Friday, June 24, 2011

A California Spin on the Iowa Festival of Racing

The Iowa Festival of Racing always brings together an solid bunch of horses to Prairie Meadows. This year's group includes several graded stakes winners and some up-and-comers looking to make a mark. The runners ship in from throughout the Midwest, with a nice SoCal contingent to spice things up. Let start out with the Friday night action, where three stakes take center stage.

The stakes action starts with two stakes for the ladies. First off is the Saylorville Stakes for female sprinters. The Cal-bred Tornado Betty began her career in Northern California before heading to the Midwest to ply her trade. She has come back to California for the occasional stakes foray. She was beat in the local prep for this race by two of her fellow competitors. After that is Iowa Distaff Stakes for the routers. Freedom Star comes in off a long layoff of 15 months, having last raced on the 2010 Sunland Derby undercard in a victory in the Harry Hensen Handicap. She has trained in typical Baffert bullets for this race and Rafael Bejarano will have the mount. Note that while most of preparations were on cushion, her last work was on the dirt at Santa Anita.

The last stake of the night is the Iowa Sprint Handicap. The favorite is the Baffert trained Ventana, who stayed at Churchill Downs after winning a Grade 3 on the Preakness undercard. He has worked steadily, though not the same typical flashiness of Baffert's other charges. Bejarano will have the mount for the race, and he looks tough. It is a little interesting the connections chose to run him here and not the Grade 1 Triple Bend at Hollywood Park in two weeks, especially with solid efforts on synthetic tracks. Winter Camp was a hard knocking optional claimer type out here until he was claimed by his current connections when he went to Sunland. He bats 50% at this distance, with 3 wins from 6 starts. His need-the-lead style figures to be severely compromised by the presence of Atta Boy Roy (right).

Saturday brings the second day of the festival with more SoCal connections with it. Prayer for Relief ships in for the Bob Baffert barn. He brings with him jockey Rafael Bejarano for his initial start on dirt. In his first start of 2010, he won a first level allowance race at Hollywood Park last month off a 6 month layoff. This will be his first attempt in a graded stakes. While his stalking style will work well in this race, there is a serious class question with him, as he would be thought of as one of Baffert's first or second tier 3yo charges. There is another SoCal connection, though it is not as obvious. Chosen Miracle is out of the mare Royally Chosen. SoCal fans will remember her rivalry in the 2002 La Canada series with multiple Grade 1 winner Affluent and for her multiple Cal-bred stakes wins. That rivalry is one of the earlier memories of this blog's memory as a horse fan and it was a big part of how big of a fan it is to this day. Chosen Miracle has been on this blog's stable mail since he was first named. He has won his only two starts in wire-to-wire fashion, one on a sloppy track at Hawthorne and another on the Poly at Arlington. While this is a big step up in class, he looks like he has a bright future. This blog will choose him to upset the favorite Astrology and the Baffert charge.

The final stakes of the festival is the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap. The old road warrior Awesome Gem comes into the race off a victory in the Lone Star Park Handicap last time out. He was much closer to the pace than normal, and that helped him to get the victory. The eight-year old worked his normal solid self since the win, and he'll keep plugging along. He is the morning line favorite in the race. The other SoCal shipper is Victory Pete. This son of Sky Mesa finished 4th in the 2009 rendition after a troubled trip. He has struggled at this distance in the past. This blog thought he had a big chance to win the Californian last out, but he faded badly to last in the final 1/16th. Blog favorite Stachys is the pick in the race off his good effort last time out.

So there are some thoughts on the horses with a California connection running in the Iowa Festival of Racing. Can Awesome Gem win two in a row for the first time since 2006? Will Chosen Miracle be the next breakout star? Good luck this weekend everybody!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fostering Thoughts of a Flat Out Upset

The older horses take the stage this weekend in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs going a mile and one-eighth. With no real leader in the older male handicap division, this is a chance for someone to seize command with a win. Eleven horses will step into the gate with the chance to get a Grade 1 win. These runners are evenly matched, with no dominate favorite among them. That is shown by the fact that the morning line favorite is at 7-2. The thoughts on this race will begin with the tepid morning line favorite Giant Oak.

#10 Giant Oak has been in the winner's circle once at Churchill Downs, but it was via the DQ in the Clark Handicap. Before that, he had a run of fourth-place finishes there, including a fourth in this race lat year. In his last start, he finished 5th in the Alysheba here 6 weeks ago, behind fellow entrants Equestrio and Regal Ransom, but ahead of Mission Impazible. He figures to make his late run from well off the pace, which could be a problem, since there is not a ton of pace. His outside post position is not an issue, and he has been training fantastically in the interim.

#6 Regal Ransom and #11 Mission Impazible figure to be the pacesetters in this race. Regal Ransom was nailed at the wire in the Alysheba by probable Hollywood Gold Cup favorite First Dude. As his passing gear is non-existent, his jockey Alan Garcia will attempt to get him to the front, then slow it down. On his flank figures to be Mission Impazible who does his best work when sitting just off the leader. He beat Giant Oak and Apart two back in the New Orleans Handicap. Other than his outside post, he figures to have a good chance. The dull effort last time out is some cause for concern though.

#2 Crown of Thorns (right) invades from the West Coast for trainer Richard Mandella with jockey Tyler Baze in tow. He won the Mervyn Leroy Handicap at Hollywood Park last out, wearing down Sidney's Candy in the final 1/16th of a mile. Mandella said that the six weeks between races was perfect timing for his charge, and he has been working steadily after his win. While he has only run on dirt once, it was off a layoff and probably a distance short then his best (at least on dirt). The way he trains over dirt and his pedigree suggests that he will be fine over it. He should have no problem with the mile and an eighth today, and figures to be sitting right behind Regal Ransom and Mission Impazible early on.

#3 Apart looks to follow the path of his stablemate last year and win the Foster after a win in the Schaefer on the Preakness undercard. Blame pulled the double for his connections, then went on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic last November. Apart won in workmanlike fashion in the Schaefer in a close finish. He was beaten multiple times over the winter by Mission Impazible and has split decisions with Giant Oak. He seems to have bounced back fine, with a couple of solid works at his Keeneland home base. This son of Flatter has all the tools to win, but the fact that he another change in rider is a bit disconcerting. His last rider, top jockey Garrett Gomez, decided to ride Blind Luck in the Vanity Handicap. While Julien Leparoux is no slouch, the fact that Gomez left

Yet none of those is the pick for the race. The pick is the co-longest shot at 30/1 on the morning line #1 Flat Out. This son of Flatter has been a blog favorite even before the existence of this blog. This blog thought that he had retired after getting hurt after the 2009 Arkansas Derby, but was pleasantly surprised when he returned to the races in December 2010. That winning effort was stymied by another layoff until Memorial Day this year, in which he ran second to the consistent old-timer Awesome Gem in the Lone Star Park Handicap, beating multiple graded stakes winners Game On Dude and Thiskyhasnolimit in the process. He popped a swift work in the interim, has a hot jockey in Corey Lanerie and figures to make his move from mid-pack. He is in light at 114 lbs., 4-9 lbs. less than any of the major contenders. While he is taking a major class hike today, and the pace set-up is not that great, at the price he figures to be, this blog is willing to take a shot.

Someone looks to take some measure of control in the handicap division with a victory in this race. A son of Flatter looks to make a mark, but not the one most think. Can Flat Out flat out cause an major upset and announce his arrival? We shall see. Good luck everybody!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Belmont Stakes Card Thoughts - There Shall Be Much Rejoicing

Belmont Stakes day is here, and even though there is no chance for a triple crown alive, it figures to be a good day of racing. Both the Preakness and the Derby winner show up to the Belmont, which is a rarity. The undercard is solid, with multiple Eclipse award winning Gio Ponti going in the Manhattan, multiple Grade 1 winner Turbulent Descent in the Acorn and some tough races to handicap. Let's get to right to the stakes action, starting with the first stake on the docket.

Grade 1 TVG Acorn Stakes - 1 mile - 3yo fillies

The only question in this blog's mind is by how many lengths will #2 Turbulent Descent (right) win. She is the classiest horse in the field, she has been training great, she can adapt to any situation and she looks to flourish at this one-turn mile. The horse she will have to catch is #3 Savvy Supreme, who will be winging on the lead. While she is fast, she is stretching out two whole furlongs and is taking a big step up in class to graded stakes for the first time. The only other graded stakes winner in the field is #5 Victoria's Wildcat, who rode the closer-friendly track and insane fractions to victory in the Grade 3 Eight Belles S. at Churchill Downs on Oaks day. Honestly, Turbulent Descent should roll over this field, with Victoria's Wildcat being the best of the rest, several lengths back.

The Play:
Exacta 2/5; Trifecta 2/5/ALL

Grade 2 True North Handicap - 6 furlongs - 3yo & up

This blog decided that this race was not for him in any way, shape or form. This race will not be played at all other than a single of the favorite #3 Trappe Shot in the "lotto" Pick 6 ticket. Trappe Shot comes into this race off a win, defeating both D'Funnybone and Rule by Night (who are also in the race). He has two steady maintenance drills since the last race and he has a good chance to get his first graded stakes win of his career. If the budget allowed it, the entry would be used, and it is the the main danger. D'Funnybone comes in third off the layoff after running second to Trappe Shot last time after setting the pace almost the hole way. He figures to be doing the same once again today, with his entry-mate This One For Phil looking to take advantage if 'D' can't finish the job. He won his first race in 14 months last time out, has put in two solid works and looks to win his first graded stakes outright, after being put up via DQ in his only other stakes start.

The Play:
For multi-race purposes only, 1/1a & 3

Grade 2 Woody Stephens S - 7 Furlongs - 3yo

Another competitive race as three year old sprinters hook up going 7/8ths. Very tepid choice top choice is #5 Arch Traveler. This son of Sky Mesa bounced back on the winning trail after a poor effort in the Florida Derby at a distance that was not his optimal. Cutting back to a one-turn race last time out, he easily won an overnight stake handily. He has two smart works since the race, and will offer a little value to the favorite as the second choice. The other being used is the favorite #1 Travelin Man, who was against a speed bias in the Derby Trial and cuts back a furlong and #7 J J's Lucky Train, who comes back after an okay 3rd in the aforementioned Derby Trial, where he may have bounced after coming back in 3 weeks while shipping to Churchill.

The Play:
For the Pick 4: #1, #5, #7

Grade 1 Foxwoods Just A Game Handicap - 1 mile (turf) - 3yo & up fillies and mares

This is where this blog takes a stand with a 12/1 shot who is the co-2nd longest shot on the board in #8 Much Rejoicing. This daughter of Distorted Humor won her turf debut last time out at 6f here at Belmont in nice fashion. Being a daughter of BC F&M Turf winner Soaring Softly, it is not much of shock she taken to the surface. She has been best around one turn in her career. This is the first time she has ever strung together three races in her career, she is training well and looks primed to cause some tote damage at long odds. The favorite will probably be #2 Aviate, who this blog like in the CD Turf Mile last time out. Her connections won this race last year with Proviso. She has had two solid works since her win and looks tough, but how will she take to the one turn? #6 Fantasia finished third in the race Aviate comes out of last time. She finished fifth in this race last year, but her only win in the states was at this distance around one turn at Woodbine on a yielding course. If the chance of rain proves true, a less-than-firm course would do her well. #1 Gypsy's Warning is the only grade one winner in the field, but she ran a flat 7th behind Fantasia in the Jenny Wiley in April. If she wins, maybe it is sign to come for her connections, the same as Animal Kingdom.

The Play:
Large percentage of bankroll win bet on #8, single in P4

Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap - 1m 1/4 (turf) - 3yo and up

Multiple Eclipse Award winner #4 Gio Ponti looks to bounce back from another close loss in the Dubai World Cup and get his second victory in the race. He won in 2009, and finished 2nd last year. He seems to have bounced back better than last year from his overseas adventure, with four good works. #6 Viscount Nelson invades from over the pond for trainer Aidan O'Brien. He won just 8 days ago in Europe, but has a class advantage over the rest, finishing last year within a handful of lengths of Twice Over and Canford Cliffs, some of the top Euro horses. #7 Prince Will I Am was one of the few three year olds to be older in a graded stakes last year. He stretches back out after a fast-closing 5th in the Woodford Reserve on the Churchill Downs undercard. Many will use him, but this blog will not because of budget constraints.

The play:
Pick 4 purposes: #4 & #6

Grade 1 Belmont Stakes - 1m & 1/2 - 3yo

The first question to figure out is whether or not #12 Shackleford can last the twelve furlongs under these conditions. While this blog will hedge and say yes, he probably cannot based on his pedigree. #1 Master of Hounds is the wiseguy horse, and has been bet down in the early wagering. #9 Animal Kingdom ran a fast-closing second to Shackleford in the Preakness after winning the Derby. He should have no problem with the distance based on his long-winded pedigree. He is another we shall use on top as more of a hedge than a pick. #2 Stay Thirsty is the pick to inherit the lead if/when Shackleford gives up the lead. All of these four will be used on top of #9 Nehro in the exacta, as he fits the pattern of other previous 2nd-place finishers in the Derby who head directly to the Belmont.

The Play:
Exacta #1, #2, #9, #12 / #6

Pick 4 ticket starting with the Woody Stephens: 1,5,7 / 8 / 4,6 / 1,2,9,12
Good luck everybody!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Churchill to Belmont, No Stop At Pimlico

Nehro, Master of Hounds, Santiva, Stay Thirsty, Brilliant Speed. These five horses will attempt to win the Belmont Stakes with their last race being the Kentucky Derby. They finished anywhere from 2nd to 12th in the Derby. These five face a tough task, with both the Derby and Preakness winner in the fold, along with hard-trying Mucho Macho Man. So what are their chances to overturn the decision against Animal Kingdom? One way to determine that is to look back on previous horses who have attempted to the same, specifically in the past 20 years.

Below is a chart that list every horse who ran in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes without a race in between in the last 20 years.

As the chart shows, the strategy of going directly from the Derby to the Belmont has had some success in the past twenty years. 39 runners have done, with 14 horses hitting the board in the Belmont. None of the five "doing the double" can beat the improvement of Commendable in 2000, who went from a 17th in the Derby to the winner's circle in the Belmont. The five horses in this year match the most in the last 21 years. It is interesting to note that in the 3 most recent years that more than four horses came directly from the Derby (2000, 2006, 2008), both the winner and the runner-up were among that group. That is something to note to those who like any of those horses.

The two Derby finishing positions most often to go on directly to the Belmont in the last twenty years are 2nd and 4th, each with six runners. (scroll down below the chart to see the table listing the total for each finishing position) If Nehro does start on Saturday, he would be the 7th in the past 21 years, meaning 33% of the time the place horse in the Derby has skipped the Preakness in favor of the Belmont. In a tie for the 3rd most often with 5 runners is the 7th place spot, which is where Brilliant Speed finished. Stay Thirsty marks the first time in at least 21 years that the 12th place finisher has gone directly to the Belmont.

So there is some food for thought about the Belmont Stakes this Saturday when it comes to those "doing the double". Take this information as nothing more than a tool to help bring home stacks of cash, office pool pride or simple bragging rights among the family. Good luck this weekend!