Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Santa Anita Meet End Awards

The 2010-2011 Santa Anita Winter-Spring meet is over, and it provided many highs and lows. From the scintillating performances on opening day to the painful lows of the the horses who did not survive the meet, this meet had a wide range of emotions. The efforts of some of the horses who ran deserve special acclaim. This post will celebrate a wide array of achievements, including which horse earned the Horse of The Meet honors according to this blog.

First up is the award for best claimer of the meet. The winner is Separate Forest (right). She climbed the ladder all the way from $25KN2L on the main track to a win in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap on Big Cap day over the heavily favored Unzip Me. This daughter of Forestry was claimed from the Richard Mandella barn by Doug O'Neill in her $25kN2L victory, and he quickly sent her up the ladder. The win in the Las Cienegas came only one week after she won an allowance race. She won four of her 6 starts, with her losses being in her first race of the meet in the Mandella barn in an allowance race and her 4th race, where she could not overcome a troubled trip. Congratulations to the connections who claimed her, making a shrewd decision.

The award for biggest disappointment is next, and it goes to the injury of Premier Pegasus on the Thursday before the Santa Anita Derby. This blog believed that he had a huge chance to be the one not only to break the 22 year long drought of no Santa Anita Derby winner going on to win the Kentucky Derby, but to end the 33 year end drought of not having a triple crown winner. His run in the San Felipe was devastating, and if he had won the Santa Anita Derby, he would be your current Kentucky Derby favorite. The Myung Kwon Cho barn suffered double the heartbreak this meet, as both PrePeg and Riveting Reason were knocked off the Derby trail with injuries. Hopefully they will come back from their maladies with the same energy and talent.

Next up is most impressive performance of the meet. There were several choices to choose from, with many of them coming in the maiden special weight ranks. The nominees are:
The Factor - Maiden special weight
Misremembered - Santana Mile
Maclean's Music - Maiden special weight win
Premier Pegasus - San Felipe Stakes
Runflatout - Maiden special weight

The winner is...

This son of Distorted Humor destroyed this group of maidens stylishly in his debut. He is now at Churchill Downs, along with the rest of the Steve Asmussen barn. Who knows what the future has in store for him. Maybe a start in the Derby Trial?

The next award is for most talked about race of the meet. That award goes to the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. The drama-filled inquiry that followed stretched at least 13 minutes. In the end, there was no change, as Game On Dude was left up as the winner over Setsuko, with Quindici Man finishing third. In all the hubbub after the race that existed in social media after the decision, it is necessary to point out that almost all who wanted to disqualify Game On Dude wanted to place him fifth behind Twirling Candy, yet the only steward who voted to disqualify Game On Dude wanted to place him only as far back as second, behind Setsuko. This inquiry will live in the lore of this race, going along side the other much-talked about inquiries, the disqualification of The Wicked North in 1994 and the disqualification of Perrault in 1982.

The final award is for horse of the meet. The nominees are:
Game On Dude
Malibu Pier
Midnight Interlude
Smiling Tiger

and the winner is...


This European import went three for four for the meet, with her only defeat being in her first start, which was heavily compromised by a loose horse who dropped the jockey at the start. The tiny filly went on to sweep the remaining three year old filly turf stakes, winning the Grade 3 La Habra, the China Doll and the Grade 2 Providencia Stakes. In a These races ranged from six & one-half furlong down the hill all the way to a mile and one-eighth. She won them all rolling from the back of the pack in dramatic style under jockey Garrett Gomez. This Jeff Bonde trainee (who also trains Smiling Tiger) could be pointed to races like the Del Mar Oaks later in the year. Maybe she can even become like another tiny filly who won the Providencia Stakes on her way to greater things, Megahertz.

So the books are closed on the Santa Anita meet, with some good performances, some iffy thoughts and plenty of fodder for people to talk about. Good luck to everybody as the scene shifts across town to the track of the lakes and flowers, Hollywood Park.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Midnight Interlude Assumes His Role As The Drought Breaker

The Santa Anita Derby has been run, and Bob Baffert won it. If you would have told that to someone at the beginning of the meet, no one would have batted an eyelash at the statement. But if you had told that someone that he would win with a late-developing horse who didn't make his first start until Sunshine Millions Day, you would have been scoffed at as a fool. Furthermore, if you had told that someone that Victor Espinoza, the same Victor Espinoza who Baffert wanted hung from the grandstand after last year's Santa Anita Derby, you would be taken away to the insane asylum for such crazy talk. But yet that is exactly what happened, as the late-developing son of War Chant Midnight Interlude (right) took over in the final strides to win the Grade 1 $1,000,000 Santa Anita Derby.

After the scratches of both blog favorite Premier Pegasus and the other Baffert entrant Jaycito, the race was a wide open affair. Favoritism fell to El Camino Real Derby winner Silver Medallion, who went off at 5-2. He and Robert B Lewis winner Anthony's Cross were still alive for the Preakness 5.5, which would pay $5 million to the owner of any horse who could pull off a trio of wins. Silver Medallion had not run since the El Camino Real, had a change of ownership since the win, but was working well in the interim. Anthony's Cross had not run since the Lewis S., but had thrown bullets in numerous works. He went off as the 3rd choice at 3.30-1. The other buzz horse in the race was Mr. Commons, who had clockers agog with his works over at Hollywood Park after his first-level allowance race in late February. He would go off as the second choice in the race at 3-1.

Comma To The Top went right to the lead, with Silver Medallion sitting a length off. Midnight Interlude sat two lengths off the pace, with another length to Mr. Commons, and one more to Anthony's Cross after the first quarter. Down the backstretch Comma maintained control, with everyone staying about the same distance back from him through moderate middle fractions. As they turned for home, Comma maintained control, with Mr. Commons taking up the chase from Silver Medallion, with Midnight Interlude continuing on on the outside and Anthony's Cross gaining ground. At the wire, Midnight Interlude went by a tiring Mr. Commons and Silver Medallion to finally gun down Comma To The Top, who put in a game effort in defeat. Anthony's Cross finished a disappointing fifth. Bench Points did not lift a hoof finishing 7th.

Now Midnight Interlude must carry around the mantle of The Drought Breaker with him as he goes on to Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May. He hopes to break the 22 year long drought that has existed since Sunday Silence puled the double back in 1989. He does have some things going for him. His jockey-trainer combo previously won the 2002 Derby with War Emblem. Bob and Victor had a falling out soon after that race, and the relationship hit a low point during last year's Santa Anita Derby, when Victor's mount almost put Bob's Lookin at Lucky over the rail, with Victor coming to blows with Lucky's jockey Garret Gomez. But with many other local jocks already engaged for the race, and Baffert's main jockey Martin Garcia already on derby favorite The Factor (and further engaged to ride Misremembered in the Oaklawn Handicap the same day), Victor had this mount fall into his lap. Now they are riding on a high towards the Twin Spires.

But M.I. has several things working against him, mainly one drought that extends all the way back to 1882. That 129 year gap is the time that has past since a horse won the Derby without a start at two. But if any man can overcome such a curse it is his multiple Derby winning trainer. Hr figured out how to win on synthetics. He figured out how to won stakes across the nation. He figured out how to win Grade 1's with a horse who had only race in 11 months. Surely he can figure a way to break this curse. Another problem is that M.I. pedigree is not the greatest for the 1m & 1/4. His sire War Chant lost the Santa Anita Derby, and was a miler. The damside does provide some additional hope he could get the distance, it does not exactly scream dirt. This blog's honest opinion is that while he is hopeful the drought will end, he doubts that it will happen.

The results of the race had other effects on the Derby situation as well. Comma To The Top's huge effort has caused his trainer Peter Miller to have second thoughts about them not pointing the horse towards the Derby, as they stated they previously would. Neither Silver Medallion, Anthony's Cross nor Mr. Commons likely earned enough money to make the Derby gate, with Silver Medallion having the most cumulative earnings among the three with a little more than $184k. If Comma To The Top does not go, as this blog hopes he does due to his slim chances and his draining effort in the race, the Santa Anita Derby will most likely have only one representative in Midnight Interlude.

So once again Baffert wins the big race of the meet, but this time under some less than Baffert-like circumstances. Midnight Interlude will carry the flag for southern California, and with it the hopes that the drought will finally be broken. Can he do it? We shall see come the first Saturday in May.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Drought Report - Time to Find Out Who Will Try To Be The Drought Breaker

Santa Anita Derby Day is here, and the time to find out who will be the one to try to end the 22 year-long drought is upon us. With the news that Santa Anita Derby favorite, blog favorite and this blog's choice to break the drought Premier Pegasus off the trail with a hairline fracture, and that Jaycito is also out of the race with a foot issue, the race is wide open for someone to take advantage and punch their ticket to the Kentucky Derby. The three horses who look the likeliest to take advantage of the top two's absence are Silver Medallion, Anthony's Cross and Mr. Commons. Let's break down these three.

Silver Medallion won the El Camino Real Derby last time out in a driving finish, closing off a suspect pace. He has worked well in the interim since the race, and his pedigree does not suggest any problem with the distance. He picks up Garrett Gomez to ride him in the race. While he has never ran on the dirt, he has trained well over the main track. He should sit a stalking trip off of Comma To The Top and Midnight Interlude, and look to take over turning for home. He will vie for favoritism, and he will be this blog's selection for the race. This blog thought he would finish a clear second behind PrePeg going in, and with his defection, this blog will move him up to the top spot. He needs a 1-2 finish to assure himself a spot in the gate on May 7th.

Anthony's Cross (right) won the Robert B Lewis Stakes last out in game fashion over Riveting Reason. He has improved each and every start, and the addition of blinkers help kept him focus on his task. His swift works in the interim (not the norm for his trainer Eoin Harty) and the services of Joel Rosario add to his appeal. He has won at the distance, so today's 1m & 1/8 should not be a problem. He figures to be sitting even with Silver Medallion in a stalking position. This blog respects his form, but thinks he might be just a cut below. His inability to put away Riveting Reason, who is a solid horse but not the gamest animal, is a major red flag. He will be tested today. He needs a 1-2-3 finish to assure himself of a spot in the gate on May 7th.

The third contender is Mr. Commons. This son of Artie Schiller built on his stylish maiden win on the grass in an allowance race last time on the dirt. He won a one mile race, grinding his way to victory. He has worked smartly since the race, popping bullet after bullet, which is not his trainer's style. The private clockers in southern California raved about his 7 furlong work on March 28th, oohing and aahing over its quality. His pedigree does not scream dirt, but he handled it fine. He figures to lay mid-pack in the race and make a run in the stretch. His trainer John Shireffs knows his way around the Derby picture, winning it with Giacomo in 2005. This blog thinks that while the hype is understandable, he may struggle against this type. The allowance field he beat in that win was not the strongest, as several have struggled in stakes competition, and the third place finisher Chiloquin broke his maiden for a tag. He would need to win the race to get into the gate come the first Saturday in May.

Others who have faint Derby aspirations are Bench Points, who ran a distant third in the San Felipe Stakes behind PrePeg and Jaycito, snapping his undefeated streak. He would need to run 1-2 to get in the Derby. Indian Winter, who looks to bounce back after a questionable effort in the Turf Paradise Derby. He would need to win to get in.

This Santa Anita Derby has lost some luster due to the top two abdicating, but this leaves open a new threat to gain the throne. Who will step up and earn the precious graded stakes earnings? Who will step up and take the mantle of Drought Breaker and place it upon themselves to break the drought? Can that horse break the drought? We shall see? Good luck everybody!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Santa Anita Derby Undercard Stakes Thoughts

Santa Anita Day brings together a solid card of action in support of the big race. Three graded stakes will help enhance the big day. First, older female sprinters will go down the hill in the Las Cienegas Handicap. Then older males go a mile on the grass in the Grade 2 Arcadia Stakes. Then three year old filles will go a mile and an eighth on the grass in the Grade 2 Providencia Stakes. Throw in the appearance of First Dude in allowance race (finally!) and this card lends good support to a big day. Let's start with the Las Cienegas Handicap.

This Grade 3 race down the hillside turf course marks the 2011 return of blog favorite Tanda, who has not raced since her trouble-filled third in the 2010 Grade 1 Acorn Stakes. She is two-for-three down the hill, with her only loss coming when she finished second to Rose Catherine, who would go on to be the second betting choice in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Tanda struggled to shake a foot bruise this winter, which cause her to miss the Grade 1's La Brea Stakes and Santa Monica Stakes earlier in the meet. She is over the issue, and has been working regularly towards this race. She may not be fully cranked, as this could be a prep race for something down the road, such as the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on the Kentucky Derby undercard. But the favorite will be Unzip Me. This daughter of City Zip owns this turf course, with 5 wins in 6 races, with her only lose the being her first race down the hill. She has been undefeated against females in her last 11 starts, with her only two losses being against males. She already won two stakes down the hill this meet. Her success causes her to tote 127 lbs. today, 8 more than Tanda and 10-12 more than the rest of her competitors. She figures to be right upfront, and will try to continue her winning ways. These two tower over the field, and figure to dominate the wagering.

The next stake is Grade 2 Arcadia. Caracortado (right) will be the favorite to once again hold off Jeranimo, who he has bested twice this meet. "Scarface" is coming off a narrow defeat in the G1 Kilroe Mile last out. He seems to have maintained his fitness. He figures to rally from off the pace. Jeranimo will try once again to turn the tables on him. He worked well in the interim, and reunites with top jock Rafael Bejarano (who was on the winner in the Kilroe). Both will have to catch Liberian Freighter, who figures to get an easy lead. He threw in a clunker last time against the top two, but maybe was a little too fresh off the 3 month layoff. He comes back with three steady works, and should be able to control the tempo on the front end. He is a dangerous threat to wire this field.

The last undercard stake is the Grade 2 Providencia Stakes. These three year old fillies go a mile an one-eighth, a distance no one in the field has gone. Five of the 9 entrants begin their career across the pond in Europe. The favorite will be Cambina. This diminutive filly with the powerful kick won the last two stakes for this group, the Grade 3 La Habra and the China Doll Stakes. She blasts from the back of the pack, and her two works in the interim shows she has not lost a step. So Belle ran a good race in her first race in the U.S. last out, finishing second. Her pedigree suggests that the added distance will not be a problem. She figures to stalk a solid past in her 2nd start in the states. An interesting longshot is Hard To Resist (right). This daughter of Johannesburg rolled from the back of the pack into a slow pace to break her maiden last time out. She has maintained her good form since, and keeps leading rider Joel Rosario in the irons.

So there are some thoughts on the Santa Anita Derby undercard stakes. These races provide some good support to the feature. Can Tanda return to form off the layoff? Can Jeranimo finally turn the tables on Caracortado? Can Cambina keep it rolling? We shall see. Good luck everybody.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Meteore: 1/15/2006 - 4/2/2011

Grade 2 winner Meteore broke down today in the 8th race at Golden Gate. He fractured his right front ankle as they were headed into the first turn in the one mile race. The Richard Mandella trainee was a blog favorite, in no small part due to the picture above. This picture was taken at Hollywood Park in the saddling enclosure on November 27th, 2010. He was running in the Grade 2 Citation Handicap, where he finished third. He shall be missed.

(This blog will be added to as needed. I'm a little too distraught over this to put together a cohesive post.)