some of the best of their generation instead of giving ridiculous reasons as to why they aren't among the best ever (as if any of us truly has the authority to dignify one as the best of all-time)?

Why can't we be accepting of international horses and take interest in the Treves, Gentildonnas, and Lord Kanaloas of the world instead of acting as if their races aren't important because they aren't run on our surface of choice?

Let's face the facts. Our races are no better than anyone else's because they're run on dirt and the more we tear down our own horses, the more we deprive ourselves of great stories that could possibly catch the nation's attention. Heck, who's going to support the Wise Dans, Mizdirections, and Midnight Lutes of American racing  if we, as the American racing community, don't wholeheartedly support them ourselves?

It's sad to say, but we're killing our own sport, alienating ourselves from the international racing community, and talking trash on our own horses and until we adjust our attitude, it's all downhill from here.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Down to the Wire: Tampa Bay Derby + Quick Picks

Last week, Samraat and Uncle Sigh dueled once again and In Trouble rode along the rail to join in on their showdown. Ultimately, Samraat got the best of our choice Uncle Sigh, who finished second once again. Both of them are expected to make their final Kentucky Derby prep appearance in the Wood Memorial, so it will be interesting to see if they duel one more time. This week, we have a great lineup of races across the country, so without further ado, let's get to the picks. 

3/8/2014: Tampa Bay Downs Race 6 (8f, turf)--
If you follow me on Twitter or watch our Down to the Wire videos, then you probably know I'm a big Bobby's Kitten fan and that I definitely view him as a potential Kentucky Derby horse. Unless he has trip troubles here, I think this should be a pretty straightforward race for him. He has a distinct speed advantage over the rest of this field and you'd think his early speed will be put to good use with him breaking from the rail. There is another speed horse in this race, in first time router Cool Cowboy, who could give Bobby's Kitten a bit of trouble up front, so it will be interesting to see how the son of Kitten's Joy handles that situation if it arises. Global View, a half million dollar son of Galileo, has garnered some attention here, but he probably needs that potential speed duel to happen if he wants to catch Bobby's Kitten and he'll most likely be an underlay in the betting. While I believe this race is Bobby's Kitten's to lose, a show bet on Ride Away, looks to be the play. He'll likely be overlooked in the betting and he had an impressive come from the back run along the outside of a large field over course and distance last time out. It's a tough ask for him to get the win, but he could definitely finish underneath and may very well pay similar (or better) than the winner in doing so.

Pick: Bobby's Kitten to win
Suggested Play: Show bet on Ride Away

3/8/2014: Tampa Bay Downs Race 9 (9f, turf)--
This race includes several fillies and mares who were either bred in Europe or have been running overseas. My choice of those is Riposte, a daughter of my favorite turf sire Dansili, whose progeny, which include Dank and the dearly departed Laughing, tend to take to American turf tracks well. Riposte won a G2 at Ascot last summer and she finished a good second in her first race on this side of the pond over one and one eighth miles in a grade three last month. She figures to improve in her second start in America.

Pick: Riposte to win
Suggested Play: Pick 3-- 3,4,6 / 1,4,10,12 / 4,5

3/8/2014: Tampa Bay Downs Race 11: G2 Tampa Bay Derby (8.5f, dirt)--
Tipped up as a horse to watch last year, Coltimus Prime makes his three-year-old debut here in a field where I think he has a great chance to make some noise. Unlike many of the others here, I think he's a horse who still has plenty of room for improvement. Last year, he impressively broke his maiden by a wide margin and he came back to give the more experienced Jose Sea View all he could handle in the Display Stakes, which was Coltimus Prime's first time routing and first time against winners. He'll be on or near the lead here and although the pace should be honest, I don't expect it to be too quick. Based on class and form, Conquest Titan should win this race, but he'll need a pace to close into and will be hammered at the windows, so although he's who I would expect to win, he's a bad bet.

Bankroll Play: $2 to win, $5 to place, & $10 to show on Coltimus Prime

3/8/2014: Gulfstream Park Race 9: G2 Gulfstream Park Handicap (8f, dirt)--
There isn't an American horse I love more than Palace Malice and on class alone, he towers above these and although I'd love to see him win here, I can't side with him. A one turn mile is definitely not his strength and with a bonafide speedster in Falling Sky, he could be a bit up against from a pace perspective since he's typically forwardly placed. My choice in here is Brujo de Olleros. The Brazilian-bred has had tough goings having run on arguably "speed favoring" tracks in his last two outings, and yet he finished a strong third after a tough trip in the BC Dirt Mile and he backed that up with another third place finish in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes last month, which was won by the aforementioned Falling Sky. By all accounts, Brujo de Olleros has been working really well and he could be the one to take advantage if Palace Malice doesn't fire in his first start of the season.

Pick & Suggested Play: Brujo de Olleros to win  (scratched) Exacta: 7,8 / 2,6,7,8

3/8/2014: Fair Grounds Race 7: Duncan F. Kenner Stakes (6f, dirt)--
I absolutely adore Heitai, as anyone who follows me on Twitter probably knows, but for some reason, I seem to always forget to include him on here when he runs. My favorite son of Fusaichi Pegasus has won three straight, two of which were at the Fair Grounds, but his most recent race in the LA Bred Premier Night Sprint Stakes at Delta Downs was more impressive than I can even begin to describe, so I encourage you to look up the replay if you haven't seen it before. He got a 104 Beyer Speed Figure in that race and a run anywhere near that effort should get him the victory. His morning line odds are 5/2, which is much higher than I expected, so keep an eye on his odds near post time and if he's 2/1+ then take advantage.

Pick and Suggested Play: Heitai to win (play if 2/1 odds or higher)

I also wanted to note that if you watch the video above, you can see my choice for the San Felipe, which is the Kentucky Derby prep race being run at Santa Anita on Saturday. I will also be doing analysis and picks for the entire Santa Anita card for Saturday aka Big 'Cap day on Danonymous, which will be posted tomorrow. Lastly, I will be doing analysis and suggested plays for the Cheltenham Festival, which will be posted on that same website (likely on Monday). If you have never watched National Hunt/jumps racing or haven't watched racing from Cheltenham before, I strongly encourage you to put it on in the morning next week, maybe while you're eating your breakfast before work, and enjoy some top quality racing (and hopefully get a few winners). 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kentucky Derby Contenders: Candy Boy

A fourth place finish in a five and one half furlong Maiden Special Weight, four and one quarter lengths behind a winning Bob Baffert runner, on the All-Weather track at Del Mar last August may not have screamed Kentucky Derby contender, but despite his inauspicious debut, the ever resilient Candy Boy currently finds himself among the favorites to wear the roses on the first Saturday in May.

Candy Boy is a son of the Argentinian-bred Candy Ride, a Grade 1 winner who retired undefeated in six starts, but this isn't the first time he has had a son on the Kentucky Derby trail. 

In 2009, Chocolate Candy won the California Derby and El Camino Real Derby, earning himself a spot in "The Run for the Roses." After being squeezed at the start, he charged through the pack, but had to settle for fifth behind Mine That Bird. He never won in eleven starts after that run and he unfortunately passed away following a paddock accident shortly after he retired. 

Just one year after Chocolate Candy came up short in the Derby, Sidney's Candy won three straight graded stakes prior to the Kentucky Derby, but he was clearly unable to handle the sealed sloppy surface on the first Saturday in May and he finished seventeenth. 

Will the third time be the charm for Candy Rides in the Kentucky Derby? 

From a pedigree standpoint, Candy Boy has all the markings of a Classic distance runner. Candy Ride, himself, won at one and one quarter miles in the G1 Pacific Classic and Candy Boy is out of She's an Eleven, a daughter of a winner on both sides of the pond In Excess, who won a stakes over one and one sixteenth miles.

He was homebred for Lee and Susan Searing and his ascension through the ranks could not have come at a better time for his owners. 

The Searing's most successful recent horse was Kettle Corn, another son of Candy Ride, who made his way out of the claiming ranks to become a top class runner. A multiple graded stakes winner, Kettle Corn was doing some of his best running as a six-year-old. Last Fall, he unfortunately suffered a career ending injury, however, which robbed him of what many thought could have been a solid run in the Breeders' Cup Classic. 

Just three days before the announcement of Kettle Corn's retirement, Candy Boy had finished second in his third attempt at a Maiden Special Weight, again losing to a Bob Baffert trainee. In fact, it wasn't even that close. 

But, as is so often the case in life, there are peaks and valleys and just one month later, in his fourth attempt at getting that oh so important first win, Candy Boy demolished a field of five, winning by a whopping eight and one quarter lengths. He would then go on to finish second to another Candy Ride in the highly regarded Shared Belief after making an impressive move to grab the lead on the backstretch of the G1 CashCall Futurity. He went one better his next time out in the G2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, though, earning himself his first graded stakes victory and putting his name firmly among the Kentucky Derby contenders. 

Perhaps it's fitting that hardworking owners who have yet to win the Derby join forces with trainer John Sadler, who has yet to score in a Triple Crown race, with a son of a sire who has yet to have one of his progeny wear the garland of roses, but if there's a lesson to be taken from Candy Boy himself it's that sometimes it takes more than one or two chances before you taste victory, but when you do, it's as sweet as candy.

Photo of Candy Boy by Terra T., if you're interested in her photography, you can follow her at on Twitter @Terra_