Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Drought Report - 1/26

This week's Drought Report will be a little shorter than normal due to a lack of any races that could have a possible impact on the drought this week at Santa Anita. Instead, we go back two weeks to catch up on the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields, since it could possibly produce a starter for the Santa Anita Derby.

Golden Gate Fields is a track in Albany, CA, which is in the Bay Area. The California Derby is the local prep at Golden Gate Fields for the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby. The 2011 edition of the California Derby featured a full field of 12. The favorite was Positive Response. This son of Pomeroy had won the previous stake at Golden Gate, the Gold Rush S. Many of the same horses who ran in that race came back to face him in the California Derby, but it proved to be a futile idea, as Positive Response took the lead going into the turn and drew away to win by 2 & 3/4 lengths in the end under jockey Julien Couton. This former maiden claimer (he broke his maiden for $50k @ Woodbine) is now a two-time stakes winner. What impact will he have on ending The Drought? This blog would venture little, as his pedigree does not really lends itself to go much further than he has already run.

News and Notes
  • On Sunday (1/25), Hollywood Futurity winner Comma To The Top worked 6 furlongs in a swift 1:10.40 at Hollywood Park in preparation for a start in the aforementioned El Camino Real Derby on Feburary 12th going 9 furlongs, his first start in 2011.
  • Sham Stakes winner Tapizar had his first work back on Monday (1/24) since his victory, going an easy 4 furlongs in 50.40 at Santa Anita Park.
  • Also on 1/24, Baffert trainee Awesome Patriot worked 5 furlongs in 1:01:60 and Del Mar Futurity winner J P's Gusto worked 7 furlongs in 1:25.40. Both are aiming for the Grade 2 Robert B Lewis Stakes on Feburary 12th going a mile and eighth.
  • On Wednesday (1/26) San Pedro winner Indian Winter worked a strong 4 furlongs in 48.40 seconds in his first work since the race. Also working was Sham runner-up Clubhouse Ride, who popped a swift 58.80 seconds for 5 furlongs, the 3rd best work at the distance.
Next week, this blog will try to bring some sort of order (by way of rankings) to the potential drought-breaking contenders. Until then, good luck everybody.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Presenting the 2011 Breeders' Cup Champion - William's Kitten

Before this blog came into existence in the spring of 2010, a bold prediction was made on the TVG Community about the 2010 Classic. In January of 2010, It was proclaimed by yours truly that Blame would win the Classic, with Zenyatta finishing underneath in the exotics. As it later panned out, I was right. Blame won, and the only horse among those who I listed to put underneath (Zenyatta) who made the race ran second. This blog thought about putting together a list of wild prophecies to try to match or surpass the success of last year. Instead, it was decided that only one claim would be made, and it would involve a horse who this blog has followed since his win back in the summer of 2009. The prediction is this: William's Kitten will win the 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic.


A few of you may know who he is, but for those who do not, let me introduce him. William's Kitten is son of multiple Grade 1 winning sire Kitten's Joy out of the Menifee mare Blush. He has run 8 times, with 2 wins, a second and a third while being trained by Michael Maker. He was bred by his owners, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who stands his sire at stud. He is multiple graded stakes placed, with a second (behind eventual 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver) in the 2009 Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club and a third in the 2010 Grade 3 Holy Bull S. His most significant win to date was in the 2009 Sunday Silence S. at Louisiana Downs (below), where he rushed from well off the pace to an easy victory. (below)

This win was the race that caught my eye and formed the crush. I knew at that very point that he would be my Derby horse. After a couple of so-so efforts in the Grey Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (in which I saw him in person), he went to the KJC to run a distant second to Super Saver, who ran away and hid that day. He started 2010 with his race in the Holy Bull, and looked to be going to bigger and better things. Unfortunately, he wretched an ankle in a subsequent workout. He will be sidelined for over a year by the time he makes his next start...

... which is today (1/23) in the 9th race at Gulfstream Park going a mile on the dirt. He has been working well for the return, but he does have a few gaps in his workout tab. He looks to be in tough though, since the race also marks the return of Grade 2 Louisiana Derby winner Mission Impazible. If nothing else, this will serve as a good prep race for wherever the connections decide to run him. Knowing the connections (based on their previous decisions), if William pans out like they & I hope he does, the mid-season goal is probably the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Then, hopefully a fall campaign that will set him up for a winning rally from the back of the pack in the Breeders' Cup Classic come November.

So there you have it. A bold prediction that requires a big leap of faith to see it possibly happen. I could be horribly wrong, and he may just not pan out as an older horse. But isn't it more fun to take a chance on a flier and get in on the ground floor, rather then have to scramble for room on the bandwagon come November? We shall see what he does. Good luck everybody.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Drought Report - First Steps on the Trail

Last weekend, the search for the "Drought Breaker" began in earnest, with two stakes races at The Great Race Place. On Saturday, a field of five ran in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes, while on Monday, 7 sophomores hooked up in the San Pedro Stakes. In between, there was a sterling maiden breaking performance put in on Sunday by a horse who had some buzz. Also, several possible contenders continued to work towards their next start, and one made his first appearance in the afternoon (albeit while schooling).

Saturday was the beginning of the Derby trail out at Santa Anita, with the running of the $100,000 Grade 3 Sham Stakes. 5 horses lined up, with the heavy favorite being Tapizar (right). This son of Tapit went to front end and never looked back, winning in gate-to-wire fashion. He repulsed a brief challenge from multiple graded stakes-placed Clubhouse Ride turning for home, and won in a solid 1:40:38, which was faster than either of the two Grade 2 stakes held for older horses that weekend by over a second. He should have no problem with the additional distance as time goes along. His trainer Steve Asmussen said that he will remain in Santa Anita for his next start, in either the Grade 2 $250k Robert B Lewis S. on Feburary 12th going 1m & 1/8, or the Grade 2 $250k San Felipe S. on March 12th going 1m & 1/16th, the same distance as the Sham.

On Sunday, while no stakes races happened, there was a maiden special weight race that had some buzz preceding it around the track. The 4th marked the debut of two horses with some hype, the Steve Asmussen trained Albergatti, and the Bob Baffert trained Da Ruler (right). Da Ruler had a large quantity of buzz surrounding him, and he was bet accordingly, down to 1.20-1 favorite. This son of multiple graded stakes & debut winner Roman Ruler out of stakes and debut winner Dirty Diana did not disappoint, as he went right to the lead from his rail draw, repulsed an attack by Albergatti at the 1/16th pole, then kept his opponent at bay for the final strides. He won in a strong time of 1:14:52, or almost .8 faster than the San Pedro Stakes did the nest day. Who knows what the future holds for Da Ruler, but him and the runner-up seem like they could have a bright one ahead.

Monday brought us the $103,100 San Pedro S. at 6 1/2 furlongs. The betting public had a hard time sorting out the field, eventually settling on Arcadian, making him the lukewarm 3-1 favorite. Both Sinai and City Cool also were bet, being the co-2nd choices at 3.40-1. City Cool went right to lead, with Arcadian sitting just off early on. Arcadian could not live up to his favorite's role however, and faded back to 6th. City Cool held the lead until the final few strides, when Indian Winter (right) came from off the pace to pull the upset as the longest shot on the board at 10-1. This son of Indian Charlie was coming off a 4 1/2 month layoff, finishing a distant third in the G1 Del Mar Futurity. He should be fine with some additional distance, especially being out of a Dixieland Band mare, and his style should be a benefit as the races get longer.

Drought Notes

  • Blog favorite Premier Pegasus has still not worked since his win in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue on 11/20/2010. If he does not begin to resume working out soon, it will be too late for him to have an impact on "The Drought".
  • Grade 3 Iroquois winner and Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club runner-up Astrology (right) made an appearance in the Santa Anita paddock on Monday, schooling during the card. He received a personal escort back to the barn from his trainer Steve Asmussen, and looks to be near a return to work tab any day now.
  • Grade 1 Norfolk winner Jaycito has his second work back after his Breeders' Cup Juvenile disaster, where he bolted during the race and lost all chance of winning. He worked 4 furlongs in a slow 49:4 for new trainer Bob Baffert, who took over after the Juvenile.

So the stakes action has begun at Santa Anita, and the horses have begun to sort themselves out into contenders and pretenders. Tapizar struck first blood, Indian Winter reaffirmed the strength of the Del Mar Futurity, and Da Ruler proved that the hype was at least partially warranted. Can any of these continue on and be "The Drought Breaker"? We soon shall see.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Drought Report - First Scan of the Radar

The first 2+ weeks of the Santa Anita meet have past, and we have witnessed several strong performances from the newly minted three year olds. This post is the first of what will be a weekly series tracking the horses that look to break "The Drought". "The Drought" is what this blog is calling the 22-year gap since the last winner of the Santa Anita Derby went on to win the Kentucky Derby. This series will take a look at any three year-old races (whether maiden, allowance or stakes) that occur during the meet that show any promise of having a potential "Drought Breaker". It will also list some of the works of these horses. Since this is the initial post, it will be longer than normal, as there are 8 races to recap, plus two to preview. The races will be reviewed in chronological order, starting with opening day.

This review start off with the 3yo probably most well known, The Factor (pictured). He won the first maiden special weight of the meet in sizzling fashion, setting a track record for 6 furlongs in his 2nd lifetime start. He went to he front and just kept going in a gate-to-wire win. He has come back to work a swift 5 furlongs on 1/9 for trainer Bob Baffert, and is nominated for Monday's San Pedro Stakes. This blog wonders if he can get the 1m & 1/8, much less 1m &1/4. The runner-up Houston Harbor has also come back to work, with two steady spins at 4f & 5f. This Steve Asmussen trainee will look to break his maiden next time out, maybe at a route of ground.

The race after, Cal-breds squared off in the California Breeders Champions Stakes. Thirtyfirststreet rallied from well off the pace to win. Will his sire was a multiple GSW on the turf, he seemed to handle the turf just fine. His pedigree suggests that he should have no problem as the distances increase, as both sides of his pedigree say "route". While the time was not super-fast, it was a solid race. 31st St. has come back to work three furlongs, and may be pointed to the Robert B. Lewis going 1m & 1/16th on February 12th.

The following day had the card lead off with a maiden special weight going a mile, in a race that was scheduled for the turf but run on the main track. Uncle Sam sat just off the speed, made his move turning for home and won in workmanlike manner. He won it in an alright time, but not sure what he beat in that race. This Baffert trainee came back to work on Sunday an easy 5 furlongs, and looks to build off his debut win in his next start, which is the Grade 3 Sham Stakes this Saturday.

Wednesday brought an allowance race that scratched down to a compact field of three. Awesome Patriot ran to the lead, with G3-placed Riveting Reason sitting right off his flank. RR engaged AP and dueled with him for a good while, but AP prevailed in the end. There is not much you can glean from this race, other than maybe Riveting Reason is better on the lead. Awesome Patriot by (who else) Bob Baffert, and came back to work on the 9th (as most of Baffert's charges did), and may end up being the odd man out in the barn. This blog thinks AP is destined for OP for his next race.

New Year's Eve brought us the Eddie Logan Stakes going mile on the grass. The winner was Silver Medallion. This son of Badge of Silver rallied from just off the pace. While the win was on turf, he should be just fine on the dirt. He "worked" for Asmussen on the 9th (a very busy day), but it was the slowest of the day. since it was only 9 days after the race, the time was irrelevant, as it was clearly just a leg stretcher.

We now skip ahead to this last weekend, where two maiden special weight bookend the early pick 3. In the 1st race, Hollywood Heat sat off a speedball and perfect-tripped his way to an easy win under a handride going 5 & 1/2 furlongs. It was only a field of 5, and did take 6 starts for him to break his maiden, but it was in a good time. Two races later, a field of 8 runners went a mile. The gate-to-wire winner was Wegner, trained by (guess who?) Bob Baffert. Wegner had to work for the victory, while under some urging. Like all of Baffert's winners listed here, he was ridden by Rafael Bejarano. Unlike the others, Wegner was a fat 8-1 on the board in winning his fourth lifetime start. Being by Dynaformer out of a Seeking the Gold mare, he should have zero issues with the distance.

Sunday brought a 5 horse field going 7 furlongs. First time starter Kilograeme hugged the rail and wore down the heavy favorite right before the wire. This son of Graeme Hall made his debut a winning one. He should have no problems with the distance, but for him to be the "Drought Breaker", he would have to be the first horse since 1881 to win the derby while not running at two.

Now that the (extended) recap is over, on to the preview of this weekend's first derby preps of the meet, The Grade 3 Sham Stakes and the San Pedro Stakes. The Sham will be run at a mile and 1/16th. It drew a field of five. Uncle Sam (who we mentioned earlier) is Baffert's lone entrant, and breaks from post 2. Tapizar figures to be the favorite off of his huge maiden win last out at Churchill Downs going a mile & 1/16th. This Asmussen trainee won by 10 1/2 lengths, and acquires the services of top rider Garrett Gomez. On Monday, the San Pedro Stakes will be run. Baffert nominated 5 of the 14 nominees, including Awesome Patriot and The Factor, along with Sinai (pictured), who was a swift debut winner at Hollywood Park last month from the rail at this distance. The interesting horse (if he runs) is Arcadian. This son of Songandaprayer blitzed the field in the Lost in the Fog Stakes at Turf Paradise, and threw a bullet 6f work in the interim.

The search is on for the horse. The one horse who will find his way to the winner circle come April 9th. That horse will carry the hopes of ended the drought. Who will be... The Drought Breaker?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Not So Smiling Tiger (Eclipse Award Finalist Thoughts)

Finalists for the Eclipse Awards were announced today, with no major surprises. The big guns were nominated for Horse of the Year, and most of the categories are nothing more than mere formalities. Blind Luck, Blame, Zenyatta and Lookin at Lucky will win their respective division with ease. The two tough divisions (Sprint Male & Turf Male) look to have the right finalists (though one could argue that Paddy O'Prado should be the third finalist for Turf Male). But only one division's three finalists has this blog in uproar. The three year old male division has a clear winner in Lookin At Lucky, but the other two finalists had campaigns that were equaled, if not surpassed, by the horse who was left off the ballot.

The biggest disappointment for this blog is seeing Smiling Tiger not being nominated for champion 3yo male. While he did pick up a nod for Champion Sprinter, "Tiger" put together a campaign that was as tough as any of the three finalists, including Lucky. People complain about how the 3yo's of today wait until as long as possible to face older horses. Smiling Tiger did not, as he faced them four times this year, with his first start against them on August 1st. All four of his starts against older were at the Grade 1 level, and he hit the board in all four. (2 wins, 2 3rds.) This is stark difference to the other three finalists, who combined faced older three times. (Paddy did it twice, Lucky once and Eskendereya zero).

In Grade 1 competition, Smiling Tiger did arguably the best as well. In his 5 Grade 1 races, he hit the board all five time with 2 wins, 1 2nd & 2 3rds, with all but the 2nd against older horses. Paddy O'Prado ran 6 times in G1s, finishing with 1 win, 2 2nd and 1 3rd, with the 3rd and an off-the-board finish against older. Eskendereya ran only one race at the G1 level, winning it decisively, but not against older, and the win occurred in April. Lucky ran in 5 Grade 1's as well, finishing with 2 wins and one third, with his only run against older being a 4th, being defeated by another 3yo (Fly Down) in the process. Smiling Tiger was the only one to be on the board at the level and he did so against older.

So why didn't he get the nod? Being from a west coast barn that does not have much, if any, national presence as the Jeff Bonde barn probably hurt his chances. The fact that he did most of the damage over synthetics also hurt his cause. But the likeliest cause is the age-old bias against sprinters. Voters have shown they are very reluctant to vote for a sprinter over a router, no matter the age. Tiger was a victim of this bias, and he will not be the last. It is rather ironic that this country has bred for speed, speed and more speed the last 30 years, yet it still heavily leans towards the routers come awards time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Day Weekend at Santa Anita Review/Preview

The turning of the page to the year 2011 means the return of graded stakes to the turf course to Santa Anita after a week filled with a variety of track conditions (fast, good, wet fast). The holiday weekend started on Friday with the running of the Blue Norther and Jack Goodman Stakes on the turf at a mile for the fillies and colts (respectively). Saturday will bring a pair of graded stakes, the Grade 2 Robert J. Frankel S. (formerly the San Gorgonio) at 1m & 1/8th for older females and the Grade 3 Daytona Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course. Sunday bring the Grade 3 Monrovia Stakes, also at 6 1/2f down the hill, but it is in doubt whether the race will stay on the grass with the threat of rain Saturday night.

Friday's stakes couplet started with the 14th running of the Blue Norther S. for two-year old fillies going a mile. The "biggest" horse to ever win this race is the diminutive Megahertz, who went on to multiple graded stakes victories. The heavy favorite in the race was Tales of Excess (pictured), who was trying a route of ground and the turf for the first time. Wave of Applause was stepping down from the Grade 3 Miesque S. at Hollywood Park for this race. Scantily Clad made her first start in North America for new trainer Doug O'Neill. In the end, Tales of Excess was able to wear down Wave of Applause in the final strides to earn the narrow victory. With her pedigree, a return to the main track is not out of the question. If not, the long-term goal could be the Grade 3 Providencia Stakes on April 9th.

The other half of the couplet was the 16th running of the Eddie Logan for 2yo males at the same distance. (Picture of the field being loaded for the Eddie Logan) Multiple Grade 1 winner Peace Rules is the most well-known past winner of this race. Moment of Weakness dropped out a second place finish in the Grade 3 Generous S. last time out, but was not the favorite. The entry of Robie the Cat and Ten Devils was the 4/5 favorite. Oakcrest Drive was an interesting first-time turf runner. But 5-1 outsider Silver Medallion upset the field, holding off Ten Devils late. By freshman sire Badge of Silver, Silver Medallion looks to have options on the main track or the turf. Maybe a try on dirt is in order, as the turf stakes schedule lacks a graded race on the calendar at the meet.

Saturday's stakes bring a compact field of five for the Grade 2 Robert J Frankel S., with Harmonious looking to be the heavy favorite. This race was renamed for the late trainer, who won this race a record eight times. Harmonious comes off an uncharacteristic off-the-board finish in the BC F&M Turf and looks to redeem herself. She has worked steadily in the interim since that race and looks to be the one to beat. Her main threat comes from the German-bred Eclair De Lune. She is the sentimental pick, as her trainer Ron McAnally was a very close, longtime friend to Frankel. She figures to be sitting just off the pace Spring Style, and could get first jump on Harmonious. It goes as the 3rd race on the card.

The Grade 3 Daytona S. takes the "feature" position on the card, with a field of 7 going 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill. Morning line favorite Quick Enough looks to have a strong chance, with his good form, his tracking style and his experience on this unique course, hitting the board in all three starts. Dance with Gable is undefeated down the hill, but must deal with the #1 post position, which is the outside post on this course. The size of field will make things a little easier, and his close-up style will help his chances of winning. Sirocco Strike and Regally Ready both made strong appearances in the paddock while schooling on Friday, but neither has ever been down the hill before, which is usually a disadvantage.

Sunday's Grade 3 Monrovia is the female counterpart of the Daytona, but with the inclement weather, it is in serious doubt whether it will be run on the grass or switch to the main track. Its placement on the Sunday card (Race 2) leads to believe that it will not stay on the grass. La Nez was a late scratch out of the La Brea last week, and will probably enjoy the switch to dirt. Evening Jewel looks to make her 4 year old debut in the race, and should be fine on either surface. She is making her first start since finishing 3rd in the BC F&M Sprint.

With the (hopefully all) turf stakes action this weekend at Santa Anita, the stakes action has begun on both surfaces. Several hope to rebound off their Breeders' Cup's efforts, while some hope for their first stakes win, and others enjoy their stakes victories. Let's hope for the rain to be light, the racing to be wide open and the cashing to be plentiful. Maybe the crowd will even let out a "harmonious" cheer. Happy new year everybody!