Friday, December 30, 2011

Last Call for A Grade 1 in 2011

New Year's Eve is a time for celebration, remembrance and ending the new year with a bang.  The national graded stakes schedule has a similar ending. The last graded stake of the 2011 calendar is the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes going 7 furlongs for three year old fillies at the Great Race Place. This the last chance for these females to run against their own age group for Grade 1 glory. The field of nine has a mix of up-and-comers, graded stakes winners and a multiple Grade 1 winner as its favorite. Here is a brief run-down of the main competitors.

(Before we get into our thoughts about the La Brea Stakes, this blog is happy to announce the return of "Ten Top's T-Bred" Capital Account. Off since March, he runs in an allowance race that is the second half of the late double with the La Brea Stakes. We wish him luck and hopefully he stays healthy enough to have a productive 2012. Also note that fellow TTT Endorsement makes his second start off his near two year layoff on New Year's Day at Gulfstream Park.)

The probable favorite figures to be Turbulent Descent. This daughter of Congrats hopes to cap off a fine year with one more Grade 1 win, her 3rd of the year to go along with a Grade 2 victory. She looks to bounce back from a disappointing effort as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last time out at Churchill Downs. She has worked swiftly across town since her race, including two bullets. She seemed ready to run when she schooled in the paddock on Thursday (when the picture on the right was taken). Her regular pilot David Flores will be aboard. She figures to be 2-3 lengths off the expected fast pace, stalking and pouncing on the leaders in the stretch. Any further back could be detrimental to her chances based on how the track has been playing.

Great Hot exits the same race TD does, but finished well up the track behind her. She has a graded stakes win at this distance and her North American debut over this track was a jaw-dropping effort. Her trainer has stated that he should could be a little short for this race, but her swift workouts say he could be just being conservative with his thoughts. Home Sweet Aspen is the second choice on the morning line but will probably float up in the odds. She has run well over this track, but breaking from the rail her jockey's hand could be forced to go the lead. She is another with good works over the track, and looks to put that turf experiment behind her.

May Day Rose (right) comes off a brutal loss in the Grade 3 Chilukki on the BC Saturday undercard. She has also won a Grade 3 at this distance as well as a stakes over this track. Her positional speed will allow her to attend the pace without going all out to establish herself early. She will get first jump on the favorite if the race plays out how this blog figures it will. Even though she is the 8/1 5th choice on the morning line, this blog believes her final odds will be closer to 7/2. She was on her toes when she schooled on Thursday (at the same time as Turbulent Descent) as the picture shows. She really caught the eye the entire time in the paddock, and because of that, she will be the selection for this blog.

So there is a quick look at the last Grade 1 of the year. Can Turbulent Descent rebound after flopping as the favorite? Will May Day Rose or Great Hot add to their earlier 2011 graded stakes tallies with a Grade 1? Will a new face jump up and shock the world at a price? Good luck everybody!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Four Pack of Stakes to Open the Santa Anita Meet

Opening day at The Great Race Place brings along 4 stakes as a present to the patrons. The action will start with the first race on the card, with the filly division of the Cal Breeders' Champion Stakes. A few races later, the rest of the stakes actions starts with male division of the Cal Breeders' Champion Stakes. Then the graded action starts up with the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort. Then the Grade 1 Malibu wraps up the card and the natural stakes pick 3. Let's get to the action.

The opener on the card is the filly division of the California Breeders Champion Stakes. Six entrants make up the field going seven furlongs, with a mix of some stakes tested horses and some up and comers. The favorite figures to be Ismene. She won the Anokia Stakes last time she ran in October, defeating highly regarded Sister Moon. She has solid speed, but 7 furlongs off two months layoff is not ideal. Willa B Awesome (right) has "danced every dance" in stakes competition this year, and looks to improve on the cutback. The pick is Tangerine Tickle. This daughter of Tribal Rule (as is Ismene) won her debut on turf across-town after a slow start. She appears that she may have some tracking speed to lay closer to the pace, and should come with a good rush at the end.

The open division of the Cal Breeders Champion Stakes brings together a group of 9. The favorite figures to be Stoney Fleece (right). This son of Decarchy captured the Grade 3 Generous (over turf) last time out. He benefited from a fast pace last time out, and the cutback in distance does not figure to hurt him, as he broke his maiden going a shorter distance. The only negative might be the return to dirt, where he ran a so-so 3rd. Passing Game comes off a stakes win up north at Golden Gate. This son of Game Plan will be making his debut over dirt today, but with the expected large amount of speed to be shown, he should get a good race set-up. Motown Men (also by Decarchy) is a need-the-lead type who should appreciate the cutback to one turn. While there is other speed, he has been already battle tested in stakes company.

The graded stakes action begins with the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort going one mile on the grass. The favorite figures to be Mr. Commons. While this son of Artie Schiller has never won a graded stakes, he has run second in several stakes against older, and ran a competitive fifth in the BC Mile. The streaking Ultimate Eagle comes off his Grade 1 win in the Hollywood Derby going 10 furlongs. Cutting back two furlongs does pose a bit of difficulty, especially since he appears to be a need-the-lead type and there appears to be other speed. Venomous and Cozy Kitten also come out of that race, and they would seem to appreciate the cutback to a shorter distance. But the pick is Comma To The Top (right). This former Grade 1 winner returned to the winner's circle in an allowance race last time out, has the speed to clear Ultimate Eagle early, make a move turning for home and just hold off the closers.

The final stake on the card is the Grade 1 Malibu. This long-standing race has a rich tradition of winners, including the great Spectacular Bid. This group does not have a clear standout this year, as the morning line favorite comes off some tough losses. The Factor (right) looked to be a force in the Sprint division this year until he ran two back-to-back sub-par races this fall. He gets off the rail after being stuck down there in his last two starts, and he is working rather stoutly for this race. There also appears not to be a copious amount of raw speed either, so it is possible that, if he is right, The Factor can cross-and-clear to the front and just keep going. But he is one of four for Baffert, with each of them having a shot. Hoorayforhollywood (the pick) comes off a close second in a stakes race at Delta, Smash has always been highly regarded of in the barn, and Racing Aptitude held off his older stablemate in a fast win. Trainer Steve Asmussen sends out three entrants to counter, including the very fast Rothko and the multiple graded stakes placed Wine Police. Throw in the shipper Associate from the Dick Dutrow barn (who brings Ramon Dominguez in tow) and it is a stout betting affair.

So there is a quick look at the stakes action on opening day at the Great Race Place. The action figures to be fast and furious, with plenty of high quality racing. Good luck everybody!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Beginning of a New Santa Anita Meet

The day after Christmas will once again bring with the beginning of a new Santa Anita meet. With the passage of time since the autumn meet ended, changes have occurred. Some are good, some are interesting and some have major repercussions.

The first big change is the actual landscape of the track grounds itself. Due to the hurricane-force winds that hit the track at the beginning of the month, several dozen trees suffered damage all over the track grounds. Along the streets that surround the track, several trees were blown clear out of the ground and uprooted. On the west side of the grandstand, three trees fell in the grassy area west of the fountain. Speaking of the grandstand, the roof was resurfaced during the off-season. The giant video board in the infield has been upgraded as well, with the new iteration several feet shorter, allowing for an unobstructed view of the backstretch for the camera.

The stakes schedule has gone some tweaks as well from previous years. The biggest change is the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks is now being run a week before the Santa Anita Derby this year. In recent times it has been run a month before the SA Derby, (on or around Big 'Cap day). The prep for the Oaks, the Las Virgenes, will slide into the Oaks spot on the calendar. The 3yo colts schedule has also been altered, with the Sham being shortened to the old San Rafael Stakes (which is now completely gone from the calendar) distance of a mile. The R.B Lewis is shortened back to 8.5 furlongs as well. Another change is that the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap will now serve as the prep for the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile (which is run on the Big 'Cap day undercard) by being run on the Strub Stakes undercard. Other changes include the suspension of the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo (12f on the grass) and the Grade 3 Thunder Road (1 mile on turf) for this year from the stakes schedule.

One change that carries over from last year is the addition of Steve Asmussen's charges to the backside. He brings many of his big buzz horses out with him out west. The biggest name is Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner My Miss Aurelia. The division leader will look to add another Grade 1 or two this winter to her already strong resume. Others in his barn include last year's Sham winner Tapizar, up and coming 3yo colt Rothko (who runs in the Malibu) and a ton of soon-to-be-3yo talent with Kentucky Derby aspirations such as Sabercat, Hierro and Wharton.

Opening day figures to be sunny, warm, fast and firm, and filled with good racing. Which soon-to-be 3yo will step up and take control of the division, the SA Derby and head to Kentucky to break the drought? Can a horse use the Strub or La Canada series to launch themselves to older division glory? We shall see if any horse can deliver on these thoughts. Good luck everybody!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Rousing Hollywood Futurity On Tap

The last graded stakes of the Hollywood Park meet is the Grade 1 Cashcall Futurity. This race will provide an automatic ticket into the field of the 2012 Kentucky Derby, with the winner's share of the $750,000 purse providing more than enough graded stakes earnings to secure the spot. This race has been won by such Eclipse Award winners as Lookin at Lucky, Declan's Moon and Point Given. In the last decade, three horses have ran in this race and hit the board in the Kentucky Derby. Lion Heart and Pioneerof the Nile won the Futurity and then went on to run 2nd in the Derby, while Giacomo ran 2nd in the Futurity and then went on to shock the world at 50-1 in the Derby.  This year's field is sizable one of 13 runners, with a couple of new shooters mixed with in most of the best local threats. Will go over some of the contenders, starting with the rail horse.

Handsome Mike (right) comes out of a game effort in the Generous Stakes last time out. He dueled through fast fractions, won the battle but lost the war to a horse who was well off the pace, but he gamely hung on for second. He hopes to follow the same path as last year's Comma To The Top, who used the Generous as a prep for his win in this race last year. "Mike" was privately purchased after that race by J Paul Reddam (who also the sponsor of this race, CashCall) and now resides in the Doug O'Neill barn. He shows no works since the change in barns, and there is other speed in the race. Several public handicappers like him in the win spot, so no one could begrudge anyone liking him in this spot.

Brother Francis (right) is still a maiden, but has closed strongly to finish 2nd in both of his lifetime starts, his latest in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue. He stretches out to a route for the first time. His father won this race back in 2003. No maiden has won this race for its first win in (at least) the last 20 years. His connections are the patient type, and he does appear on paper to working in good fashion towards the race. While he is 20-1 on the morning line, this blog believes he will get bet down to the range of 12-1 or so.

Blingo is a horse who has a considerable amount of buzz behind him. He won a maiden race rallying from the back of the pack in his debut going a flat mile on the grass. He has the same famous connections of Shirreffs-Smith-Moss, and has worked well since the win. There appears to be enough pace to set-up his late kick. This blog thinks that the buzz will drive his odds down from the 8/1 morning line all the way to favoritism.

Rousing Sermon (right) ran a bang-up 2nd on two weeks rest in the Real Quiet Stakes last time out over this track. He won the Cal Cup Juvenile across town at this distance two back, and his trainer say he is going great guns in the morning during his workouts. He has been working locally since the last race. He also makes 3 consecutive starts without some start of layoff, which is always a good handicapping angle.

Liaison defeated Rousing Sermon last time out by making an early move and sustaining it to the wire. He worked across town several times since the last race in typical swift Baffert fashion. He figures to take considerable amount of money at the windows to the point he will be the favorite or second choice. Baffert has won this race 5 times, a record amount.

So there is a look at some of the contenders for the race. Others including the Grade 1 winner Drill, who appears to have gone off form; Majestic City, the morning line favorite who ran second in a Grade 1 at this distance at Keeneland two races back; and Empire Way, the full-brother of the multi-million dollar filly Royal Delta, who bounced off a 11 day layoff in his last race and looks to improve first time routing.

So who will this blog back at the windows? The pick for this blog is Rousing Sermon. He has just enough early speed that he can be close if the pace of the race is not blistering. He also figures to float up from his 6-1 morning line based on the other connections in this race attracting attention at the windows. He hopefully will avenge his loss to Liaison last out. Empire Way will be a large part of any exotics played as well.

Good luck folks!