Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Santa Anita President's Day Weekend Stakes Wrap-Up

Last weekend brought with it a three-day weekend as the nation celebrated Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays. Santa Anita ran 5 stakes over those three days, from a pair of 7 furlong sprints to a mile and a half marathon on the lawn. On Saturday, the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Stakes and the Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes were run, both with thrilling stretch-drives. Sunday brought the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes. Monday brought a couple of races on the grass, the Grade 3 La Habra Stakes and the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap. The stakes actions had some scintillating stretch runs, some devastating late kicks and a solid gate-to-wire performance.

On Saturday, The Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Stakes at a mile and one-half continued the budding rivalry between arguably the two best turf horses in the country, Champ Pegasus (right) and Bourbon Bay. In the San Marcos Stakes last month, Bourbon beat Champ, maintaining a perfect record over the course. This race was affected by the inclement weather that hit the Southern California area on Friday and Saturday, forcing the start of the race to happen on the main oval of the turf course, and not on the downhill portion. The race itself managed to avoid the rain, as the sun was out. Unbridle’s Dream went out and set the lead, getting in front by, at some points, 10 lengths. Bourbon tracked the leader in 2nd, taking over the lead when the pacesetter faded in the stretch. (Unbridle’s Dream had to be vanned off after the race with a non-life-threatening injury.) Champ Pegasus came right up to Bourbon Bay, and they threw it down in the stretch, battling right down to the wire. In the end, the Champ won the battle, as he won the photo over Bourbon at the wire. After the race, Champ’s trainer Richard Mandella said that he will head to Dubai with his runner for a race on the Dubai World Cup night, and Bourbon Bay’s trainer. Neil Drysdale said he will take his charge there as well. It is a bit of shame that these two will not continue through the rest of the San Juan Capistrano series, as these two could have eclipsed the last big turf rivalry in Southern California, Kotashaan and Bien Bien. This blog wishes them luck in Dubai.

A few hours later, with a hailstorm in the interim, under much wetter conditions, the Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes at 7 furlongs ended up with 4 of the 6 horses finishing within a length of each other at the wire. The favorite was Smiling Tiger (right). He was looking to bounce back from his disappointing third-place effort in the Palos Verdes Handicap last month. Captain Cherokee, who finished second in the Palos Verdes, along with the Baffert duo of Mythical Power and Ventana, were among those who lined up against them. At the break, Smiling Tiger had trouble, and was in the unusual situation of having to come off the pace. Captain Cherokee and Ventana set the moderate fractions down the backstretch on a less than fast track, and held the lead until the final 1/16th. Mythical Power charged, as did Smiling Tiger. As they hit the wire, Smiling Tiger gamely went by the others, winning from well off the pace under a perfect ride by his jockey Joel Rosario. The connections for Smiling Tiger stated that their next goal is Met Mile at Belmont on Memorial Day.

On Sunday, 6 three year olds lined up in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes going 7 furlongs. The favorite was The Factor (right), who was making his first start since his track-record performance on opening day. Second choice in the betting was Best Pal Stakes runner up Sway Away, who was making his first start since that race in August. Third choice was Hollywood Prevue winner and this blog’s choice to win the Kentucky Derby Premier Pegasus. The Factor went right out to lead, dueling with and eventually putting away City Cool by the time the field was turning for home under swift fractions. PrePeg stalked the blistering pace, but could not stay with the leaders and ended up a solid third. Sway Away rallied from well out of it, but could not catch The Factor, with the race finishing in a time similar to the San Carlos. Further analysis of this race will be provided in the next Drought Report post.

On Monday, the stakes action kicked off with the Grade 3 La Habra going about 6 & ½ furlongs down the hillside turf course, with the turf listed as good. This was a surprise to this blog that the race was on the turf, as the amount of rain SoCal received was not insubstantial. A Z Warrior and Bloemer Girl were both major scratches from the race. One of the betting choices was Cambina(right), who looked to put in a late run and build off her trouble-filled North American debut in the Sweet Life Stakes (which was a common race to many in here. The favorite was Cloneylass, who like Cambina, was severely impeded during the running of the Sweet Life, in which she finished second. Two of the also-eligibles drew in, with Quiet Oasis drawing some attention on the board, partly due to her 7th-placed finish in the Bredeers’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and her luring of top local jockey Joel Rosario. At the wire, a desperate photo separated Quiet Oasis, who took over in the stretch, and the on-rushing Cambina, who rallied from well out of it. Cambina won the photo over Quiet Oasis, with Cathy’s Crunches finishing well-back in third. These two could hook up next in the Grade 2 Providencia Stakes going a mile on the grass on the Santa Anita Derby undercard.

Two races later, 11 older mares hooked up in the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap. The field was evenly matched, with the morning line emphasizing that by making the morning-line favorite 4/1. However, the favorite (Evening Jewel) scratched out of the race, with the connections citing the post and the less-than-firm turf conditions. Favoritism fell to Malibu Pier, who was coming off a disappointing finish in the Grade 2 El Encino last month on the main track. Returning to the turf, where she previously won on, she appeared a solid choice, and looked great in the paddock. Briecat always is a threat to take a field gate to wire, and she attempted to do as much during the race. She won the front-end battle but lost the race as Cozi Rosie (right)rallied from way back to get up for the win, with Malibu Pier finishing third. Cozi was returning from a long layoff, and may be at her best at this mile distance, as this win was her third win at the distance.

So there is a brief recap of the stakes action that occurred at Santa Anita over the President’s Day weekend. It was filled with thrilling finishes, the 2011 debuts of some future stars and the continuation of a budding rivalry. Let’s see what the rest of the meet holds.

Monday, February 21, 2011

President's Day Stakes Action at Santa Anita

The President's Day holiday brings to the Great Race Place two graded stakes. First up is the Grade 3 La Habra Stakes for 3 year old fillies scheduled to go about 6.5 furlongs down the hillside turf course (though will it be actually run on the grass is questionable). Then an hour or so later, the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap going a mile on the grass for older fillies and mares goes off. Each race features at least on Grade 1 winner amongst their respective entrants. But Mother Nature has thrown a curveball into the mix. The large amount of precipitation that fell in Southern California last week definitely will have an effect on the races. While the Buena Vista will probably be run on the turf, albeit on a less than firm turf course, the La Habra might be run instead on the main track. Let's start with the La Habra.

The determination of whether or not the race will be run down the hill will not be made until Monday morning, but this blog thinks that the race will come off the grass, as the downhill portion of the turf course appears to take longer to dry out than the inner oval. Neither of the two prior Grade 1 winners would mind a switch to the main, as neither of them have run on the grass, and are not overly bred for it either. The #1 Rigoletta pulled a 32-1 shocker in winning the Grade 1 Oak Leaf going 1m & 1/16th over the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. She was subsequently knocked out due to injury after that race, and has 5 works in two for her return. No matter which surface this race is run, it will be mark her first race over it, as she has run over solely synthetic in her career. The other Grade 1 winner is #3 A Z Warrior (right). This daughter of Bernardini won the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont Park going a mile. After finishing dead last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, she has been freshened for her 2011 campaign. She has several nice works for her return, including a bullet 5f work in 59 flat on 2/15. She beat Rigoletta when both were making their debuts in July 2010. A strong contender on either surface is #6 Bloemer Girl. This daughter of Bertrando won the Sweet Life Stakes at this very distance on the grass last time out in a race seriously affected by a loose horse (#7 She'll Heir). While the #6 has never raced over the dirt, her pedigree suggests that she will not have a problem with the dirt. The one worry with her is that she has not worked since her win in the Sweet Life on 1/22.

The Buena Vista Handicap goes a flat mile on the grass with 11 entrants + 2 also eligible. It is an evenly matched field, as shown by the tepid 4-1 morning line favorite in #11 Evening Jewel. This Grade 1 winner returns to the turf after winning the Sunshine Millions Distaff on the main track last month. She threw a solid work on the grass in the interim. She will struggle some breaking from the outside post, and her regular jockey Victor Espinoza will have to navigate a trip from out there. #5 Malibu Pier (right) returns to the grass after some mixed results on the main track. After running a solid second in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes, she finished dead last in the El Encino Stakes. She has worked three times steadily in the interim, and seems to have bounced back from the poor effort no worse for wear. She has a good shot to work out a good stalking trip from her post. She gets in very light at a 115 lbs, 7 less than Evening Jewel and at least 2 lbs less than any of the other contenders. A horse who will be rolling from the back of the pack is #10 It Tiz. This daughter of Tiznow won a race that several of the competitors come out of, the Megahertz Stakes. Run at the same distance as the Buena Vista, It Tiz rallied from well off the pace to get up for the win. She has two good works in the interim and the race flow sets up will for her today. But will she find a way through without having to swing wide, especially with the rails at 15 feet?

Two solid stakes finish up the President's Day weekend at Santa Anita, and both hopefully will be on the grass. Who will use the La Habra as a springboard for bigger and better things? Who will win the Buena Vista to attempt to take control of the filly/mare mile division? We shall see. Good luck everybody!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Drought Report 2/16 - San Vicente Stakes & Robert Lewis/El Camino Real recap

Some surprising results occurred this weekend, as the search for "The Drought Breaker" moved into full swing with two graded stakes and the first three-year old allowance on the main track this meet. In each of the three races, the heavy favorite went down to a feisty upstart. Steve Asmussen won one of them, but not the one most people expected. A new star may have emerged up north, and a Cal-bred hope emerged. A recap of these races plus a preview of the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes, that will be run on Sunday. First, let's recap the allowance race.

The first open allowance race for three year olds on the dirt at the Santa Anita meet ran on Friday. It was thought to be a match-up between the fast Baffert trainee Da Ruler and the swift Mandella filly Rumor. However, Rumor scratched out of the race when a filly-only version of this condition filled on Sunday. That plus another scratch left a compact field of 4 going 6 furlongs. Da Ruler was a heavy favorite, and pressed a hot pace set by the other two horses in the race. He took over at the top of the lane and looked strong. However, he was run down late by Bench Points (right) in a swift 1:08.22. This undefeated son of Benchmark ran his lifetime record to 4-for-4 by making his 2011 debut a winning one. He won both Cal-bred stakes at Del Mar, the I'm Smokin Stakes and the Graduation Stakes, last summer. This Tim Yakteen-trained gelding will have no problem as the distances increase, as his sire won going a 1m & 1/8, and his damsire Free House won the Santa Anita Derby, the Pacific Classic and the Santa Anita Handicap, the latter two at a 1m & 1/4. His likely next start is the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes March 12th, his first start at two turns.

Saturday brought two races that were thought to help crystallize the picture out here, yet caused more chaos instead. Here at Santa Anita, the Grade 2 Robert B Lewis Stakes going a mile and an eighth was thought to be nothing more than another notch in the belt for Tapizar, especially after Comma To The Top chose to run in the El Camino Real Derby instead (more on that in a minute). Unfortunately, things did not work out like that, as Tapizar was very rank in the early going, dragging jockey Garrett Gomez to the lead under swift fractions. He tugged and tugged so much that he had nothing left in the stretch, finishing a distant fifth out of seven runners. In a sustained stretch drive. Anthony's Cross (right) held off the multiple-graded stakes placed Riveting Reason for the win. This son of Indian Charlie avenged his loss to Tapizar in the Sham and won his first stake of his career in a slow (for this track) 1:48.63. His trainer Eoin Harty has not decided whether he will run in the Grade 2 San Felipe or wait until the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby for his next race, or maybe even ship out of town. This proved to be Tapizar's last race for a while, as he emerged from the race with a chip in his knee, and is sidelined indefinitely.

About an hour later and 400 miles up the 5 freeway, the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields was run. The heavy favorite was Comma To The Top, who chose this slightly "easier" spot instead of the Lewis. Jakesam set the pace, with Comma drafting behind. Turning for home, Comma attempted to take command, but flattened out and drifted out in the stretch. The winner was Silver Medallion, who this blog had touted as a horse to watch last week. This son of Badge of Silver completed the mile and an eighth in 1:50.45, grinding out a win after having to check early and swing well wide into the stretch. The Steve Asmussen trainee could head to any one of four spots for his next race, including halfway around the world in Dubai for the UAE Derby. This blog is very high on him and hopes he ships stays local and runs in the Santa Anita Derby instead. Comma To The Top came out of the race well, but his performance may been a harbinger for his future performances at this and longer distances.

News and Notes
  • The Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes will be run this Sunday going 7 furlongs. Entries will be taking tomorrow, but probable for the race, making their 2011 debuts, is G3 Hollywood Prevue winner (and this blog's choice to end the drought) Premier Pegasus (right) and G2 Best Pal Stakes runner-up Sway Away. Other notable probables for the race are sparkling debut winner The Factor and San Pedro Stakes winner Indian Winter.
  • On Friday (2/11), the Asmussen trained Astrology continued working towards a start with a slow 4 furlong work in 51.20, the 38th best out of 42 works at Santa Anita.
  • Jaycito worked towards a start in the San Felipe Stakes on 3/12 with a 7 furlong work in 1:25.40 on Tuesday (2/15).

A changing of the guard took place last weekend, with a stable losing a strong hope, yet finding another. Favorites went down, prices reigned, and new challengers abound. What will this week hold? Will someone shine in the San Vicente and factor into the breaking the drought? We shall see.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Drought Report 2/9 - Robert B Lewis Stakes / El Camino Real Derby

This weekend brings two graded stakes that will go a long way in determining who will be "The Drought Breaker". At "The Great Race Place", 8 sophomores are entered in the Grade 2 Robert B Lewis worth $250k going a 1m & 1/8th. Up at Golden Gate Fields, 7 are entered the $200k Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby, also going a 1m & 1/8th. Also the first open first-level allowance on the dirt for the 3yos of the meet will be run on Friday, bringing together two of the more stylish maiden winners at the meet, Da Ruler and the filly Rumor.

Both the Robert B. Lewis and the El Camino Real have shared entrants in Comma to The Top and Anthony's Cross. Comma To The Top's connections said that they are leaning towards the El Camino Real Derby, and his work on Sunday (2/6) going a bullet 5 furlongs in 59.4 at Hollywood Park, the best of 34 works at the distance. Anthony's Cross, who ran third in the Sham, worked smartly since the race, finishing up his preparations on Sunday with a 5 furlong work going 59.60, (2nd best on the day) also at Hollywood Park. Comma To The Top's presence will have a larger effect on the El Camino Real, where he would be a heavy favorite to win and the big star of the race.

The Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby is one of the marquee races of the Golden Gate Fields meet, and it appears that one of the west coast's biggest three year old in Comma To The Top. As mentioned earlier, his connections have chosen this race as his 2011 debut. This will be the farthest he has ever raced in his career, and his lack of recency could leave him vulnerable. Comma To The Top earned the respect by winning the Real Quiet, G3 Generous and G1 Hollywood Futurity during the Hollywood Park autumn meet. This blog is intrigued by Silver Medallion. This Steve Asmussen-trained son of Badge of Silver won the Eddie Logan Stakes on New Year's Eve at Santa Anita going a mile on the grass. This blog speculated that he might switch to the main after the win, and it appears that he has landed in a good spot. He has a recency edge over the favorite, should have no problem with the distance, and the workout pattern is sharp. His last work was an easy 4 furlongs in 49.40 at Santa Anita on Monday, earning the rare "B" or "Breezing" designation for the work. This means that the horse was under no urging whatsoever during the work (this fact courtesy of the Illman blog). The "B" is rarely given out in SoCal, and it should be noted that Silver Medallion's last work before the Eddie Logan also received a "B". Also running is Positive Response, who has won the two local preps for this race, the Gold Rush Stakes and the California Derby.

Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes will have a good-looking three year old, even if Comma To The Top decides to head north, in Tapizar. This son of Tapit (right) won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes last month in gate-to-wire fashion, blowing the field off their feet. In the process, he ran more than a second faster than Indian Firewater did in the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes for four year olds later on the card. This Asmussen charge looks to assert himself once again a strong contender for the Santa Anita Derby with a win. His last work was an easy four furlongs in 49 flat on Monday at Santa Anita, and like his stablemate, he earned a "B" designation. It would not be a derby prep race in Southern California without a Bob Baffert trainee, and he is represented by Wegner. This son of Dynaformer also plies his trade on the front end, as does the multiple graded-stakes placed Riveting Reason. Also in the field is Thirtyfirststreet, who will stretch out for the first time in the race off his win the CA Breeders' Champions Stakes on opening day.

News and Notes
  • On Tuesday 2/8, San Pedro Stakes winner Indian Winter worked a bullet 6 furlongs in 1:13 (best of 10 workers) at Santa Anita in preparation for next start, which maybe the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes next Saturday (2/19).
  • Jaycito worked on Monday 2/7 5 furlongs in 59.20 at Santa Anita, the 4th best work of 48.
  • Astrology worked for the first time since arriving in Southern California for Steve Asmussen on Saturday 2/5. His first spin a tepid 4 furlongs in 52 seconds. He could be pointed to the San Felipe as well
  • Premier Pegasus worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.60 at Santa Anita on Friday 2/4. He also could be pointed to the San Felipe.
  • The Factor had his first official work (though he had been galloping long for a few weeks) since his scintillating win on opening day. He went 4 furlongs in an easy 48.2 at Hollywood Park on Tuesday (2/8)
  • Lastly, the first open allowance on the dirt for either sex of the meet is set for Friday. It matches up the Baffert trainee Da Ruler (below left) and the Richard Mandella filly Rumor (below right). Rumor is in this race as a means to an end, since all attempts at a N1X for fillies only has failed to fill several times. Both have high ceilings when it comes to their futures, and let's hope that the race proves to be a good one for all parties involved.

The stakes action begins in earnest this weekend, and the picture could become clearer after this weekend's stakes. A future star hopes to solidify his position on top, while the one on top attempts to maintain his position there. Should be some good action all weekend. Good luck everybody!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Strub Stakes Day

This Saturday bring us 3 graded stakes to Santa Anita, all local preps for major races one month from now on Big Cap day. First up will be the Grade 1 Las Virgenes at a mile, which is a prep for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. Next up is the Grade 3 Thunder Road at a mile on the grass, which is the prep for the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile. Finally, the Strub series will finish up with the Grade 2 Strub Stakes, the last chance for 4 year olds to stay within their own age group before taking on older in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. Let's kick off the stakes action with the only Grade 1 on today's card, the Las Virgenes.

The 4th race on the card, the Las Virgenes brings together a field of 6 (7 entered, but Bluegrass Chatter was a program scratch). This race marks the 2011 debut of Turbulent Descent, who capped off her 2010 with a win the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet. She has been training smartly across town at her Hollywood Park home base, finishing off her preparations with a bullet 5 furlong work on 1/30. Going against her today is the winner of the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel May Day Rose and the 1-2-3 finishers of the Grade 2 Santa Ynez California Nectar, Zazu and Plum Pretty. May Day Rose cuts back a 1/16th of a mile off her win, and will be winging on the front end. California Nectar is running her third race and stakes win of the meet, and will be looking for her first win at a route of ground. Zazu has finished second to both CA Nectar and Zazu, and will look to avenge both. If Turbulent Descent can take to dirt, the rest look to be running for second.

4 races later, older males face-off in the Thunder Road Handicap. The field includes grade 1 winners Fluke and Victor's Cry. The surprising entrant is Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Dakota Phone. He was expected to run in the San Antonio Handicap tomorrow, but the way the dirt is playing has apparently forced the hand of the connections to use this as a prep race for the Big Cap. The Cal-bred Colgan's Chip will once again try open company, hoping to take this field wire-to-wire while cutting back to a flat mile. This blog does not have a good feeling for this race, so all he will say is that Dakota Phone is a play against at short odds. While he is 1-for-5 on the grass, the shape of the race and the shorter turf stretch will play against him.

The final race of the day is the Strub Stakes. Former recent winners of the race are multiple Grade 1 winners Rock Hard Ten and Medaglia d'Oro. The heavy favorite, and rightfully so in this blog opinion, is Twirling Candy (right). Off his track-record effort in the Grade 1 Malibu, he stretches out once again and comes in with some sparkling works. He appears to be clearly the class of the field and could be a monster in the making. The only worry is that his two starts going a mile and an eighth have been "adventurous". This blog is intrigued by a new shooter invading from the east, Honour the Deputy. This recent private purchase is now in the Hollendorfer barn and apparently adjusted well to SoCal based on his works. With the rather uninspiring lot lined up here besides TC, he is this blog's choice to surprise and get up for second. This blog is taking a stand against any horse that comes out of the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes.

Today will be a solid day of racing out at the Great Race Place, and hopefully will see some star worthy performances. Good luck everybody!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Drought Report - 2/2

As the calendar turns another page to the month of February, the day moves ever closer to determining who will be the "Drought Breaker". We will first talk about an impressive maiden winner in his debut that happened on Saturday, then we will provide some workouts and other notes.

On Saturday, race 2 at the Great Race Place, 6 three year olds lined up to go 6 furlongs. The two horses taking most of the wagering action was #1 Tokubetsu and #2 Runflatout. These two broke well, went right to the lead, with Tokubetsu getting a slight advantage. After a swift quarter mile, these two had already separated themselves from the rest of the field by a length and a half. After a half mile, these two were separated by a half length, and separated from the rest of the field by two and half lengths. Turning for home, they widen on the rest of the field, with Runflatout taking an advantage. By the time they hit the wire, Runflatout had won by 2 & 1/2 lengths over Tokubetsu, with another 8 & 1/2 lengths to the rest of the field. He covered the 6 furlongs in a swift 1:07.70. He is a son of Flatter, and was vying for favoritism for most of the betting. He appears to have a lot of talent, but is it too little, too late?

News and Notes
  • This blog's choice to end the drought, the undefeated Premier Pegasus, finally put in a work since his victory in the Hollywood Prevue on Friday (1/28), working 4f in 47.20. No clue on what his first prep will be, but maybe the San Felipe S. on March 12th.
  • Comma To The Top worked 7 furlongs on 1:24.60 at Hollywood Park on Monday (1/31) in preparation for the Robert B. Lewis S on February 12th.
  • San Pedro Stakes winner Indian Winter worked 5 furlongs on Tuesday (2/1) at Santa Anita in 5 furlongs in 1:00.20, the 5th best of 30 works
  • Jaycito worked the same morning, going 7 furlongs in 1:25.20. 
  • The Factor has been galloping steadily towards his next start, which will be the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes on February 20th going 7 furlongs.
  • On Thursday (2/3), Houston Harbor, who finished second to The Factor on opening day, comes back in a maiden special weight race going 1m & 1/16th in the 6th race. He drew the outside post #10 in the field.
Another week in the books, another week closer to finding out who will be the "Drought Breaker". Good luck folks.