Thursday, May 29, 2014

Down to the Wire: Penn Mile Edition




5/31/2014: Penn National Race 4 -- Penn Mile S. (8f, turf): #8 Divine Oath
This field is loaded with talent, and more importantly from a handicapping perspective, it's loaded with front-end speed. Both Bobby's Kitten and Storming Inti are quality colts who I expect to win races this year, but both will almost certainly be pace casualties here. Ultimately, I've settled on the Pletcher trained Divine Oath, a lightly raced son of Broken Vow who most recently finished a better than it looks on paper second to Mr. Speaker in the G2 Coolmore Lexington S. The recent winner of the G2 American Turf S. at Churchill Downs, Global View, should also be able to take advantage of the likely pace scenario, but I do expect Divine Oath to get the first jump on him. First time turf starter Coastline, also warrants consideration based on his solid performances on synthetic against quality competition, not to mention I'd expect him to benefit from the cutback in distance. 
**Others to Consider: #1 Global View & #7 Coastline

5/31/2014: Belmont Race 5 -- Mike Lee S. (7f): #5 Deceived
This is a horse I've been high on since his maiden win and although he couldn't compete in the G3 Gotham, a cutback in distance and a drop in class should put him in a much more favorable position, but this is likely a race where if you aren't on the Uncle Sigh bandwagon, then you'd probably want to spread. 
**Others to Consider: #2 Uncle Sigh , #7 Swell, & #9 Loki's Vengeance

5/31/2014: Woodbine Race 8 -- G2 Connaught Cup S. (7f, turf): #8 Occasional View
Perhaps hoping for the 8/1 M/L on this guy is asking a bit much, but this race looks to be his for the taking as he switches back to the turf in what will be his third start off the layoff following a win at Keeneland and a runner-up finish locally, both of which were on synthetic at today's distance. There is plenty of early speed here, which also helps his case.

5/31/2014: Santa Anita Race 8 -- G1 American Oaks (10f, turf): #2 Nashoba's Gold
She won't be a fantastic price, but there's little reason to doubt Nashoba's Gold is the one to beat in what will be her G1 debut. This daughter of Smart Strike, a 1/2 to multiple G1 winner Nashoba's Key, has improved by leaps and bounds in her two most recent starts and she has all the looks of a major player in what is a deep three-year-old turf fillies division this year.
**Others to Consider: #6 Tiz the Key, #4 Sweet Bliss, #8 Room Service 

Horse to Watch
Last week, Horses to Watch Gala Award, Flamboyant, & Can'thelpbelieving finished 1-2-3 in the Pennine Ridge S. at Belmont ($25.20 exacta, $90.00 trifecta) and Code West finished second in the Majestic Light S.

This week's Horses to Watch who are entered:
5/31/2014 Penn National R4 -- Penn Mile: #8 Divine Oath
5/31/2014 Prairie Meadows R8 & 6/1/2014 Churchill Downs R8 (cross entered): Wizardly 




Thursday, May 22, 2014

Down to the Wire: Arlington Classic Edition

This week on Down to the Wire, we review California Chrome's winning performance in the Preakness Stakes before previewing three very different races. We start off with a race for juveniles at Santa Anita, before tackling a race full of veterans at Calder, and we finish off with the G3 Arlington Classic S., a race for three-year-olds on the turf. 



Weekend Quick Picks:

5/23/2014 Santa Anita Race 1: #6 G Q Grace
In a fun two-year-old race filled with mostly first-time starters, I sided with what I think will be a bit of a price in G Q Grace, a son of Grace Upon Grace, who won his debut. The work reports are high on him and his trainer, Walther Solis, is good with this type.
*Other to consider: #2 Tiz Jolie

5/24/2014 Calder Race 8 -- Memorial Handicap: #7 Flatter This
This is definitely a step up in class, but this local runner has had a particularly strong start to the year in that he's recorded a win and two second place finishes in which he closed in spite of a speed favoring track to finish second. In his lone off the board finish this year, he broke slowly, but closed well and looked to be doing his best running late, so this slight bit of added distance will probably be to his liking, as should the probably pace scenario.
*Other to consider: #6 Narvaez

5/24/2014 Arlington Race 10 -- G3 Arlington Classic: #4 Long on Value
In making this choice, I'm banking on my belief that the true strength of this division lies among the horses who started their year in Florida and the G2 American Turf S. at Churchill Downs was loaded with those runners. Ultimately, Long on Value finished fourth there, in what was his turf debut, despite being a bit rank at times and a relatively wide trip. While this is a competitive group, he will be stepping down in class a touch and I'd expect him to improve in his second time on the grass.
*Other to consider: #2 Chief Barker

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Down to the Wire: Preakness Stakes




5/17/2014: Pimlico Race 12: Preakness Stakes: #8 Social Inclusion & #1 Dynamic Impact
I know I usually only pick one horse for these races, but I'm trying to cover my bases, and yet still snag a price here, so hear me out. This year's Preakness drew a field of ten, with only three entrants having run in the Kentucky Derby (California Chrome, General A Rod, & Ride on Curlin). On paper, California Chrome is clearly the one to beat, but at short odds, coming off only two weeks rest, and having drawn a less than ideal post, I couldn't play him on top. In a race that appears likely to be fast early, Social Inclusion appears to be the "speed of the speed," which will only be emphasized by his post position. Although certainly aided by a speed favoring track and a less than top form Honor Code, Social Inclusion's allowance victory at Gulfstream was impressive visually and the speed figures backed that up. He, himself, also proved himself in the Wood Memorial when he finished third, only a nose out of second, despite breaking a step slow, rushing into a healthy pace, and having a wide trip throughout. The form of the Wood also held up particularly well in the Kentucky Derby, as Wicked Strong and Samraat finished fourth and fifth respectively. Social Inclusion won't be able to afford breaking slowly here and if he gets away from the gate fine, expect him to be your leader and he'll carry them as far as he can take them. Off class and form, he certainly appears capable of wiring them. While he did suffer from a bruised foot that caused him to miss a work, he's since gotten back on the tab and considering how much racing he's done recently, he'll surely be fit, regardless. Horse to Watch Dynamic Impact is who I'm including in case Social Inclusion is unable to stay the distance. Him drawing the rail is not helpful by any means, but he can sit off the pace. His win in the Illinois Derby was legit both visually and from a speed figures standpoint. He appears to be a horse who's getting good at the right time. He will have to find a bit more speed here to get the win, but if a pace meltdown occurs, he would definitely benefit at what will likely be a very nice price. 
Suggested Play:  Exacta -- 1,8 / 1,3.8,9,10  and #1 Dynamic Impact to win/place & #8 Social Inclusion to win


Weekend Quick Picks:
5/16/2014: Pimlico Race 10: Black-Eyed Susan Stakes: #9 Fortune Pearl
The Graham Motion-trained Fortune Pearl makes her stakes debut here, but she appears to fit right in with this group. Last time out, she was thirteen lengths back at the 1/2 and yet, she closed into a slow pace to win by two and one quarter lengths over eight and a half furlongs in a local NW1 allowance optional claimer. Expected rain only helps her chances, as she has A.P Indy and Mr. Prospector on the top of her pedigree to go along with her dam having won an off the turf race over a sloppy track at Calder. 
*Other to consider: #8 Sloane Square & #6 Arethusa

5/16/2014: Pimlico Race 12: Pimlico Special S.: #3 Moreno
Moreno made his season debut in the Charles Town Classic S., which was his first start off of an over five month layoff. That race was about as wild and crazy as they come, but I thought he ran well to re-rally and get up for third late. He figures to improve in his second start off the break, not to mention his chances would be enhanced even further should the track come up wet (as is expected). His maiden win was a romp over a sealed muddy track at Belmont, he's inbred to Mr. Prospector, and most importantly in my eyes, he has the In Reality via Relaunch line on the top of his pedigree, which is my go-to sloppy track pedigree angle.  
*Other to consider: #2 Cat Burglar & #6 Revolutionary 
Suggested Play: Pimlico Special-Dixie-Preakness Pick-3: 2,3,6 / 2,4 / 1,8

5/17/2014: Pimlico Race 9: Gallorette H. : #10 Watsdachances (if on turf)
Runner-up to Flotilla in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Watsdachances has really come into her own and become one of the more consistent turf runners at this distance. This will be her first start of the year, but she has won coming off a layoff before and recent work reports on her are quite good, not to mention this is a slight step down from her typical class level. 



**Last week: Horse to Watch Tonalist won the G2 Peter Pan S.

Horses to Watch Running this Week:
-- Hootenanny (5/16/2014, Pimlico Race 7: Rollicking S.)
-- Cat Burglar (5/16/2014, Pimlico Race 12: G3 Pimlico Special S.)
-- Green Mask (5/17/2014, Belmont Race 5: Paradise Creek S.)
-- La Madrina (5/17/2014, Belmont Race 6: Allowance)
-- Dynamic Impact (5/17/2014, Pimlico Race 12: G1 Preakness S.)
-- Fashion Fund (5/18/2014, Belmont Race 2: Allowance)
-- Sweet Acclaim (5/18/2014, Belmont Race 6: Wait A While S.)



Thursday, May 8, 2014

Down to the Wire: Peter Pan S. & Lazaro Barrera S.




5/10/2014 Belmont Park Race 9: G2 Peter Pan S. (9f): Tonalist
We return to find some of the three-year-olds who we had seen earlier on the the road to the Kentucky Derby in this Belmont Stakes prep. I expect Our Caravan to get some play here off of his big win over Ring Weekend in the Calder Derby, but that performance looks much better on paper than it does on video, so I highly suggest you watch that replay before you play him. Regardless, he ran in both the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth and was completely outclassed in each. I don't want any part of him here. I got a chance to see Commissioner in person at Sunland, where he finished third behind Chitu and Midnight Hawk. This Pletcher -trained son of A.P. Indy always runs his race, but unfortunately that performance is often too slow to compete with the big boys. Fabulous Kid certainly looks to have the pedigree to stay the distance and he's interesting on the stretch-out after being nailed late in his last start. Tapicero is very interesting coming off of two straight big performances at Calder. He's been penned the longest shot on the board according to the morning line in what will be his graded stakes debut, but I would gladly take him over the two I've already mentioned. This son of Tapit is definitely the value in this race. Ultimately, however, I think it'll be tough to beat one of the other Tapits in here, Tonalist, who we most recently saw run second in the salty allowance optional claimer on Fountain of Youth day, which was won by Constitution and in which Wicked Strong finished fourth -- both of them, of course, went on to win major Kentucky Derby preps in their next start. Tonalist was slated to run in the Wood Memorial, but didn't make the trip to New York after he fell ill. The only concern would be that he enters here short on works, but Clement has never been one to force the issue, so there's no doubt in my mind he's fit and ready to roll.  
Exacta: #4 Tonalist / #2 Fabulous Kid, #5 Tapicero

5/10/2014 Santa Anita Race 7: G3 Lazaro Barrera (7f): Kobe's Back
Despite a propensity to break very slowly from the gate, Kobe's Back is certainly the class of this field and after a tough trip last time out at Aqueduct, he returns to California, where he hopes to get back on track. His lone graded stakes win came over course and distance. His toughest competition will likely come from Ferocious, who had a nice win over Chelios over course and distance last month. This lightly raced son of Tale of the Cat has won two of three starts and has never finished worse than second. Chelios looked to be a nice prospect following his impressive maiden victory, but after being sidelined after injury, he could do no better than second behind Ferocious. Gary Stevens, who rode him in his lone victory, does get the mount here, however. Puppy Manners makes his debut on the dirt after struggling to compete at this level on the all weather and turf. The move is a perplexing one for a son of top turf sire Kitten's Joy. 

Weekend Quick Picks:

5/11/2014 Belmont Park Race 9: G1 Man o'War S. (11f, turf): Grandeur
In four US starts (all of which came in graded stakes), Grandeur has only finished worse than second once and that was after a nightmarish trip in the G1 Arlington Million, after which he came up lame,, as well. This is actually a pretty nice field with the likes of Frac Daddy, Real Solution, Lucayan, and Amira's Prince making the field, but simply put, Grandeur has faced tougher. My only worry would be that rain is in the immediate forecast, although not on Sunday, and Grandeur would certainly prefer firm turf. He does have one win at Goodwood over good to soft ground though. Look for him to be flying late. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Horses to Watch: May 2014

-- (International) Belle Couture (Redoute's Choice - Helsinge, by Desert Sun)
Half-sister to Black Caviar finished second in debut before oh so easily breaking her maiden at Caulfield last time out.

-- Can'thelpbelieving (Duke of Marmalade - Embark, by Soviet Star) 

 Lightly raced three-year-old has a win to go along with two runner-up finishes in four starts since arriving in America. His lone off the board finish came in the G3 Palm Beach S., in which the likes of Mr. Speaker and Storming Inti got the minor awards. 

-- Cat Burglar (Unbridled's Song - Be My Prospect, by Forest Wildcat)

Winner of two straight allowance optional claimers at Santa Anita, the most recent of which was over 2013 Sunland Derby winner Govenor Charlie.

-- Catron (Distorted Humor - Cindy's Mom, by A.P. Indy)

After being forwardly placed in most of his starts, many of which were sprints, this Todd Pletcher trainee stretched out to 8.5 furlongs and a change of tactics, which saw him drop to the back early and make one sweeping run, proved to be successful in a recent allowance optional claimer at Belmont. After being caught in some unfavorable pace scenarios in his last few starts, it'll be interesting to see if this distance and running style stick. 

-- Chelios (Distorted Humor - Grat, by A.P. Indy)

Was second to Cherubim before impressively breaking his maiden over the likes of Rprettyboyfloyd and Dublin Up -- closed nicely to finish second in an allowance optional claimer last time out after taking a few months off due to injury. 

-- Code West (Lemon Drop Kid - Charitabledonation, by Saint Ballado)

Winner of last year's G3 Matt Winn finished second, beaten only one half length, behind Charming Kitten when returning from a nearly nine month layoff, not to mention that came on the synthetic. Watch out for him when he switches back to dirt. 

-- Divine Oath (Broken Vow - Rejoicing, by Forestry)

Broke maiden over Ring Weekend before defeating Big Bazinga in an allowance optional claimer, finished second to Mr. Speaker last time out in the G3 Coolmore Lexington despite a slow start after he brushed the gate.

-- Dynamic Impact (Tiznow - Featherbed, by Smart Strike)

He didn't break his maiden until his fifth attempt, but he's really came into his own since then, as he backed that win up with a very nice win over the always tough Midnight Hawk in the G3 Illinois Derby. The Preakness may very well be his next start. 





-- Fashion Fund (Oasis Dream - So Silk, by Rainbow Quest)
Twice having finished relatively close behind Wedding Ring at Newmarket, Fashion Fund made her US debut for Shug McGaughey a winning one when she furiously closed down the stretch of a one mile MSW on turf at Keeneland. 

-- Financial Mogul (Street Boss - Trav n' Kris, by Snow Chief)
Ran in tough company all year long before finishing sixth after a horror trip in the G3 Bay Shore when taking on Coup de Grace and Kobe's Back -- looks to fit at this class and distance, however. 

-- Flamboyant (Peer Gynt - Relicia Bere, by Until Sundown)
May have only won by a neck, but he was much the best in his American debut, which came in the La Puente S. at Santa Anita -- a bit concerning that he hasn't worked since the victory, however. 

-- Gala Award (Bernardini - Wilshewed, by Carson City)
Twice a winner on the turf, including the G3 Palm Beach, before switching to the all weather for the G1 Blue Grass at Keeneland -- came on late in that one, but a switch back to the turf is likely in his future.

-- Green Mask (Mizzen Mast - Bonsai Beauty, by Forestry)
This isn't the first time I've had Green Mask on a "Horse to Watch" list (see here: Green Mask), but he's worth repeating. After a huge performance in his debut, he tailed off in his next start, but in his 2014 debut, which was also his debut for trainer Christophe Clement, he dominated a NW2 allowance at Keeneland over the likes of Twang, who has gone on to run well since. 

-- (International) The Great War (War Front - Guide, by Pulpit)
Undefeated in two starts, this Aidan O'Brien trained son of War Front has won both of his races easily, the most recent of which you can watch by clicking the link HERE

-- Hootenanny (Quality Road - More Hennessy, by Hennessy)
Wesley Ward two-year-old was very impressive in debut when winning by four and one quarter lengths at Keeneland. What's even more impressive, however, was that he did so with his final two furlongs having been run faster than his first two according to this piece by Pat Cummings

-- La Madrina (Tapit - Enchanted Rock, by Giant's Causeway)
It takes a lot for me to throw a Tapit on the "Horses to Watch list," but this three-year-old filly is the first of a few on here. This Shug McGaughey trainee has only run once, but she ran what was perhaps the most impressive performance on the Florida Derby undercard en route to a five and one quarter length victory, which is shown below. 





-- Myositis Dan (Istan - Cranberry Sauce, by Harlan's Holiday)
He's been as consistent as they come this year, having never finished outside the top three in four starts, but while many perceived him to be a synthetic specialist, he nearly stole the show in the G3 Derby Trial on dirt at Churchill Downs, where he absolutely stormed home to miss by less than a head



-- Safety Belt (Easing Along - Santiaga, by Deputy Commander)
After some success in Argentina, Safety Belt shipped up to the US and won an allowance optional claimer on the the downhill turf course at Santa Anita over the likes of the always game Rangi.

-- Sweet Acclaim (Acclamation - Wildsplash, by Deputy Minister)
Lightly raced three-year-old Chad Brown filly won her debut before finishing third behind Miss France, who has since gone on to win the 1000 Guineas. She made her three-year-old at US debut at Keeneland in the G3 Appalachian S. where she finished second behind the undefeated Daring Dancer. I'd be very interested in seeing her run in a turf sprint. 

-- Tonalist (Tapit - Settling Mist, by Pleasant Colony)
He missed the Wood Memorial after falling ill, but this three-year-old son of Tapit is, in my opinion, one of the best of this year's three-year-old crop. He's back on the worktab and planning to run in the Peter Pan S. at Belmont. Don't forget we most recently saw him in what may very well been the deepest "Derby prep." I'm of course referring to the allowance optional claimer on the Fountain of Youth undercard, which was won by Constitution and in which Wicked Strong finished fourth -- both of whom went on to win major Derby preps in their next start. 




-- Venetian Mask (Pulpit - Molto Vita, by Carson City)
The newest winner on this list, Venetian Mask won his debut in impressive fashion over seven furlongs on the dirt today at Parx, which you can watch HERE

-- Wizardly (Elusive Quality - Distinctively, by Awesome Again)
While some have suggested my "longtime maiden crush" was on California staple Rprettyboyfloyd, it was actually on this guy, who had three straight second place finishes before finally breaking his maiden in his seventh attempt. After finishing just behind the likes of Unstoppable Colby and Thundergram, he broke his maiden in a big way -- winning by over seven lengths at Oaklawn Park

Friday, May 2, 2014

Kentucky Derby Day Picks

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014: 

Newmarket Race 2: Pearl Bloodstock Palace House Stakes: Sole Power

Simply put, the winners of Sole Powers' most recent three races were Amber Sky, Shea Shea, & Lord Kanaloa (whom he finished second to) and he won't be facing horses of that caliber here. With a few runs in Dubai under his belt, surely he's fit and ready to roll in the race he won last year.

 Newmarket Race 4: Qipco 2000 Guineas Stakes: Toormore

Undefeated in four starts, Toormore has firmly had my attention since his win over Outstrip, who would go on to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, at Goodwood last season. Some scoffed his only effort so far this season, calling it "workmanlike" and pointing out that he idled on the lead, but bare in mind Toormore is better as a closer and his running style in that one was atypical in that he was in front so early on. Richard Hughes jumps back aboard now that he's thankfully fully recovered from his injuries and the presence of Kingman and Australia in here all but ensures he'll be a decent price.
**Other to consider is BC Juvenile Turf winner Outstrip e/w

Newmarket Race 6: Makfi Newmarket Stakes: Cloudscape

Cloudscape has been mighty impressive while undefeated in two starts, one which was on the synthetic at Kempton and the other having come over Windshear, who subsequently won easily in his next outing, over course and distance. This son of Dansili looks to have plenty of room to improve even further and is one of the horses I'm excited to see more of this season.

Churchill Downs Race 5: Allowance Optional Claiming $75,000: #1 Watery Moon (M/L 3/1)

This is actually a pretty nice race and one that's not easy to pick a winner, with several of these being fairly lightly raced, but Watery Moon was one of the standout winners to me during the Keeneland spring meet and he's eligible to improve in what will be his second career start -- not to mention this guy is bred to run on dirt. The surface switch is definitely a plus for him.
**Others to consider: #2 Twang (M/L 5/1), #7 Thundergram (M/L 6/1)

Churchill Downs Race 7: G1 Humana Distaff: #5 Scherzinger (M/L 7/2)

I'll admit that Judy the Beauty looked fantastic when I saw her at Keeneland, but Scherzinger -- a daughter of Tiz Wonderful out of an A.P. Indy mare -- made me a believer in her last start. Iotapa is no slouch and yet Scherzinger set the pace early before dropping back and then retaking the lead down the stretch, ultimately defeating Iotapa by a length. More importantly here, she should get the first jump on Judy the Beauty and if so, she'll be tough to catch.
**Others to consider: #8 Midnight Lucky (M/L 5/2), #3 Judy the Beauty (M/L 3/1)

Churchill Downs Race 8: G2 American Turf Stakes: #2 Chief Barker (M/L 5/1)

A winner in three out of his four starts in the UK, Chief Barker was responsible for the dearly departed Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Chriselliam's only loss and he also finished in front of 2000 Guineas runner The Grey Gatsby when they both ran at Doncaster. His one disappointing run was on soft ground, which obviously won't be an issue here. He'll get Lasix for the first time and he's been working well leading up to this, his debut in America. I will say that I have been waiting since the Transylvania, where Global View didn't even run a step on the synthetic, to play him back, so those two will be on my tickets.
**Other to Consider: Global View (M/L 9/2)

Churchill Downs Race 9: G2 Churchill Downs Stakes: #2 Clearly Now (M/L 9/2)

There looks to be a fair amount of early speed in here with Falling Sky, Broadway Empire, & Delauney in the field, so I'm going to side with a horse I know will come off the pace in Clearly Now. The multiple graded stakes winner clearly needed the run last time out when coming off a nearly five month layoff, and yet he still closed to get third.

Churchill Downs Race 10: G1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes: #5 Kaigun (M/L 8/1)

Back in November, I said this about Kaigun "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." It all still applies except now he's making his second G1 start after finishing second to Wise Dan in the Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland -- a race which essentially fell apart in front of him. Nevertheless, after breaking a step slow, he did run down quality horses and was closing on a not fully cranked Wise Dan late. Sure, Wise Dan should win this race, but he does break from the rail and the probable early speed is drawn to his immediate outside, which could pose a problem.

5/3/2014 Churchill Downs Race 11: G1 Kentucky Derby: #3 Uncle Sigh

While I embrace several methods of handicapping, I'm first and foremost a trip handicapper and there's no doubt in my mind that Uncle Sigh has a big shot in this race at a price after how he ran despite his tough trip in the Wood Memorial. Twice a close second behind Samraat earlier in the prep season, Uncle Sigh broke a step slow from the wide post and instead of rushing to the lead, he settled off the pace, which he had yet to do in a race to that point. He ended up getting a wide trip (he covered the most ground by far, according to Trakus) and yet he finished the race with interest, which makes me think an extra furlong won't be an issue. Add to the equation he'll be first time blinkers, with which he's looked fantastic on video in his works, and the fact that he not only fits visually, but numbers-wise, as well, and this looks like a horse sitting on a big race. I expect him to be near the rail and in the second flight of horses, just behind Vicar's In Trouble -- watch his work on the NYRA YouTube page and you'll get a taste of the move he may very well have to throw down on Derby day.
**Others to consider: #6 Samraat, #12 Dance With Fate, & #14 Medal Count

Churchill Downs Race 12: $62,500 Allowance Optional Claiming: #3 Slan Abhaile (M/L 7/2)

Son of Hard Spun finished second in his only run at Churchill Downs and he just plain and simple looks to be better than these. After winning an Allowance at Saratoga last summer, he finished sixth in the G1 King's Bishop before 2012 Champion Two-Year-Old Colt Shanghai Bobby beat him by only a neck. He ran third at this level when forced to the lead after drawing the rail in his 2014 debut, but he needed the run after a five month layoff and tactically that wasn't his typical style.

Churchill Downs Race 13: Maiden Special Weight: #10 H Town Brown (M/L 4/1)

It's easy to dismiss this guy as you typical hanger, but I can more than forgive him for his losses to Hartford and most recently to Watery Moon, who I picked to win earlier on this card. As far as maidens go, he's finished second in four attempts on dirt including his debut, which was at Churchill Downs. Perhaps, this will be the race where he finally finds the winner's circle.

Japan (Kyoto) Race 11 (11:40pm PST): Tenno Sho (Spring): Win Variation

Surely, Kizuna, who finished fourth in last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, is the one to beat, but ultimately I'm siding with the horse who I think offers the most value. Often the bridesmaid to Orfevre in his career, Win Variation showed his ready to step out of the great champion's shadow when he won the G2 Nikkei Sho Stakes in what was his first start of the season. He was third in this race last season and he's looked great in videos of his recent works.

Hong Kong (Sha Tin) Race 9 (1:35am, Sunday PST) Champions Mile: Able Friend

I don't know what kind of price we'll be able to get on this well-regarded son of Sharmadal who will be favored here, and deservedly so. His wide draw does him no favors, but in four starts this year, Able Friend has two wins and his two losses were both at the hands of Designs on Rome, who mightily impressed last weekend when winning the QEII Cup at Sha Tin. If you haven't gotten a chance to see Able Friend before, HERE's a look at his most recent race -- the G2 Chairman's Trophy over 1600m at Sha Tin (black silks, orange cap, and he's wearing cheekpieces).

---Horses to Watch (5/3/2014):
These are horses who aren't necessarily playable, but are worth watching for races going forward

-Trading Leather (Newmarket R3, Group 2, 12f turf)
-Catron (Belmont R3 $62,5000 Allow Op Claimer, 8.5f)
-Schoolofhardrocks (Santa Anita R4, Desert Code Stakes, about 6.5f turf)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Kentucky Oaks & Derby + Weekend Quick Picks





5/3/2014 Churchill Downs Race 11: G1 Kentucky Derby: #3 Uncle Sigh
While I embrace several methods of handicapping, I'm first and foremost a trip handicapper and there's no doubt in my mind that Uncle Sigh has a big shot in this race at a price after how he ran despite his tough trip in the Wood Memorial. Twice a close second behind Samraat earlier in the prep season, Uncle Sigh broke a step slow from the wide post and instead of rushing to the lead, he settled off the pace, which he had yet to do in a race to that point. He ended up getting a wide trip (he covered the most ground by far, according to Trakus) and yet he finished the race with interest, which makes me think an extra furlong won't be an issue. Add to the equation he'll be first time blinkers, with which he's looked fantastic on video in his works, and the fact that he not only fits visually, but numbers-wise, as well, and this looks like a horse sitting on a big race. I expect him to be near the rail and in the second flight of horses, just behind Vicar's In Trouble -- watch his work on the NYRA YouTube page and you'll get a taste of the move he may very well have to throw down on Derby day.
**Others to consider: #6 Samraat, #12 Dance With Fate, & #14 Medal Count


Friday, May 2nd, 2014:

Churchill Downs Race 5: G1 La Troienne: #6 On Fire Baby (M/L 7/2)
In what looks to be a pretty evenly matched field, On Fire Baby enters here after having finished a game second behind Close Hatches in the G1 Apple Blossom Handicap. In the past, she's run well at Churchill Downs (4 starts, 2 wins & a second) and her lone off the board finish locally was in the Kentucky Oaks, in which she finished fifth and she enters here having worked sharply as of late.

Churchill Downs Race 8: G3 Eight Belles: #4 Our Amazing Rose (M/L 3/1)
She may only have two starts under her belt, but Our Amazing Rose, a daughter of Yes It's True, has an unblemished record thus far, albeit against lesser competition than she'll face today. Typically, I'm not inclined to take a sprinter at 7f over others who are cutting back in distance, but I'm thinking today's distance is right up her alley and being so lightly raced, she could very well improve today.

Churchill Downs Race 9: Edgewood S.: #7 Istanford (M/L 7/2)
Istanford has only won twice in six starts, but she has two wins and has never finished worse than second on turf -- and that second place finish was at the hands of none other than the highly regarded Testa Rossi. While Istanford's most recent finish in the G1 Ashland sticks out as a poor performance, bear in mind the pace scenario was completely against her that day in on the all weather at Keeneland.
**Other to consider: #5 Little Journey (M/L 10/1)

Churchill Downs Race 10: G2 Alysheba: #7 Golden Ticket (M/L 6/1)
Will Take Charge will be the heavy favorite in here and if he runs his race, he should easily win this one, but I can't get over how gassed he looked en route to barely winning the Oaklawn Handicap, a race in which many felt he should've been disqualified for drifting into competitors. At first glance, my choice in here was Normandy Invasion, but his scratch has forced me to look elsewhere. Golden Ticket started the season with a bang, losing to perhaps the best American horse in training, Palace Malice, by just a head at Gulfstream. He struggled when cutting back to seven furlongs last out, but today's distance is much more up his alley. He's run well at Churchill Downs (5: 1 3 0), having finished off the board only once in five starts there and he should get plenty of pace to close into with Moonshine Mullen and Appealing Tale in the field.

Churchill Downs Race 11: G1 Kentucky Oaks: #8 Aurelia's Belle (M/L 50/1)
With so many contenders in this race having won their previous preps in wire-to-wire fashion, I'm thinking the pace in here could be very quick early on and am, therefore, inclined to side with a horse who I know can come from off the pace. Aurelia's Belle was up against the track bias while running down at Gulfstream, but she showed exactly what she's made of when impressively coming from off the pace to get the win in the Bourbonette at Turfway Park. She'll switch back to the dirt here and in my eyes she looks like a horse who's getting good at the right time.
**Other to consider: #2 Ria Antonia 

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014: 

 Newmarket Race 4: Qipco 2000 Guineas Stakes: Toormore
Undefeated in four starts, Toormore has firmly had my attention since his win over Outstrip, who would go on to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, at Goodwood last season. Some scoffed his only effort so far this season, calling it "workmanlike" and pointing out that he idled on the lead, but bare in mind Toormore is a deep closer and his running style in that one was atypical in that he was in front so early on. Richard Hughes jumps back aboard now that he's thankfully fully recovered from his injuries and the presence of Kingman and Australia in here all but ensures he'll be a decent price.
**If the ground is good, another to consider is BC Juvenile Turf winner Outstrip e/w

Newmarket Race 6: Makfi Newmarket Stakes: Cloudscape
Cloudscape has been mighty impressive while undefeated in two starts, one which was on the synthetic at Kempton and the other having come over Windshear, who subsequently won easily in his next outing, over course and distance. This son of Dansili looks to have plenty of room to improve even further and is one of the horses I'm excited to see more of this season.

Churchill Downs Race 5: Allowance Optional Claiming $75,000: #1 Watery Moon (M/L 3/1)
This is actually a pretty nice race and one that's not easy to pick a winner, with several of these being fairly lightly raced, but Watery Moon was one of the standout winners to me during the Keeneland spring meet and he's eligible to improve in what will be his second career start -- not to mention this guy is bred to run on dirt. The surface switch is definitely a plus for him.
**Others to consider: #2 Twang, #7 Thundergram

Churchill Downs Race 7: G1 Humana Distaff: #5 Scherzinger (M/L 7/2)
I'll admit that Judy the Beauty looked fantastic when I saw her at Keeneland, but Scherzinger -- a daughter of Tiz Wonderful out of an A.P. Indy mare -- made me a believer in her last start. Iotapa is no slouch and yet Scherzinger set the pace early before dropping back and then retaking the lead down the stretch, ultimately defeating Iotapa by a length. More importantly here, she should get the first jump on Judy the Beauty and if so, she'll be tough to catch.

Churchill Downs Race 8: G2 American Turf Stakes: #2 Chief Barker (M/L 5/1)
A winner in three out of his four starts in the UK, Chief Barker was responsible for the dearly departed Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Chriselliam's only loss and he also finished in front of 2000 Guineas runner The Grey Gatsby when they both ran at Doncaster. His one disappointing run was on soft ground, which obviously won't be an issue here. He'll get Lasix for the first time and he's been working well leading up to this, his debut in America. I will say that I have been waiting since the Transylvania, where Global View didn't even run a step on the synthetic, to play him back, so those two will be on my tickets.
**Other to Consider: Global View (M/L 9/2)

Churchill Downs Race 9: G2 Churchill Downs Stakes: #2 Clearly Now (M/L 9/2)
There looks to be a fair amount of early speed in here with Falling Sky, Broadway Empire, & Delauney in the field, so I'm going to side with a horse I know will come off the pace in Clearly Now. The multiple graded stakes winner clearly needed the run last time out when coming off a nearly five month layoff, and yet he still closed to get third.

Churchill Downs Race 10: G1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes: #5 Kaigun (M/L 8/1)
Back in November, I said this about Kaigun "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." It all still applies except now he's making his second G1 start after finishing second to Wise Dan in the Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland -- a race which essentially fell apart in front of him. Nevertheless, after breaking a step slow, he did run down quality horses and was closing on a not fully cranked Wise Dan late. Sure, Wise Dan should win this race, but he does break from the rail and the probable early speed is drawn to his immediate outside, which could pose a problem. All in all, the only bet I'll have that has anything to do with this race will be the Oaks-Woodford-Derby pick-3 and my single will be Kaigun, not Wise Dan for value reasons.  

Churchill Downs Race 12: $62,500 Allowance Optional Claiming: #3 Slan Abhaile (M/L 7/2)
Son of Hard Spun finished second in his only run at Churchill Downs and he just plain and simple looks to be better than these. After winning an Allowance at Saratoga last summer, he finished sixth in the G1 King's Bishop before 2012 Champion Two-Year-Old Colt Shanghai Bobby beat him by only a neck. He ran third at this level when forced to the lead after drawing the rail in his 2014 debut, but he needed the run after a five month layoff and tactically that wasn't his typical style.

Churchill Downs Race 13: Maiden Special Weight: #10 H Town Brown (M/L 4/1)
It's easy to dismiss this guy as you typical hanger, but I can more than forgive him for his losses to Hartford and most recently to Watery Moon, who I picked to win earlier on this card. As far as maidens go, he's finished second in four attempts on dirt including his debut, which was at Churchill Downs. Perhaps, this will be the race where he finally finds the winner's circle.