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!


  1. Here's what I learned from the day at Santa Anita:

    1) Turbulent Descent just might not be a true superstar. I definitely think she is good, and she was giving away recency to Zazu, who had run in the Santa Ynez. However, Turbulent Descent didn't show the tactical speed I expected, and while she came with a solid move around the turn, she was simply outrun by Zazu through a tepid 13+ second final eighth. Looking back on Turbulent Descent's Hollywood Starlet win, she didn't exactly run away and hide that day. She has been most impressive around one turn, leading to legitimate questions about whether she really wants 9 furlongs or longer.

    With all this said, Turbulent Descent has a touch of class, and should be better in the Santa Anita Oaks. She will need to be because Zazu is a quality filly in her own right. However, it's hard to expect SoCal to have a group of 3 year old fillies like it did last year with Blind Luck, Evening Jewel, Switch, and Tanda, the first 3 being multiple grade1 winners.

    2. SoCal has a solid group of middle distance turf horses, and they likely will continue taking turns beating each other. Fluke, the winner of the Thunder Road, is a quality horse, having won the gr.1 09' Citation, and run close 2nds last year in the gr.1 Kilroe Mile and gr.2 Arcadia. After a break over the summer, he has returned well, and found his best form today winning the Thunder Road. Fluke's stablemate, Proudinsky, is an admirable veteran, but he does seem to find ways to lose his biggest races. Victor's Cry, 3rd in the Thunder Road behind the two Ascanio stablemates, can run huge on his day, although he may prefer Hollywood's grass. Tencentcielo, you were correct to toss Dakota Phone, a horse that has been unplaced in 3 starts since his BC Dirt Mile shocker.

  2. Here's what I learned(cont)

    3.John Sadler has had a stranglehold over the now 4 year old male division. Last year, when these horses were 3, his Sidney's Candy won the San Vicente, San Felipe, and Santa Anita Derby. Then, at Del Mar, Sadler swept that track's series of turf races for 3 year olds with Twirling Candy taking the Oceanside, Sidney's Candy the La Jolla, and Twirling the Del Mar Derby. At the current Santa Anita meet, Sidney won the Sir Beaufort(for 3 year olds), Twirling won the Malibu(for 3 year olds), and today Twirling took the Strub(for 4 year olds). Had Sidney been 100% and not scratched, he undoubtedly would have won the San Fernando(for 4 year olds) a few weeks ago.

    Two things explain this dominance. First, Sidney and Twirling are very, very good horses. In terms of a classic distance, I have always thought Twirling to be the better, but Sidney deserves respect for being an absolute brilliant miler, althoug Twirling can blaze at shorter distances as well. To top things off, both the Candys can run on dirt, turf, and synth. However, equally key in the dominance is the weakness of the crop they have been facing. With the exception of Lookin at Lucky in the Santa Anita Derby, Caracortado, and the field for the Malibu, neither Sidney nor Twirling has been beating much.

    Twirling certainly didn't beat much in the Strub. On paper, it appeared Twirling could sit right off Indian Firewater, dispose of that one whenever he pleased, and then open up on the field to win by a distance. And that's fairly much what happened. Rosario waited a little longer than I expected to let Twirling go, and for a brief moment in the stretch it appeared he might falter and be challenged by Tweebster, but in the end he was simply too good and beat the mediocre field the way a good horse should.

    Twirling certainly looked stylish in winning the Strub and ran a fast time, but he really didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do. Yes, he did demonstrate he could get 9 furlongs, but he had already won at 9 furlongs when winning another restricted race, the Del Mar Derby, on turf the past summer.

    Assuming all the major contenders remain healthy, I think Twirling will be the favorite for the Big Cap, and he deserves to be, but I don't think he's a slam dunk for the race. I still remmeber the Goodwood this past Fall, when Twirling Candy, in his one stakes race against open company(older than his age group), when he opened up on the turn only to wilt the final sixteenth and finish 4th to multiple gr.1 winner Richard's Kid. The Big Cap is 10 furlongs, so Twirling Candy will be asked to run longer than ever, and I do have doubts how he will repsond if he's hooked by a tough veteran the final eighth.

  3. Finally, on Twirling Candy and the other Big Cap contenders-

    The question, is there any older male out there that's good enough to threaten Twirling, should he be vulnerable at 10 furlongs? I'm not sure there is, which is why Twirling will be a deserving favorite, but there are a few candidates. Well, if Richard's Kid were here instead of in Dubai, there would certainly be a legit contender. Without him, there's another Baffert runner, the defending Big Cap champ, Misremembered. The problem is that while I believe Misremembered is as talented as Twirling, he hasn't started since last year's Big Cap and might not even make the race. Baffert also has Mythical Power and Game on Dude, but those horses will have to go into the Big Cap off allowance wins.

    The San Antonio is likely to produce the Big Cap 2nd choice. While the San Antonio doesn't have a star, I respect these older horses and think there are 2 serious Big Cap contenders in the field. One is Aggie Engineer, a previous allowance horse that has really blossomed his last few races, easily winning both the gr.3 Native Diver and gr.2 San Pasqual. Aggie Engineer, a big and physical horse, has tactical speed yet is vesatile, and has looked most improved with how strongly he is finishing races. In terms of breeding, Aggie Engineer might be less likely than Twirling Candy to get 10 furlongs, however I see as Aggie Engineer as a horse that could make things more difficult for Twirling, whether he beats him or not. Aggie has the speed to sit right off Twirling, move with him when the real racing begins, and then possibly soften him up enough to win himself or set it up for someone else.

    The other contender in the San Antonio is Gladding, who just happens to be trained by Sadler. Gladding is stepping way up in company, but he has flashed some talent in Florida and in his first SoCal start, and has the breeding to run all day. I see Aggie and Gladding sitting off Pode Ir and then throwing it down in the stretch.

    2 other Big Cap contenders are exiting the Sunshine Millions Turf, winner Caracortado, and 3rd place Soul Candy. Carcortado is probably best at distances less than 10 furlongs and on turf, but he has the natural talent to be a threat in the Big Cap. Soul Candy definitely wants 10 furlongs, having won at 11 furlongs, but he appears best on turf or synthetic. If Twirling Candy is able to run and hide in the Big Cap, he will do something only horses like Spectacular Bid, Best Pal, and Tiznow have been able to do over the last 30 years.

    What's great is that most of the horses that ran in the 3 stakes today should be back in 4 weeks for the gr.1 Santa Anita Oaks, gr.1 Kilroe Mile, and gr.1 Big Cap.