Wednesday, August 26, 2015

2015-2016 Hong Kong Horses to Follow

We're just over a week from the start of the new racing season in Hong Kong and to help you prepare, we've got you covered with 10 horses I believe are worth following this season. The order is not by preference, but instead they are arranged according to their current ratings.

Renaissance Art (More Than Ready - Lady Siphonica, by Siphon); Current Rating: 93
Renaissance Art was never a factor at his first two starts, before reeling off two straight wins while rated near the top of Class 3. What's most encouraging about him, however, is his staying ability. His second place finish behind the front-running Derby fourth Helene Happy Star in the Queen Mother Memorial Cup was solid and showed signs of his ability to compete in a division which has little depth at the moment. Yes, both Helene Happy Star and Helene Super Star return to the fray, but Take To The Limit, Shamkiyr, and California Memory have all retired and Derby runner-up Got Fly appears to be out for an extended period of time due to injury. In a division that's ripe for the taking, Renaissance Art, who appears to have room for further improvement, has the potential to make a splash.

Precision King (Towkay - Quasi Stellar, by Catrail); Current Rating: 88
Unlike the more progressive types on this list, we're not looking for Precision King to get any better. At this stage of his career, he is what he is. That being said, after a season which included eight runner-up finishes, Precision King begins this season on the cusp of a win. He's one worth watching for trainer intent in his first few starts of the season as an apprentice rider on could be a sign that they're trying to get him to a rating of 90, which would allow him to get into Class 1 races off the minimum weight. Otherwise, he could be one who will be dropped from the get-go.Either way, he's an honest, front-running type, who’ll eventually be placed in a spot where he's capable of winning and being that he rarely gets hammered on the tote, he's one bettors should keep tabs on throughout the season.

Strathmore (Fastnet Rock - Our Egyptian Raine, by Desert Sun); Current Rating: 84
From day one, Strathmore made a splash in Hong Kong. His win in his lone griffin race was very comfortable and he's since backed that up with a seven run season which resulted in two wins and only one finish worse than third. The talent is there, not to mention he's been working for much longer than most of these, which gives me the impression he'll be primed for a fast start to the season.
Won C2 on 9/6/2015, now rated 92
Won C2 on 11/1/2015, now rated 98

Country Melody (Written Tycoon - Chimerique, by Choisir); Current Rating: 82
In his first two starts in Hong Kong, Country Melody looked every bit a star on the horizon. While he did catch a few tough draws on the quirky 1000m Sha Tin turf course that hampered him, it was his 14th place finish when sent off at odds of 3.8 which had me worried that perhaps he wasn't as good as advertised. Nevertheless, two starts later he'd go on to draw the favorable 12 gate and he didn’t look back. Yes, he only won by a nose, but he did so over E-Super, whom he spotted 17 lbs and despite the high weight he clocked what was far and away the fastest closing sectional of the top 10 finishers.
Won C2 on 11/11/2015, now rated 89

Blizzard (Starcraft - Stormy Choice, by Redoute's Choice); Current Rating: 75
It's not incredibly often horses win on debut in Hong Kong and although aided by a favorable draw, one thing was clear in Blizzard's first start -- he wasn't ever losing that race. It wasn't like that was an especially soft spot to debut in either as both Mellifluent and Hayhay won within their next few starts and, most notably, seventh place finisher Multimax has since won three times. Multimax has since got the better of him in a slowly run affair where Multimax made all. Nobody has finished closer than Blizzard to the highly regarded Thewizardofoz to date despite giving him three pounds. Two of his three wins have come over 1200m and he does appear better around a bend. A step up in trip should also certainly help with 1400m perhaps ultimately looking his best trip, although he'll likely get the chance over 1600m as well.
Won on 9/13/2015, now rated 83
Won on 10/1/2015, now rated 91
Won on 10/25/2015, now rated 98

So Fast (Commands - La Silva, by Octagonal); Current Rating 64
He's not the most straightforward type, but if anyone can get him figured out, it'd be top horseman John Size. After being withdrawn before his first planned start, So Fast blitzed them en route to a four length victory in the easiest of manners. He's only raced once since and although the fifth place finish on paper leaves much to be desired, he was fractious in the gate and he had to change course on two separate occasions when nearly clipping heels with a rival. Additionally, he reportedly scoped poorly following the race, so that run can be forgiven. He's another who will likely be stretched out en route to a possible Hong Kong Derby tilt in which his cruising speed figures to be a strong weapon.
Won on 9/19/2015, now rated 70

Eastern Express (Fastnet Rock - Mohican Princess, by Shirley Heights); Current Rating: 60
Northern Hemisphere three-year-old Eastern Express didn't win either of his two starts in Hong Kong, but he's another who made a big impression in races which were much too short for his liking. For a trainer who looks to have a stack of strong Hong Kong Derby contenders, Eastern Express could very well be one of his best once given the opportunity to step up in trip.
Won on 11/28/2015, now rated 66

Classic Emperor (Medaglia d'Oro - Worship The Moon, by Malibu Moon); Current Rating: 59
He's yet to win from three griffin races, but Classic Emperor has shown ability over distances which are clearly well short of his liking. His most recent run, in particular, was encouraging when he ran the well-regarded People's Knight to within a nose. Time to mature and the step up in trip to a mile should allow for further improvement.
Won on 11/28/2015, now rated 71

Happy Agility (Postponed - Ballyalla, by Encosta de Lago); Current Rating: 59
Another lightly raced four-year-old, Happy Agility was one who impressed on debut when bet like a sure thing -- he won like one too, scoring by a comfortable one and a quarter lengths. He also has formlines through the impressive Thewizardofoz, but was assigned the very difficult task of giving him seven pounds. How much we'll see of him is perhaps in question when taking into consideration how often swimming is involved in his works -- it could be indicative of minor issues. If healthy enough to race, though, he's one who should relish a step up in trip to at least a mile, if given the chance.
Won on 10/18/2015, now rated 64

Fishking Thunder (Jet Spur - Extra, by Prince Salieri); Current Rating: 39
I’m not exactly expecting Fishking Thunder to do anything magnificent, but he does look a bottom level horse with a chance of winning this season. Often slow out of the gate, this son of Jet Spur finally jumped with the rest of them in his most recent start en route to running a better-than-it-looks sixth (beaten three lengths) despite his jockey giving up position on several occasions. He'll start this season rated low enough to make his first foray in the Class 5 ranks, where he should be plenty competitive. He's never gone off at double digit odds or under, and yet we'll say Fishking Thunder gets his first win this year.
Sadly passed away on 10/1

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Arlington Million: Assessing International Formlines

This weekend marks the 2015 Arlington International Festival of Racing, which is highlighted by the Grade 1 Arlington Million. As is typical of this meeting, several international runners ship in to run in the four featured turf events. In order to aid in handicapping of said races, I've analyzed the 2015 form of some of the international contenders and have compiled my "form analysis cheat sheet."

Below is my analysis for some of the Million and Secretariat contenders. Form analysis for the Beverly D and American St Leger contenders will be posted tomorrow.

Maverick Wave (Elusive Quality - Misty Ocean, by Stormy Atlantic)

Dam won the G2 Honeymoon Handicap
From the family of Canadian Champion 2yo / Belmont Stakes runner-up Cool Reception and Swale winner Premier Explosion

1/25/2015: Coral.Co.UK (£11k C2) Handicap (10f, Lingfield AW) -- Carried 9st 7lbs (highweight by 6 lbs) and won by a neck when making all the running. Runner up has one win (£7k C3 Handicap) in two subsequent starts. Fourth place finisher won next time out (£7k C3 Handicap) and hasn't won in nine starts since that victory.

2/21/2015: Coral.Co.UK (£25k C1) Listed Winter Derby Trial Stakes (10f, Lingfield AW) -- Carried 8st 13lbs (compared to highweight of 9st 3lbs) when finishing fifth out of eight, two and a half lengths behind the winner. Led early and maintained lead until about the one furlong, after which he was hampered when found short of room. Winner finished second in a Group 3 next time out. Fourth place finisher ran third of eleven in a Group 3 next time out.

3/28/2015: Totepool Handicap (£29k C2) (10f, Chelmsford AW) -- Carried 9st 10lbs (highweight by 8 lbs) when winning while forwardly placed running with the leader until inheriting the lead alone at about the mile marker; continued on well to win by ten lengths. Third and seventh place finishers went on to run 1-2 in a £32k C2 handicap. Sixth place finisher dead-heated in a £7k C2 handicap.

5/7/2015: Group 3 Betfair Huxley Stakes (10.5f, soft) -- Carried 9st 0 lbs (highweight 9st 5lbs) when winning while making all the running. Was challenged late by Cannock Chase, but took advantage when the runner-up idled late. Runner-up went on to finish 7th of 9 in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes. Third place finisher finished first of three in a Group 3 in Ireland. Fourth place finisher was third behind Solow in the Group 1 Sussex.

Wake Forest (Sir Percy - Wurfspiel, by Lomitas)

Sire won the Group 1 Epsom Derby
1/2 sibling to Listed stakes placegetter over 9 1/2f Wildfahrte 

4/12/2015: Group 3 Wettmeister Fruhjahrsmeile (8f, good to soft) -- Carried 9st 2lbs (next highest 9st 0lbs) when seen finishing fifth of seven at Dusseldorf. Was being ridden throughout at retreated at the 6f mark. Top 2 Amaron & Guiliani went 1-2 in a Group 2 at Baden-Baden; Guiliani then won the Group 1 Grosser Dallmayr-Preis-Bayerisches at Munich. Third place finisher Spoil The Fun was 2nd to Bawina (good marker type horse via Amazing Maria/Charm Spirit form) & beat Esoterique -- subsequently 2nd 1L behind Solow & 2nd 1/2L behind Muhaarar -- in a Group 2 in France. Last place finisher has since won a Group 3 at Hamburg.

5/10/2015: Group 1 Premio Presidente Della Republica (10f, good) -- Set weights at 9st 2lbs. Was two lengths behind runner-up Magic Artist who came here for the G1 Manhattan and finished 5th

7/3/2015: Group 3 Grosser Preis Von Lotto Hamburg (Hamburg Trophy) (10f, good) -- Won well. Most horses have yet to run back, so tough to judge form.

Bookrunner (Tiznow - Take The Ribbon, by Chester House)

Dam won the G3 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile 

5/29/2015: Prix Carvin (£10k conditions) (8f, good) -- Carried 8st 11lbs (highweight at 9st 1 lbs) Held up behind the leaders, in tight at 7f mark, swung four wide to tackle leaders, up just in time. Runner-up won a 10k conditions race at Longchamp next time out.

7/5/2015: Group 3 Prix Messidor (8f, good) -- Carried 9st 1 lbs (set weights) Led until pressed hard by the eventual winner after the 6f mark. Didn't quicken with the top two, but stayed on well late on the straight course and began to close in on runner-up a touch near finish; found best stride late. Nobody from the field has yet run back.


Highland Reel (Galileo - Hveger, by Danehill)

Dam was a Group 1 placegetter in Australia
Second dam was Group 1 Australian Oaks winner Circles of Gold
From the family of multiple Group 1 winners Haradasun & Elvstroem
Nominated for the 2015 Cox Plate

5/10/2015: Group 1 Poule D'Essai Des Poulains (French equivalent of 2,000 Guineas) (8f, good to soft) -- Carried 9st 2 lbs (set weights) You can get several good, long looks at him pre-race here (Coolmore purple and white silks). Winner was last of five in the Group 1 St James's Palace at Royal Ascot following this win. Runner-up won the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) next time out. Third place finisher won the Listed Prix de Tourgeville at Deauville. Fifth place finisher was third of eight in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat in next start. Seventh place finisher has since won the Britannia Stakes (Handicap) at Royal Ascot while carrying top weight (first of 28 runners). Eighth place finisher has since won three straight Group 1 races.

5/31/2015: Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (10f 110y, good to soft) -- Carried 9st 2lbs (set weights). See race here Forward out of the gate and found self wide without cover before slotting in a tracking position of the leader at around the 2f mark. Took a few strides to find his best running when asked, but could't match the late kick of the winner. Winner had a setback after the race, so hasn't ran since. Third place finisher (fellow runner War Dispatch) was second in Group 2 Prix Eugene Adam next time out. Last place finisher won the Britannia Stakes (Handicap) at Royal Ascot while carrying top weight (first of 28 runners) in next race.

6/27/2015: Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (12f, good to firm) -- Racing Post reported that he sweated up before the race. Carried 9st 0lbs (set weights). Was under pressure a long way out and never made an impression on the leaders. See here: Winner has not ran again since this race. Runner-up was third in the Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris next time out.

7/29/2015: Group 3 Neptune Investment Management Gordon Stakes (12f, good) -- Carried 9st 1lbs (set weights). Raced forwardly just off the pace of the leaders, forced to steady just before the 2f mark, but resettled well and kept on while traveling well and looking more professional than had been typical of him. Hampered late by a horse to his outside when first asked to quicken, again took a few strides to get his feet under him when asked, but ran on very well late en route to victory.

War Dispatch (War Front - Photograph, by Unbridled's Song)

Dam is a 1/2 sister to Group 1 winner over 12f Helene Super Star (formerly Lines of Battle), who is also by War Front

1/31/2015: £13k Prix De La Ville De Cagnes Sur Mer (10f, Cagnes-sur-mer Polytrack) -- Carried 9st 1lbs in the field of five (set weights and penalties). Watch here (green and white silks): Tracked leader throughout and loomed up alongside leader when barely asked, ran on strongly, and won well geared down. Runner-up has since won the Listed Grand Prix du Lion d'Angers.

2/21/2015: Listed Prix Policeman (10f, Cagnes-sur-mer Polytrack) -- Carried 8st 11lbs (set weights). Won by two lengths. None of the other runners have since won a race.

5/8/2015: Group 3 Prix de Guiche (9f, soft) -- Carried 9st 2lbs (set weights). Always loomed a major threat when tracking leaders throughout. Responded immediately when asked and ran on to a comfortable victory. Runner-up has since ran second in the Group 3 Prix de la Porte Maillot. Fourth place runner was second (by a short head) in the Listed Prix Matchem in next start.

Get a good look at War Dispatch in May in this Equidia feature:

5/31/2015: Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (10 1/2f, good to soft) -- Carried 9st 2lbs (set weights). (see replay above under Highland Reel). Ridden forward from gate, but forced to steady inside the 2f mark before settling in midpack. Horse pulled himself forward between horses before the bend and found himself boxed in coming off the bend. Waited for room and found it when switching inside at the 9f mark. Green when quickening between horses, but continues on, although not at the pace of the top two. Winner had a setback after the race, so hasn't ran since. Runner-up (Highland Reel) has since won the Group 3 Gordon Stakes. Last place finisher won the Britannia Stakes (Handicap) at Royal Ascot while carrying top weight (first of 28 runners) in next race.

7/19/2015: Group 2 Prix Eugene Adam (10f, good to soft) -- Carried 8st 11lbs (set weights) See here: In a race that lacked a true leader, War Dispatch made the running until pressed by Toruk, who took over the lead near inside the 8f mark. Re-rallied to retake the lead near the 9f mark, but couldn't match the pace of the winner's late kick. Stayed on for second. Nobody has run back from this race yet.

Goldstream (Martino Alonso - Imco Imagination, by Darshaan)

New Australian Bloodstock acquisition
1/2 sibling to Bit of Hell -- Listed winner in Italy, Group 3-placed over 10f in Australia
Undefeated in five starts
From the family of Wac (G3 Ashland runner-up and sister of Alysheba's dam Bel Sheba), Group 1 winner Lear Fan, and HK champion middle distance horse Olympic Express (formerly Ecclesiastical)
2015 Cox Plate been named as this year's primary goal

3/8/2015: £9.4k Conditions (8.9f)  -- Carried about 8st 9lbs (highweight 9st 4lbs 130 lbs) Runner up has since won a £8.3k conditions race. Third place finisher has won a £9.5k conditions race. 

4/26/2015: Listed Premio Botticelli (10 1/2f, good) Runner up won the Listed Gran Premio D'Italia in next start. Eighth place finisher won a seller in next start and last place finisher won a three horse £7.8k conditions race next time out. 

5/17/2015: Group 2 Derby Italiano (11f, good) -- Carried 9st 2 lbs (set weights). Watch here: Pushed forward, pressing the leader early. Ever so slightly keen at times when without cover. Loomed up when reins shaken before the bend, rushed by when responding immediately to being asked coming off the bend. Reacted each time when whipped (watch tail), but never truly challenged late when running on well en route to a comfortable victory. Runner-up with sixth of 17 in a Group 1 in France in next start (behind Star of Seville, who was subsequently seventh of nine in the Group 1 Nassau). Third place finisher won the Listed Gran Premio d'Italia in next start. 11th place finisher won an £8.3k conditions race in next start.