Friday, May 27, 2016

5/27 Canterbury Park Play of the Day

Race 7 (Post Time 10:32pm ET)
$17,000 Starter Allowance ($10,000 - $7,500) 
For 3yo and older fillies and mares who have started for a claiming price of $7,500 or less in 2015-2016 or claiming price $10,000

A competitive field of seven going six furlongs over what will likely be a wet main track provides opportunity for value in not only the win pool, but the horizontal wagers as well. 

Morning line favorite Sammie's Touch enters this off the back of a $20k Starter Allowance win at Fair Grounds over five and a half furlongs. She benefited from coasting just behind soft fractions that day, however, and the form lines from that race have come back poor for the level. Sammie's Touch feasted at Canterbury Park last year winning three of her four runs with her only loss being a runner-up finish in tougher company than she faces today. She does appear to be slightly better going 5.5 furlongs, but even more importantly she's unlikely to get an easy time of things from a pace perspective this time around. 

My Place Or Yours looks the controlling speed first off the claim for the in-form Nevada Litfin barn. Three times a placegetter locally last season, My Place Or Yours hasn't won in her past 20 starts and repeatedly failed at short prices during that time frame. For those reasons, is one to take on in this spot with nothing new suggesting she will see it through to the finish this time around. 

More intriguing is Maddymax who enters this off the back of a poor showing in a $23k allowance at Tampa Bay. On the surface it's easy to blame that performance on the sloppy conditions she faced, but she has a good record over downgraded dirt surfaces so we'll instead bank the stretchout to a mile was too far for her liking. Her record and pedigree (Munnings o/o a Mineshaft mare) speak for itself with regards to the drying wet surface she's likely to face today and her early speed will be an asset over the cutback in trip she desperately needs. Shippers from Tampa have done well in the early stages of the meet and trainer Bernell Rhone's opening weekend was a good one with two winners and two additional placings from eight total starters. 

#3 Maddymax looks a potential overlay in win pools in what appears a wide open affair on paper, so we'll play her to win and key her in the middle leg of the late pick-3. 

Available wagers for this race: 15% takeout win, place and show + 18% takeout exacta, trifecta, superfecta and daily double

Friday, April 22, 2016

QEII Cup Preview and Picks

Sha Tin
Sunday, April 24   4:35 am ET
Race 8 The Audemars Piguet QEII Cup

Carded as the eighth race of the day on Sunday at Sha Tin, the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup marks the return of Group 1 caliber international runners to what appears to be a dark and gloomy scene in Hong Kong.

Wet weather aside, a 13-strong field has been compiled, including Hong Kong Vase winner Highland Reel and the strong Japanese contingent of Lovely Day, Satono Crown and Nuovo Record. Rising Romance represents Australia while Ertijaal joins the fray for top trainer Mike de Kock and Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Shadwell Racing.

Lovely Day -- a son of King Kamehameha out of Listed stakes placegetter Popcorn Jazz -- boasts the strongest credentials of the away team thanks to wins in last year's G1 Takarazuka Kinena and G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn). Named Japan's best Older Horse or Colt for 2015, Lovely Day was the most consistent runner in what was an older division lacking a star after a flurry of retirements and injuries. His form through compatriots Staphanos and Nuovo Record -- both of whom are G1 placegetters in Hong Kong -- reflects favorably on Lovely Day's chances in what will be his first run abroad. 

Kyoto Kinen winner Satono Crown is clearly a progressive type and of the Japanese contingent, he is the one to upgrade should the forecast rain result in a rare downgraded Sha Tin turf surface. His form suggests he may be best over further, however. He is an intriguing prospect exiting solid efforts against what appears was a strong three-year-old crop, including leading Arc hopeful Duramente, Dubai Turf winner Real Steel and Arima Kinen placegetter Kitasan Black. There is every possibility the three-year-olds were classier than their older counterparts last season in Japan and if so, expect Satono Crown to give the older statesman Lovely Day a run for his money. 

Lost in the shuffle of the strong Japanese contingent, however, is the strength of the home team. Defending champion Blazing Speed returns with the hope of keeping his crown. He is a horse who needs everything his own way in running, however, and his last three runs have not been particularly encouraging despite two of those coming over a distance short of his best. 

Hong Kong's main hope instead lies with this year's G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup winner Designs On Rome. Named Hong Kong's Horse of the Year in 2014, Designs On Rome has won three of his past six starts over 2000m locally. One of those losses, a fourth in the 2015 Longines Hong Kong Cup, was actually a fantastic effort when facing a far from ideal steady pace scenario in what was only his second start after arthroscopic surgery to both front fetlocks.

Designs On Rome's performances on track and his appearances in the mornings have not been of the consistently high level which has become standard for him. His past two runs have been outstanding, however, and he clocked two solid works this week, the best of which came when seen working in company on April 21 over the dirt. 

The pace of this race would be against him should it be slowly run throughout seeing as he will likely drop to last from the inside barrier. This is a race which features several horses who go forward -- just not at quick tempos -- and for that reason, a more moderate tempo is expected. Helene Super Star drawn wide or Rising Romance pushing forward midrace would not surprise, either. 

Nevertheless, Designs On Rome looks likely to get an adequate pace scenario. He will be once again partnered with Tommy Berry, with whom he has had great success in the past. Any significant rain will only help the son of Holy Roman Emperor's case as well, having a win over soft ground at Naas and a runner-up finish over soft to heavy ground at Tipperary on his resume. Additionally, his best Irish run before arriving in Hong Kong came on a similar surface to what he is likely to face Sunday, with his fast-finishing second to Dawn Approach in the National Stakes on a yielding track.

With the hype centered around the Japanese, who have top locally based jockeys Joao Moreira and Zac Purton on their side, they are expected to take the bulk of the betting.

Picks and Play:

#4 Designs On Rome
#7 Satono Crown
#3 Lovely Day

Play: 4-3 and 4-7 quinellas              4 / 3,7 / 2,3,5,7,10,12 trifecta

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Showdown In The Sunshine State

We’ve reached the most eagerly anticipated week along the Kentucky Derby trail with the heavyweight battle of Mohaymen v Nyquist getting top billing at Gulfstream Park.

On the surface, Mohaymen brings the credentials of a potential Kentucky Derby favorite to the table. Undefeated in five starts, he has taken both of the major Florida Derby preps stylishly. Proven locally in addition to owning a win over this nine furlong distance, he is being touted as the favorite in what is essentially a match race between the two heavy hitters.

Believe the narratives being publicized and you would think Nyquist is the new kid on the block, not the reigning two-year-old champion; but alas, he has been marked as the one “with something to prove” in this bout. Rest assured however, win or lose, an undefeated juvenile champion with a Breeders’ Cup win to his name doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone. He has proven himself on the track already and a Florida Derby win would be another highlight to add to an already glittering resume.

With two very different individuals taking each other on in a match race of sorts -- if that is even possible in a ten horse field -- we ask the all important question: who wins?

Who Have They Beaten?
This is the category where the similarities between Mohaymen and Nyquist start...and end. They are both undefeated multiple graded stakes winners with Nyquist having had one start more (six in total) than Mohaymen. Nyquist, who debuted last June, has a trio of juvenile G1 wins to his name while Mohaymen has yet to contest a race at the highest level.

At one point, Mohaymen’s formlines appeared bombproof with Seymourdini breaking his maiden in his next start and Aqueduct rival Flexibility winning the Jerome Stakes. That form burst into flames when Flexibility was off the board in the Withers as a heavy favorite, however, and both Adventist and Sunny Ridge subsequently did that form no favors when they could only muster third and fourth in a short field Gotham Stakes, finishing behind a maiden in the process. Greenpointcrusader was nowhere to be found in the Louisiana Derby after finishing second to Mohaymen in the Holy Bull. Sure, Donegal Moon won an allowance at Parx after failing to hit the board in the Jerome and the Withers, but as always, Parx form should be taken with a grain of salt.

Perhaps in Nyquist’s favor in this category is that chief rival Swipe has yet to run in 2016 after a setback left him sidelined. Up until that point, however, Swipe served as a solid gauge of the strength of the Southern California crop. Second to Nyquist three times in the Golden State, the duo once again made up the exacta in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile which furthered the already developing belief that the best two-year-olds were in California.

Denman’s Call defeated now Rebel Stakes winner Cupid on debut before being easily handled by Nyquist and once again tamely going down to Iron Rob in the San Pedro. But how one really rates Nyquist’s form lies in his opinion of Exaggerator. Seeing as I believe Exaggerator showed in the San Felipe that he is best as a one-turn miler, I upgrade Nyquist’s form because under that set of circumstances, he beat Exaggerator -- a solid horse in his own right -- at his own game, which is never an easy task. Since I do not believe Exaggerator stayed the trip in the San Felipe, his third place finish is not viewed as disappointing in my opinion, especially considering he made an eye-catching move entering the far turn before flattening out late.
Advantage: Nyquist

Style Points
While he may have beaten better horses to date, Nyquist’s wins are far from stylish. The gritty nature of his runs leads to him being in a slugfest nearly every time he turns for home. Kudos to him for having always gotten his nose in front to this point, but it definitely has not been easy. He also has a tendency to drift when pressured. He drifted in towards the rail in the Frontrunner, nearly hindering runner-up Swipe and he drifted out late in both the Del Mar Futurity and the San Vicente. While often viewed as the behavior of a tired horse, it is worth noting that each of these instances occurred while he was under a drive and being pressured by a horse to his outside. When he was the one on the outside throughout the far turn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he kept to task nicely, so we’ll chalk this up to more likely being a quirk of his rather than the sign of fatigue.

If this were the old days of gymnastics, Mohaymen’s score in this category would be a 10 out of 10. He does not simply beat the horses he faces, he obliterates them. He takes horses who appeared to be trending upwards and crushes them, geared down and drawing off late. While he is strolling home under a hand ride, his opponents are being hard ridden heading into the far turn, leaving the viewer to watch a powerful display of true dominance. He is professional in every way -- an unusual trait for a Tapit -- but he showed it prior to the Fountain of Youth when nearly every other horse acted up, he was cool as a cucumber.
Advantage: Mohaymen

Nyquist’s is a bear to pass down the lane. In his debut, he fought off Annie’s Candy not once, but twice. That was a sign of what was to come because in nearly every race he has ran since, someone looked like he would blow by him late only for Nyquist to prevail. Some horses find their best when they’re in a fight and Nyquist appears to be one of these types. As soon as he lulls one into thinking he can win, he crushes his spirit by slamming the door shut. If there is a horse in this crop who destroys the confidence of his opponents, it is Nyquist.

Mohaymen’s strength is his mind. He clearly is an intelligent individual who is able to adapt to a variety of situations. A key trait to have come Kentucky Derby time, Mohaymen has never appeared flustered or stressed despite situations not always panning out in his favor. When unforeseen circumstances arise in race, he is the one who is able to best cope, regather himself and press on. In the Fountain of Youth stakes, for example, Mohaymen was roused early when wide in order to get into a striking position in what had not been a quickly run race to that point. He was wide at points and in a race which saw a fair amount of chaos affect those around him in running, he kept to task throughout.
Advantage: Mohaymen

There is mention of Mohaymen’s tactical speed often, but I don’t see it. Every time he has routed, he has encountered a pace on the slower side and every single time he has sat off the pace. In the Nashua, Remsen and Fountain of Youth stakes, they were far from flying out front and yet he was multiple lengths off the lead at the first call. Get Mohaymen in a race with true early speed and I doubt he can be placed prominently without being used up out of the gate.

What Nyquist lacks is the potent turn of foot which Mohaymen possesses. While he does not need the lead, Nyquist could struggle should he be shuffled back in running or be steadied at any point because he has a fairly one-paced, grinding style. Without that burst of acceleration, maintaining his momentum in running is paramount. What is his weakness can turn into his strength if he is ridden aggressively, however. By making his move into the far turn as is his norm, he draws out the turn of foot of the deeper closers, often leaving them with too much to do late if they weren’t already forced to make an early move in order to keep up. His knockout move is a one-dimensional one in that sense, but it is potent and will flat out win races.
Advantage: Nyquist

Will They Stay The Trip?
It’s short and sweet on the Mohaymen front on this category since he already won the Remsen Stakes over nine furlongs.

Whether or not Nyquist will stay the Florida Derby trip is a much different story, however, but one which should be a completely separate topic from whether or not he will stay the trip in the Kentucky Derby. Nine furlongs is a different kettle of fish than 10 and with that in mind, he did win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over eight and a half furlongs, so he only needs to stay a half furlong further this time around. While it is true that Nyquist was treading water late in that affair with the second, third and fourth place finishers all finishing their final sixteenth of a mile more quickly, that stat does come with an asterisk. From the three quarter pole to the finish, Nyquist was actually the second fastest finisher with only Swipe besting him in that category. Also, bear in mind Nyquist had to be used some out of the gate in order to be best positioned from the wide draw and even still he travelled significantly further than the entire field. All things considered, he stayed on well in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and half a furlong should be within his realm. The real distance concerns come into play for the Kentucky Derby depending on his showing here.
Advantage: Mohaymen

Is This Just A Prep?
Much has been spoken about this race being “only a prep” for Mohaymen whereas Nyquist will be cranked for a big effort in this spot, which is probably being a bit overblown.

Mohaymen is a son of leading sire Tapit, after all, and a G1 win to his name could mean big bucks in the breeding shed, so rest assured connections would love to win this race. By all accounts, the screws were tightened on Mohaymen prior to the Fountain of Youth, however, so it wouldn’t surprised if he were to be freshened a tad coming into what will be his final Kentucky Derby prep in order to avoid him going over the top before the first Saturday in May.

Nyquist, on the other hand, comes into this race having only raced once since last October. With a million dollar bonus for being a Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale graduate on the line and him travelling across the country specifically for this race, this camp is clearly going all in. Trainer Doug O’Neill is great at aiming a quality horse for a specific race. That combined with him being lightly raced as a three-year-old (and in general for that matter) could result in him running the best race of his career, something he will need to do in order to defeat Mohaymen should he run to form. Nevertheless, team Nyquist clearly has more to gain in this situation so while the connections of Mohaymen are most definitely trying to win this race as well, special consideration may be taken with the goal of having him peak on Kentucky Derby day in mind. As far as Nyquist is concerned, however, this is his Kentucky Derby.
Advantage: Nyquist

And The Winner Is…
Mohaymen and Nyquist are ridiculously evenly matched at this state of their careers. With Mohaymen having home field advantage in his favor and already being proven over the distance, however, it is reasonable to believe he is more likely to be the shorter price of the two at post time. Nyquist has proven himself a good traveller, however, and Gulfstream Park is a course which should play kindly to his running style. With a larger field than previously expected on tap, Nyquist could be aided, as it could easily lead to Mohaymen being further back than most expect given his lack of early foot. Drawing post nine of ten does Mohaymen no favors, either. Should he break well, Nyquist is positioned as the inside speed in post four which should see him working out a forwardly placed, ground saving trip. It’s a tactical advantage which he will not relinquish easily. At the likely prices, he’s the pick.
The pick: Nyquist

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hong Kong Derby Preview

The BMW Hong Kong Derby is just over a week away, and as the best four-year-olds in Hong Kong prepare to do battle over 2000m, we want to have an early look at the slated field.

(Starcraft - Stormy Choice, by Redoute's Choice)
Drawn wide in a whopping 10 of his 14 career runs, it’s fair to say Blizzard hasn't had luck on his side. Despite taking the overland route in many of his runs, though, he has consistently risen to the occasion this season. While his best win this season came at the expense of the well-regarded Thewizardofoz, his third beaten a neck in the Hong Kong Classic Cup was sensational. Those who are against him will argue that his pedigree is not that of a 2000m horse, but on the track he shapes as one who will see out this trip.

(Lope de Vega - Mundus Novus, by Unbridled's Song)
Third in the G1 St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, Consort arrived in Hong Kong as a lightly raced individual full of promise. Highlighting the difficulty of acclimatizing to new surroundings, Consort has struggled in three local runs to date with his poor racing manners often getting the best of him. Several equipment changes have been made in that time frame to varying degrees of success, but the addition of blinkers in two recent trials looks like it may be the answer for the entire. It is not likely that he will find the amount of improvement necessary to win here, but he gives every indication he is heading in the right direction and that merits respect, especially given his proven class.

Eastern Express
(Fastnet Rock - Mohican Princess, by Shirley Heights)
His rating may not have been on par with those he faced in the Hong Kong Classic Cup, but he more than showed he belonged, missing by only a neck after copping the worst of a good tempo early. Already a winner over the Hong Kong Derby course and distance, Eastern Express has found a new level in his three most recent runs, with Karis Teetan aboard on every occasion. He is not receiving nearly the hype of Giovanni Canaletto or Werther following the Hong Kong Classic Cup, but his run was every bit as good given he was positioned forward early just behind Green Dispatch, who set a quick first 600m. He also pulled hard early and yet he still found himself in the blanket photo finish. In a group which features few true 2000m horses, Eastern Express looks the one best suited at this trip.

Friends Of Ka Ying [Almalad]
(Al Maher - Ilhaam, by Secret Savings)
While in the Gai Waterhouse stable in Australia, the highlight of Friends Of Ka Ying's career came as a late season juvenile when he took the G1 J.J. Atkins over a mile, defeating eventual Royal Ascot Diamond Jubilee Stakes runner-up Brazen Beau. Since arriving in Hong Kong, he has notched one win from four local starts and it came at the expense of fellow Hong Kong Derby runner Helene Paragon over 1400m, although Friends Of Ka Ying did have fitness in his favor that day. He can best be described as an inconsistent sort throughout his career and considering he came from the Waterhouse stable, it is likely he performed to the best of his capabilities in Australia. He also does not appear as suited by this distance as his rivals and for those reasons, he will have a tough time maintaining his edge over Helene Paragon, let alone the other top contenders.

Giovanni Canaletto
(Galileo - Love Me True, by Kingmambo)
His slashing run in the Hong Kong Classic Cup, with a final 400m of 23.43 -- easily the fastest of the field -- caught the eye and has led to him being marked up as the Hong Kong Derby favorite in some markets in Europe and Australia. Formerly under the care of Aidan O'Brien, he showed potential when finishing among the top four in both the English and Irish versions of the Derby. His best runs overseas came over 2400m, so the trip is no concern, but he got a favorable pace scenario in the Hong Kong Classic Cup and it is unlikely the Hong Kong Derby will be run in similar fashion. That being said, he has been a standout in trials and works recently. He is a key player, but likely as an underlay.

Green Dispatch [War Dispatch]
(War Front - Photograph, by Unbridled's Song)
Green Dispatch arrived in Hong Kong with some of the more immediately recognizable form lines. The Group 3 Prix de Guiche winner was third to New Bay in the Prix du Jockey Club before struggling through a driving rainstorm behind Highland Reel in the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park. While he won an impressive five races in a row as he rose through the ranks in France, his headstrong tendencies have got the better of him on more than one occasion. That habit has not changed since his arrival in Hong Kong. If anything, the addition of blinkers in his most recent start resulted in him racing more fiercely. He did behave himself better in recent works without blinkers, but he is probably one best left alone until he is better acclimatized -- and gelded.

Helene Paragon [Sir Andrew]
(Polan - High Zaff, by High Chaparral)
A winner in both France and Spain, Helene Paragon's best run abroad was a third behind Territories in the Prix Jean Prat last year. While he was untested over further than 1600m in Europe, Helene Paragon is bred to get over ground and has shaped like a horse who will relish 2000m, particularly when recently winning over 1800m against Class 2 company. Perhaps the only concern for Helene Paragon is his struggle to win while carrying a larger weight. Overseas, he was 1-for-4 while carrying 126+ lbs and locally, his sole disappointing run came when he had to carry more than 117 lbs. He is not an overly large individual, so perhaps he feels the weight late more than some of his rivals.

Hero Look
(Lope de Vega - Roscoff, by Daylami)
Hero Look has been one of the more puzzling horses in this field. A G3 winner in Italy, he arrived with form through local runner Wah May Friend, who has gone close on a few occasions against Class 2 and 3 company but is yet to win locally. Hero Look's Hong Kong debut was fantastic as he charged into second, only a neck behind Celestial Smile and ahead of Thewizardofoz. Since that run, however, Hero Look has not looked the same horse in races, workouts or trials. He clearly has talent, but perhaps we won't see it come to fruition until he is freshened.

Lucky Girl [More Soccer]
(Onemorenomore - Bani Yas, by Zabeel)
The lowest rated horse in the field is an intriguing player. Once you get past the fact he is a gelding named "Lucky Girl" you will find that he has performed well this season. Not only did he notch a thumping win over a mile in Class 3 company, defeating Leading Horse, but his only unplaced run this season was fresh over 1200m. Having only ran six times to date, Lucky Girl appeals in that he likely has more improvement in hand. He is the trip notes horse of this group in that he was blocked for a run for much of the straight last time out and with 130 lbs on his back, he still nearly caught the winner. His sire Onemorenomore is a young stallion who although probably best as a miler, finished second in a G3 over 2000m. Lucky Girl's pedigree is miler speed over stamina through damsire Zabeel, making him an intriguing prospect with the step up in trip. What Lucky Girl has in his favor is that he possesses good tactical speed combined with a sharp turn of foot which could allow for him to get a jump on backmarkers like Giovanni Canaletto and Werther. Whether or not he is good enough at this point of his career to hold them off remains the question.

King Genki [Toruk]
(Arcano - Celestina Agostino, by Street Cry)
I was able to see several of these newcomers in the flesh in December and none caught the eye more than King Genki. Known as Toruk in his native France, he is a dour sort who did not show much until stepped up to 2100m with his best performance a third behind Hong Kong Vase placegetter Dariyan and fellow Hong Kong Derby entrant Green Dispatch. His only run locally was in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, where he was a tailed off last after setting the speed alongside Dashing Fellow early. He recently trialed superbly over the dirt when splitting Master Kochanwong and Luger, responding well when asked. Over the dirt will perhaps be where he finds his best form, too, given the strong all-weather influences in his pedigree.

Sun Jewellery [Tan Tat Sun]
(Snitzel - Tan Tat Star, by Umatilla)
Bidding to become the first horse to win Hong Kong's Four-Year-Old Series, Sun Jewellery has been perpetually underrated by analysts and punters alike. His class and staying ability have been a point of contention in the past, and yet he lines up having won three straight and six of seven in Hong Kong. His Australian form through Winston's Lad has even stood up, with the latter winning his first two races after being imported to Hong Kong. By star stallion Snitzel, Sun Jewellery's pedigree is borderline at best for 2000m, but time and time again his class has seen him through. While Werther is touted as the stronger stayer, Sun Jewellery's final 400m in the Hong Kong Classic Cup was actually faster. His tactical speed often results in him being well placed early, which is especially potent given how little early speed the stronger stayers in this field possess. While it may be trendy to look elsewhere, every time Sun Jewellery has been overlooked in the past, he has popped up for the win.

Victory Magic [Atmosphere]
(Savabeel - Zephyr Song, by Danasinga)
He's never been first past the post, although he does have a Listed win to his name courtesy of a disqualification, and it is hard to imagine him finishing first here. Second in the Moonee Valley Vase over the trip, this distance is not a query, but the class of this field most definitely is. He has been second in four of his five runs this season, but it was in his most recent run over 2000m where he looked a potential winner at every point in running bar the point that actually mattered. In a field of horses who are perhaps known more for their tenacity than their brilliance, it is difficult to see him outgaming the lot of them late.

(Tavistock - Bagalollies, by Zabeel)
Werther arrived in Hong Kong with lofty credentials, including a second behind Delicacy in the G1 South Australian Derby. While popular belief is that he should improve for the step up to 2000m, the fact he was unable to finish faster than Sun Jewellery in the closing stages over 1800m despite getting the run of the race is alarming. He has shown himself to be a dour type and his short turn of foot has to be used near the top of the straight, resulting in him not finding the line strongly. In order to run to his best in Hong Kong, it is instead likely he will need further than he will get in the Hong Kong Derby. Additionally, Werther has many more runs under his belt than his rivals here, so while some of them are eligible for further improvement, he is likely to have already ran to his peak.

White Magic [Bartel]
(Aussie Rules - Kirunavaara, by Galileo)
A winner over the polytrack at Kempton, White Magic brought mixed form to the table with the highlight a second in the Listed Sir Henry Cecil Stakes over a mile on the Newmarket July course. White Magic has historically struggled to get out of the gates, ceding crucial ground to his rivals time and time again. He also does not appear to be a 2000m horse with his best runs locally and abroad both coming over a mile or shorter.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Road To The Arc Begins In Japan

It may only be February, but the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, held annually every October, already has a firm favorite on form.

Despite not being elevated to the head of the market by the majority of overseas oddsmakers just yet, Duramente established early claims for the world’s most prestigious race when easily taking the G2 Nakayama Kinen last weekend to kick off his 2016 season on a winning note.

With a large crowd on hand, Duramente made an eye-catching move from midpack to challenge for the lead exiting the bend. He surged away from the leaders down the straight and was able to hold off a late bid by G3 winner Ambitious. Looking a horse in desperate need of the run, Duramente showed more tractability than he had showed previously and he handled the bend much better than he had in the past.

Having won what was his first race in nearly nine months, Duramente tacked another accomplishment onto what is already an illustrious resume. A dual classic winner in 2015, Duramente showed a fantastic turn of foot when taking the G1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese Two Thousand Guineas) despite erratically cornering into the straight. In the G1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), he built upon that performance by breaking the race record, previously held by his sire King Kamehameha, en route to a cozy victory.

With the Triple Crown firmly in his sights, Duramente was unfortunately sidelined by distal fractures in both front legs which required surgery and ended his season.

While his Arc dreams were dashed last year, a rare recent year where Japan was not represented at all, Duramente’s connections firmly have their sights on the French target this time around.

Greats like Deep Impact and Orfevre were unable to win the Arc, a race that continues to haunt and elude the Japanese, but Duramente appears a more versatile sort than those two and others who challenged from the land of the rising sun.

Also in his favor is that the Arc has been shifted to Chantilly this year, while the race’s traditional home Longchamp is renovated. The Japanese routinely prepare for the race at their base on the Chantilly training grounds, making travel and preparation that little bit easier.

In the meantime, Duramente will be set for Dubai World Cup night and a run in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic, where he could potentially face G1 Hong Kong Vase first and third Highland Reel and Dariyan as well as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Postponed, Mackinnon Stakes victor Gailo Chop and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf third Queen’s Jewel.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Looking Forward: Songbird Soars Above Her Competition

Songbird's Star Shines Bright

Racegoers are often quick to label a horse a "star". One impressive win and a horse finds themselves being compared to all-time greats like Citation and Affirmed ... or those who Twitter folk deem "great", like Zenyatta and Smarty Jones, but that's a different story for a different day.

All eyes were on sunny Southern California over the weekend, with the main attraction being Fox Hill Farm's undefeated daughter of Medaglia d'Oro: Songbird.

Songbird's biggest weapon is her high cruising speed, and while on paper this race appeared to include horses with some early speed, they ultimately proved to be no match for her early foot. Not only did she easily cross over from gate six, but she enjoyed an uncontested lead throughout and pounded them into submission late, winning by six and a half lengths on the bridle.

Songbird is the daughter of Ivanavinalot, a pretty fast mare in her own right. A wire-to-wire winner of four races as a two-year-old, Ivanavinalot was precocious and nearly unbeatable in her prime when left alone on the lead. Her daughter clearly possesses some of the same traits, and it begs asking, is any three-year-old filly fast enough to pressure Songbird early? At this point, I don't think so.

This is why Songbird should steer far clear of the Kentucky Derby. Sure, it is sporting for connections to challenge their best horses to achieve new levels of greatness, but they should also do so while playing to the strengths of their horses.

First of all, nobody can blame Songbird's owner -- Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farms -- for not wanting to send his filly out to run against the boys. He did own Eight Belles, after all, and one can imagine her untimely death following her outstanding second to Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby would leave a scar, Unfortunately, freak injuries in-running are a real aspect of this sport, as with any, and if something did happen to Songbird, it would be a public relations nightmare for Porter and his team.

While one could easily argue, at least at this stage, that Songbird would be the most talented Kentucky Derby hopeful, remember that her weapon is her early speed. A full-field Kentucky Derby is one of the least likely spots a horse will find an uncontested lead. With 20 horses in the field, any sort of speed drawn to the inside or far outside would be sent to the lead, as would one or two no-hopers whose connections are simply eager to hear his name called. It happens every year. That's not to say they'd necessarily go fast on the front-end, but a contested lead is almost a certainty.

On top of that, Songbird of course has zero Kentucky Derby points, so she'd have to run in a prep against the boys -- which was not the original plan -- and finish on the board to even think of running in the race to begin with.

Changing a horse's plans when targeting a long-term goal rarely works out -- and to do so in order to run in the one race you are almost guaranteed will not be run to suit? Pass.

As Twitter folk would say, "Songbird is the best filly we've seen since Zenyatta!" All jokes aside, Songbird -- unlike Zenyatta -- has the Kentucky Oaks square in her sights. Whether those runs against the boys come remains to be seen, but no matter what happens, the Kentucky Derby isn't the place to run.

Mshawish Wins The Battle, But Will He Win The War?

Aside from Kentucky Derby and Oaks preps, the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park was a de facto prep for the Dubai World Cup, to be run next month at Meydan.

Mshawish has been somewhat of a revelation over dirt in recent times, winning both the G3 Hal's Hope and G1 Donn back-to-back, putting himself on the shortlist of individuals of dual surface G1 winners (AW not included). 

A winner in France, Dubai and America, it's been a long road with many frequent flier miles for this honest son of Medaglia d'Oro. Foot issues ensured his best was not seen in last year's Dubai Turf, finishing a distant third behind Solow. But reborn with the surface switch, he appears set for the Dubai World Cup this time around, despite having failed in his only attempt over further than nine furlongs.

While his aptitude for a truly run 10 furlongs is a query, he figures to at least have a pace impact on the race. Mshawish is the type who is best positioned handy and while he doesn't have the early speed of California Chrome or Frosted, it wouldn't be unusual for him to slot in behind those two. Add in the presence of stone cold frontrunner Hokko Tarumae and potentially Effinex and this race has the potential for a FAST pace. Last year, they went quick early, resulting in a complete meltdown, and a similar scenario this year would almost certainly take Mshawish out of the equation unless a drastic change of tactics were employed.

Nevertheless, Mshawish's accomplishments on dirt are admirable in a day and age when surface switches are not seen nearly as often as they once were. However unlikely it may be that this will turn into a $10 million success, this is an accomplishment which should be celebrated.

Newcomers Making Their Presence Felt In Hong Kong

One of the quirks of Hong Kong racing is how difficult it is for local first time starters to win on debut. Whether it be adjusting to new surroundings for previously raced imports or handling the fanfare on race day for debutants, racing at both Sha Tin and Happy Valley provides their own set of challenges for even the most experienced veterans.

In the past week, however, we saw three newbies win in scintillating fashion.

While the cliche is best saved for last, the best was first up this time around. John Size's Mr Stunning handled the tight Happy Valley course like a pro before displaying an outstanding turn of foot over 1,000m when unleashing a 22.17 final 400m -- over a half second faster than anyone else in the field. It is a notoriously difficult course and distance for debutants and while Mr Stunning had lived up to his name in barrier trials, his ability to hold up and finish with that sort of a closing kick was unfounded to that point, leaving Twitter in an excitable state.

While we're on the topic of Mr Stunning, Racing Supernova -- known as Axanite in Australia -- proved the strength of the horse's trial form on Saturday. Racing Supernova had finished a strong second to Mr Stunning in a barrier trial back in December, with both gapping their rivals by nine lengths. A winner at both Gosford and Kembla Grange, Racing Supernova didn't arrive in Hong Kong with the stellar credentials of some others imported from Down Under, but it didn't matter when he flew home at Sha Tin on Saturday.

Racing Supernova didn't make things easy on himself when he hopped while restrained just after leaving the gate. Aside from making trainer Chris So nervous, the snafu at the start didn't matter, however, and he finished strongly as if to let everyone know he had things under control. A final 400m of 22.10 -- three tenths faster than anyone else in the field -- led to him crushing his competition, including well-regarded second time starter Malmsteen.

A son of Mossman, My Darling rounded out the trio of debutant victories last week when taking out a Class Four by three and a half lengths over the 1,000m straight course at Sha Tin. Drawn relatively well in barrier nine of 14, with the outside draws typically preferred over this course, My Darling cruised home to an easy victory while being one of only two horses in the race to run a sub-23 second final 400m. He was another who had trialed well in the company of Mr Stunning, ironically his stablemate. Add two more newcomers to the ever-growing list of talented youngsters in the John Size yard.

Timing is everything in this sport and My Darling's win came in the nick of time for those who owned his half-sister, the filly going through the Inglis Classic Yearling Sale in Sydney the next day.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Keepin' It Real About The Kentucky Derby

We've broken the one hundred day barrier on the road to the Kentucky Derby, which means it’s time to crown a winner!

At least, that’s what every Bob, Joe, and Hank would tell you. You know those guys: the ones who knew they saw every Derby winner the day they broke their maiden.

I have no problem with the rationale and don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. By all means, be excited about the Derby. I certainly am; but let’s get real about a few of the fancied runners at this stage.

Zulu is the prototypical hype horse. He’s been hammered at the windows at both starts and his seven length victory against first level allowance company dropped jaws nationwide. Did he really improve that significantly from his maiden victory to his allowance win, or was the improvement a result of the sloppy surface?

While he may have come on for the run, Todd Pletcher is one of the best in the business when it comes to debutants being amply prepared and for that reason, one wouldn’t expect second-time starters from his barn to improve nearly as much as those from other barns.

Instead, I’m suggesting Zulu improved for the surface switch. That’s not to say Zulu can’t run well over drier tracks, he proved in his maiden breaker over a track designated good that he could, but there’s reason to believe his peak performances could come over sloppy surfaces based on his breeding. He is by Bernardini who won the Jim Dandy by nine lengths over a track designated sloppy, and he is a half brother to wet track winner Illegal Search. Zulu’s dam is a half sister to Gold Ingot, who on multiple occasions won on the slop, and his second dam Lemhi Go won the G2 La Prevoyante over muddy surface. Summer Squall, Zulu’s damsire, was also the damsire of Summer Bird -- a noted slop lover.

Perhaps Zulu is very good, but I’m going to take the stance that it was more likely the wet surface brought out the best in him. While we’re at it, throw Greenpointcrusader into that same boat. Also a son of Bernardini, his full brother Algorithms won the Holy Bull by five lengths in the slop and millionaire half sibling Justin Phillip won four times over sealed wet surfaces, including an easy 3 ¼ length romp in the G2 Woody Stephens. Throw in fellow wet track winning sibling Keyed Entry (G2 Hutcheson) too. You get the point.

Another horse who has wet track form is Exaggerator. While I won’t be nearly as harsh on him from that perspective, it was extraordinary when Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 closed that he was sitting there at 25-1. While he has generally performed well, it’s noteworthy that he lost his only two attempts in G1 company. To take things a step further, Brody’s Cause defeated him on both occasions, indicating to me that -- at least at this point in time -- he has Exaggerator’s measure.

Exaggerator may turn out to be a nice little horse, but 25-1 on him versus 21-1 on Brody’s Cause is a no-brainer for #TeamBrody. With Exaggerator set to run the day after Future Pool 2 closes and with Brody’s Cause being trained up to his seasonal debut in March, keep an eye on the prices of these two with respect to each other in that pool. I have a feeling Brody’s Cause will be the value play.

I saved the best for last in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Nyquist. He’s the guy those on social media have deemed “the first horse to toss from Derby contention” or “the one who is overrated and can’t win.”

The funny thing about Nyquist is that, for an undefeated three-time G1 winner who won well at the Breeders’ Cup, I actually think he is grossly underrated. Sure, it’s the horseplayer in us all to seek out value -- and this is the case now more than ever with three straight favorites having worn the blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May. He has defeated large fields over dry dirt, he’s had success around two turns, and Swipe finishing second behind him in the Juvenile solidified his formlines.

There’s no doubting there is a fair amount of speed in Nyquist’s pedigree and Uncle Mo’s progeny looked like precocious types last year, but the few classy ones we’ve seen this year appear to have trained on similarly to Uncle Mo himself. The tractability he showed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile could also allow him to stay longer trips should they continue to use off the pace tactics with him.

Perhaps 10 furlongs will ultimately be his undoing, but unlike those already mentioned on this list, Nyquist, bar a setback, is all but in the Kentucky Derby already -- and you can’t win it if you’re not in it. Middle distance influences on the dam’s side of his pedigree, through Seeking The Gold and Pleasant Colony, also add some hope that at least nine furlongs may be within the outer realms of his reach.

All in all, it is still January with plenty of races to come on the road to May. Instead of focusing on finding the Derby winner yesterday, I’ll be searching for the value plays in futures pools as I take each prep race at a time. Even in recent years when Derby prep form has generally held, early fancies like Carpe Diem, Upstart, Samraat, Wildcat Red, Verrazano and Vyjack were nowhere to be found come the big day.

There’s no need to make a Derby decision today, tomorrow, or even next week -- when we are talking formlines over an extended period of time, the most crucial key for a successful horseplayer is to remain level-headed despite the hype.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hong Kong Classic Mile Preview

1/24/2016  Sha Tin Race 10

All season, the hot topic in Hong Kong has been the strength of this year's four-year-olds -- particularly those in the John Size yard -- and here we'll get to see the best of them face each other over a mile.

The aforementioned Size has the top two entrants on local ratings and while Sun Jewellery (formerly Tan Tat Sun) has won three of four thus far in Hong Kong, he also comes with legitimate distance queries being by Snitzel and out of an Umatilla mare. He'll be a short price come post time and taking the distance queries and poor draw into account, he looks the one to take on.

Our focus here is instead on Thewizardofoz. A son of Redoute's Choice, Thewizardofoz asserted himself as the leader of this crop last year when he effortlessly won his first three starts. While some look at his two losses this season as him faltering, in reality he was simply beaten by a fitter individual first-up and he ran well second-up to finish as close as he did when near a scorching pace early. In a race which melted down, he was the only pace presence to stick around late. To top it off, that was while carrying 131 lbs. It was in his third start of the season that Thewizardofoz silenced his doubters, trouncing a field which included Blizzard, Hero Look, and Consort and there is little reason to think any of those three will reverse form with him here.

Concerning for his competition is the possibility that Thewizardofoz could in fact improve for the step up to a mile. Out of New Zealand Oaks winner Princess Coup, this distance should be ideal.

There is little early speed signed on in this race, which shouldn't hinder Thewizardofoz, but such a tempo could in fact aid Dashing Fellow. A regular frontrunner this season, Dashing Fellow has led twice over 1400m and should have a softer time of things over this longer trip. Even if Sun Jewellery is sent forward from the wide barrier, one wouldn't expect him to force a strong tempo.

Dashing Fellow ran well when third behind Multivictory and Apollo's Choice in his lone try over a mile. He finished only one half of a length back despite carrying eight and ten pounds more than the two who beat him, respectively, and that form has stood up since. Two of today's competitors Sun Jewellery and Lucky Bubbles defeated him last time out, but he's now drawn inside both of them and appears better suited by the step up in trip. Of those who are likely to be double digit odds at post time, he's the one to use.

First time racing in Hong Kong is never easy, but King Genki (formerly Toruk) caught the eye physically when I saw him back in December and his most recent trial was encouraging. Pushed to lead by Joao Moreira, King Genki showed nice early foot in what will have been a solid fitness builder. There's every reason to believe he'll be near the speed and having ran third only one and one half lengths behind eventual Hong Kong Vase third place finisher Dariyan, he brings class to the table. While he's likely to find this mile distance too sharp, a solid run could set him up well for a Hong Kong Derby bid.

Blizzard beat Thewizardofoz this season, but that form was emphatically reversed last time out. He's drawn wide three times this season and some will point to a better draw here as reason to upgrade him. Of concern, however, is the step up to a mile. While he visually shapes as if a mile could be within his realm, his pedigree suggests otherwise, as it's loaded with sprinting influences.

We'll round things out with Werther, who easily won his only start in Hong Kong to date. Like Dashing Fellow, Werther has form through Apollo's Choice whom he defeated by one and one half lengths when receiving two pounds. Second to Delicacy in the G1 South Australian Derby, Werther clearly has talent, he's proven locally over a mile and there's reason to believe he'll improve second-up.

Verdict and Early Odds:
1. Thewizardofoz (4.0)
2. Werther (4.2)
3. Dashing Fellow (14.0)
4. King Genki (32.0)

Suggested Play:   2 / 5,6 / 4,5,6,11 trifecta