Friday, January 27, 2012

Sunshine Millions - California Races

This Saturday at the Great Race Place the Sunshine Millions will once again fill the stage with state-bred action. There have been some major changes in the program about what is run and the rules behind it. This year's edition brings together three stakes under the banner to help. There will be the ubiquitous food truck festival, along with a performance by Shiny Toy Guns. A good card all-around on this last Saturday in January. (Also on the card are two graded stakes, the Grade 1 Santa Monica and the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes, but those will be talked in a separate post.)

Before we talk about the races, let's go over the changes to the Sunshine Millions, as this year's program substantially different to what it has been in the pass. To put it bluntly, the only thing continuing on from last year is the Sunshine Millions name, at least when it comes to the Santa Anita races. No longer is it Florida-breds vs. Cal-breds like in the past. Now Santa Anita & Gulfstream Park will both hold state-bred races for the state they are located in instead of the two state-bred groups mixing. All six of the stakes that were part of the Sunshine Millions schedule are now schedule to run at Gulfstream Park. In its place at Santa Anita will be run three Cal-bred stakes taken from other parts of the stakes schedule to fill the gap. The three stakes snatched from elsewhere are the Sensational Star, the Crystal Water and the Valentine's Dancer. These stakes were all introduced in the 1990's for Cal-breds, and for this year will be run under the Sunshine Millions banner. Let's takes these races in order, starting with the Sensational Star.

The Sensational Star is a race down the hillside turf course at the about distance of 6 1/2 furlongs. First, let's scratch Luckarack (who will run in the first on the card instead against blog favorite CAPITAL ACCOUNT) and Mega Heat (who is entered in a race on Sunday instead). As this blog was about to be posted, news broke on Twitter that Caracortado is out of the race due to a minor foot issue. This dramatically changes the betting complexion of the race, as he figured to be the heavy favorite. The field is now a group of 5 lead by former graded stakes winner Compari.  This son of Redattore won the 2010 edition of this race gate-to-wire. His early speed is his biggest weapon, and he has used it very effectively. However, he has not shown the ability to pass and win, which is a big problem. Ain't No Other has only one way to go and that is to the lead. He appears to be faster earlier on than Compari, but if ANO's jock attempts to rate him back a bit, it could be to the detriment to both his mount and Compari, as it could lead to a speed duel. The pick is Red Defense (right). This other son of Redattore has won down the hill in the past, has shown the ability to rate and win, and figures to get a perfect stalking trip behind the leaders. The other two in the field are My Summer Slew, who previously won down this hill and comes in 2nd off a layoff; and Tamarack Smarty, who is slightly better at a mile than at this distance.

The Crystal Water returns off a one year hiatus with a surface and distance change. It is now a mile and one-sixteenth on the main track. (It was previously at a mile on the grass) This group of six is evenly matched and each have their own question marks. Legal Separation appears to be the fastest horse early, but can he last in his first attempt routing? Bluegrass Reward comes in off a solid win, and can pass, but can he turn the tide on those in this field who have beat him in the past? Spud Spivens ran a bad race in the Grade 2 San Fernando, but can he rebound off that effort over a surface (dirt) that he has never won over? Thirtyfirststreet just won at this distance at this track and previously won a similar cal-bred stake, but if he figures to be favored, why does the "musical chairs" jockey continue? Holladay Road won his only time on dirt, but can he prevail in his first time against stakes company? Macho Dorado just won here, but can he handle the step up from claiming company? With all these questions out there, this race is a tough one to pick. If you twisted my arm for a pick, I would take the favorite.

The last of the three state-bred stakes is the Valentine Dancer going one mile on the grass. This race was thrown into the air by the scratching of probable favorite Unzip Me, along with Cayanna. It is also being reported that La Sombre will also be scratched. That leaves a field of seven evenly matched females. The role of the favorite now will likely fall to Halo Dolly. This daughter of Popular has won more than 50% of her races lifetime. She won a race similar to this during the summer at Del Mar in the Solana Beach Handicap. She can sit mid-pack and make one run. She did lose to Antares World two back, but that may have been at a distance that is just too far for her. Antares World broke an 8 race losing streak in that win. She seems to prefer a target to run down, and she will get that today. The only horse in this race to defeat open company in a graded stake is California Nectar. She is a speed ball who has only one way to go, and that is fast early. This will be her first route on the grass since a distant 4th in the Miesque S. when she was two. There is not a lot of early speed, but there are serious questions about whether she wants to go this far. Secret Cove is by the underrated turf California sire Tribal Rule. Four of her five wins are on the turf course, and with the cut back to a flat mile, she has a big chance at a bit of a price. She is a must use on the any ticket, including the $250k guaranteed Luck P6 being offered involving these Sunshine Millions race.

For a look at the Florida Sunshine Millions races, please take a look at this post from my good friend Paul over at Picks and Ponderings on Chiago Horse Racing.

So there are some thoughts about the three SoCal races under the Sunshine Millions banner. It figures to be a festive day of racing. Whomever the readers out there land on, this blog wishes you good "Luck".

Friday, January 20, 2012

Drought Report 2012 - 1/20

This week's Drought Report will be a brief one, as there was no stakes action last weekend. This weekend is the ungraded $75k San Pedro Stakes, which should produce a starter or two for San Vicente Stakes next month. First, a recap of the two races mentioned in last week's report, then a few notable workouts, with a brief preview of the San Pedro Stakes to wrap up the report.

  • Sky Kingdom won a first level allowance race on 1/12 that turned into a glorified paid workout when the four horse field (already reduced from five due to a scratch) turned into three when the outclassed runner was eased early on. Sky Kingdom took advantage of his lesser competition to stalk the pace, range up to the outside and win geared down without really being asked. If nothing else, he had another trip out on the track to gain some more experience. It did not prove that he can handle a solid pace routing, as some are proclaiming. 
  • Brother Francis scratched out of a maiden special weight on 1/14 with a slight illness, but his trainer James Cassidy said it was only a minor issue and that he should be back on track soon.
  • Liaison, Grade 1 CashCall Futurity winner, leads off the Santa Anita workers with a bullet six furlong work in 1:11 on 1/19
  • Rousing Sermon worked six furlongs in 1:14.80 on 1/17
  • Chips All In, Eddie Logan Stakes winner, worked five furlongs in 1:03.60 on 1/16
  • Groovin' Solo , half-bro to GSWs Premier Pegasus & Street Hero, worked 5 furlongs in 59.4 on 1/17.
  • Out of Bounds, Grade 3 Sham Stakes winner, worked at Hollywood Park in first spin since the race, going three furlongs in 37.20
  • Creative Cause, Grade 1 Norfolk winner, worked six furlongs in 1:14 at Hollywood Park on 1/20
The San Pedro Stakes is a 6 1/2 furlong race on the dirt that will be run this Sunday. It brings together a mixed bag of 6. Drill looks to right the ship on the cutback after back-to-back dismal efforts routing. Midnight Transfer comes in off a fast maiden breaking score on opening day, while Got Even blitz the field in the Cal Breeders' Champion Stakes last out. Passing Game looks to turn the tide on Got Even after having no chance on the speed-favoring track on opening day. Let's Get Crackin comes in from out of town while continuing his musical chair trainer changes. Coach Sickie returns after failing to fire up north. This will be an interesting race, as no one knows exactly how Drill will run. At least while sprinting, Drill has not shown the need for the lead, so if runs back to any of his sprint wins, he should win. Another big question to figure out is how will the three horses who ran on opening day come out of that race? Midnight Transfer would seem to figure things out, but could it be that he just found a soft maiden group instead? The winner will probably be pointed to a start in the San Vicente Stakes, or possibly a race out of town like the Southwest S. at Oaklawn.

 Good luck this weekend folks!

Friday, January 13, 2012

San Fernando Stakes + Some Video

To see the full thoughts from this blog on the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes, please visit the Thorofan's Handicappers Corner, where this blogger goes over whether or not Tapizar can get an easy enough lead to take this field gate-to-wire. (Short version: The answer is "No".)

But before you go, take a look at what may become a new feature on this blog. Below are videos of the some of the contenders for this weekend's stakes action return to the barn after spending time schooling on Thursday (1/12). The first is of Tapizar, the second is of the Baffert-trained trio Prayer For Relief (San Fernando S.), Ellafitz (Paseana S.) and Candrea (Santa Ynez S.). Good luck this weekend folks.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Drought Report 2012 - First Update

With the first graded stake at Santa Anita for the Derby group run, now would be a good time to give a brief look at many of the possible horses who could carry the mantle of the "Drought Breaker" to Kentucky the first Saturday in May. This list comprises a mix of grade one winners, other stakes winners, flashy maiden winners and a maiden. The colts are a diverse group of pedigrees, from sprint-leaning to run-all-day types. Some will be pointing to the sprint (San Vicente), while others will be headed toward the Lewis for their next start, with a few hoping to get that elusive allowance race to fill. Let us take a look.

Note: This post was intended to run before the Sham, as a way to introduce everyone to this group of 3yos, but due to "blog operator failure" it is coming out now instead.

Sky Kingdom gets the first nod solely because he will be the first to race among this group, as the ever elusive first level allowance race was used as the 2nd race on 1/12, even though it only had five entrants (two of them being Baffert trainees). This son of Empire Maker broke his maiden when he stretched out to two turns two starts back across town at Hollywood Park. He followed that up with a solid 4th in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity. He will be making his first start on dirt today, even though he has been working over the surface since October. His connections are hoping to take advantage of this rarely run condition to get this charge some more experience before tackling stakes once again. With his pedigree, the Derby distance will not be a problem, as his sire is a Belmont winner and his damsire is a well-known provider of stamina. His works haven't been the lightning quick spins his trainer is known for, but they are still solid works.

Brother Francis gets the next nod because he is entered in a maiden special weight on the grass for this Saturday (1/14). He closed strongly in a MSW and in the G3 Hollywood Prevue to finish 2nd in both races. He then followed it up with a fast-closing third in the G1 Hollywood Futurity. This son of Lion Heart is out of a mare who has plenty of distance in her pedigree, and the sire has produced a 12f winner in BC Turf winner Dangerous Midge. His connections obviously want to get a win while keeping him around two turns, and with the track playing with the way it has (favoring on or near the lead types), they have chosen to go the turf in order to get a win. He has worked in trainer's preferred steady manner since the Futurity.

Liaison won the aforementioned G1 Hollywood Futurity over Rousing Sermon. These two made up the exacta in the Real Quiet Stakes as well. Liaison has three solid 5 furlongs workouts since the race, and is most likely pointing to the G2 Robert Lewis stakes in February. Rousing Sermon has worked four times since the race and could be pointing to the same race, though it is possible that either could ship out of town for their next race. Here is a replay of the Hollywood Futurity:

Creative Cause is coming off a third in the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile last time out. He took some time off the work tab after the race to freshen up for the Derby trail, and did not work until New Year's Eve. He is building towards his first start later in the meet, either the Lewis or the San Felipe. He should have little problem stretching out going forward, being by Giant's Causeway out of a mare who hit the board multiple times going nine furlongs. His stable and owner-mate  Empire Way is a full brother to the multiple Grade 1 winning filly ROYAL DELTA, who will most likely wins this year's Eclipse award for 3yo fillies. With her successes going very long, he should not have any trouble with this distance, though he does need to improve to contend with the better runners out here, as he missed the board in both his stakes attempts after his win. He has 3 solid works since the last race. His sister improved as the year went on, so maybe he will as well.

Trainer Steve Asmussen has a few Derby hopefuls as well. Even though his only trainee who is guaranteed a spot in the gate for the Kentucky Derby Sabercat didn't make the trip, he still has such up and comers as Wharton, Unbridled's Note, along with stakes placed Daddy Nose Best. The first two are coming off of maiden special weight wins on the first Stars of Tomorrow card at Churchill Downs. They both are training steadily here and will be looking to make their next start at some point towards the middle of the meet. Daddy Nose Best flopped as the chalk in the Eddie Logan Stakes, but his pedigree says that he should be fine routing on the dirt, something he has never done before. With a dearth of turf stakes in SoCal on the schedule, the connections will most likely find out whether he can truly dirt or not very soon,

Out of Bounds is the last one we will talk about, as he just won the G3 Sham Stakes going a mile at 10-1.  He came out of the race very well according to his connections, with plenty of energy. His connections have stated that he will be pointed to the Grade 2 San Felipe in March for his next start. As discussed in the last post, his chances to get 9 furlongs are strong, but that 10f in May will be a bit of challenge. We wish him and all of those on this list good luck and to stay healthy.

These are just a few of the possible horses who could be the one to earn the "Drought Breaker" mantle come the first Saturday in April. It could even be a horse who has not even made a single start yet, like last year's winner Midnight Interlude, who would not make his debut until the end of January. Whomever wins the Santa Anita Derby will earn the right to end the 23 year long streak. Good luck out there.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Drought Report 2012 - Grade 3 Sham Stakes

With the change in the calendar to 2012, the search once again begins in earnest for a three year old who can end the drought. The now nearly 23 year-long drought since a winner of a the Santa Anita Derby has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. The first step to finding who will be the one to carry the chances to end the drought is the Grade 3 $100,000 Sham Stakes going one mile. This race has moved around the calendar the last few years and has replaced the now-defunct San Rafael (which was run at the same distance) with the cutback to one mile after last year's running at 1m & 1/16th. A field of six runners comes together, a mix of stakes winners and horses who just broke their maiden.

The morning line favorite will be Secret Circle. This Bob Baffert trainee was last seen gamely holding on in the inaugural running of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. This will be the furthest he has ever run as he stretches out to two turns for the race. This son of Eddington shouldn't have a problem with the extra distance from a pedigree standpoint, as his sire won several stakes at 9f and further, and his dam having won going two turns as well. He is a horse with ample speed, though as he showed in the Jack Goodman Stakes, he does not need the lead to win. His workouts have been the typical swift Baffert drills in the A.M. He figures to be on the lead or sitting just off a swift pace, a plus on this track.

Out of Bounds (right) broke his maiden last time out across town at Hollywood Park going 7 furlongs. He stalked a solid pace and won at 7 furlongs. He extends another furlong today and returns to dirt in this stake. He loses the jockey who rode him for his first two starts to the favorite, but picks up a more-than-adequate replacement in the red-hot Garrett Gomez, who won several stakes opening week. His workouts have been fast across town at Hollywood Park since the win, which is not the norm for his conservative trainer Eoin Harty. The extra furlong should not be a problem based on his pedigree, as both his sire and dam won going nine furlongs. He is a three-quarter brother to blog favorite Etched, who also won going a mile and an eighth. (Etched is by Out of Bounds grandsire Forestry out of the dam Unbridled Elaine.) He figures to be sitting mid-pack behind the speed and making a run turning for home.

Hierro ships in from Kentucky, along with the rest of the Asmussen contingent, looking to win this race in back-to-back years for the barn. (Tapizar won this race last year) This son of Hard Spun broke his maiden in his third try at the 7 furlong distance last time out. He brings along with him the jockey who rode him in that win in from out-of-town, Julien Leparoux. He is another who stretches out another furlong and goes two turns for the first time. He has worked like clockwork since his arrival, including a bullet two works back. He has been well backed in the future books in Vegas, as he has bet down to a low 25/1. (As a reference point, the favorite is Union Rags at 10/1, Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner is 18/1). His pedigree does not figure to be an issue going one mile, as his sire won going 9 furlongs. He sat off a less-than-blistering pace in his win, so he figures to project to be mid-pack, probably near Out of Bounds.

The other three who make up the field are: Senor Rain, who figures to add to pace, even with the blinkers being taken off; Longview Drive, who comes off a third-place finish in the Delta Jackpot (just like last year's Sham runner-up Clubhouse Ride) and seems to have discovered a passing gear; and Handsome Mike, who cuts back a sixteenth when fading late after setting swift fractions in the Hollywood Futurity. All three have route experience in stakes, with varying results.

The pick is Out of Bounds, as either he or Secret Circle figures to be the one to take advantage of the expected solid pace, and he will be the better price. He will take the first stone of the path to figuring out who will be this year's possible "Drought Breaker".

Good luck folks!