Friday, March 27, 2009

The Florida Derby (G1)

Florida Derby (G1)
1-1/8 Year Olds $750,000

The Grade I Florida Derby drew a field of nine including Dunkirk the latest "buzz" horse of the prep season. And why shouldn't he be? He's a good looking son of Unbridled’s Song out of the A.P. Indy mare Secret Status. She won the Kentucky Oaks (G1), The Mother Goose (G1) and the Florida Oaks (G3). He brought $3,700,000 at auction. And if that’s not enough he's also trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Garrett Gomez. What's not to like? That's akin to being born to royalty. However, 9-5 in a Grade I on a colt that’s had only two starts is anything but value. Granted they were both impressive wins, but this field will be much tougher than those he faced on the lower rungs of the ladder. He may have the pedigree to run forever, the team and the looks but he has yet to face adversity. He may win, maybe by a lot but at 9-5 I have to look elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Quality Road, the horse I like to win doesn't offer much value either. However, I do believe his morning line odds of 2-1 will drift up because Dunkirk will be being over bet. I'm hoping for 3-1 but would be happy with 5-2. Jimmy Jerkens has this colt ready. His strong winning performance in the FOY speaks for him liking the track. Since then he has worked twice, a 4f maintenance work on 3/3 and a fast 7f move in 1:25 on 3/21. I would rather have seen that work be a bit slower, however, it does show he is ready for the distance and it may help him relax a little more in this race than he has in the past. If Europe stays in he's going to have to relax if he hopes to cross the wire first. I think he will and I think John Velazquez will ride him to perfection. Having Toby the Coal Man on his inside should help as he should have room at the break to attain ground saving position as the field sorts itself out.

I'm also leaving Dunkirk out of my exacta. I’m going with Sincero in that position. I like how this colt looks in the PP's. He won, but was DQ'd first out at Calder going 6-1/2f. He came back in the $400k restricted In Reality S. (1-1/16) and ran a good 4th after steadying at the start. In his next and last '08 appearance he broke his maiden at 1 mi 70. Those performances show some real talent. Since embarking on the new season he has run three times. He has not enjoyed good racing luck. In his first race back on 1/8 his comment line reads “Slow st; bmpd 1st turn. That also happened to be the race that made a temporary star out of Free Country. Sincero finished 5th of 8 but only 6 1/2 back.

The comment in his next race on 1/31 reads, "Bumped st, faltered." He finished 9 back of Take the Points, another pretty nice horse. Still he had an excuse. In his most recent race he finished 3rd by 6-1/2. The comment line says he ran wide. But that’s not an excuse. I think there were two more pertinent reasons why he lost that race. He ran into a very good horse in Dunkirk and he didn’t work between races. Manuel Azpurua has remedied that situation for this race. Sincero shows two works in preparation for this race, a 4f work on 3/7 and a bullet 5f work on 3/21 at Calder in 1:00 1H. I think this colt has the talent and finally has all the tumblers aligned. If Quality Road does too much early I can see this colt taking the big prize.

To round out my trifecta I used the horse of the moment and maybe the future, Dunkirk. There's no question he has talent but at this level it generally requires experience as well. He’ll get a lot of that here but he won’t get my money to win or place.

The Picks:
Win: Quality Road
Place: Sincero
Show: Dunkirk

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Lane's End, Note, Turway Fiasco

Turfway Park
Lanes End (G2)
1-1/8th Three year-olds $500,000

During the process of elimination each and every handicapper looks for something to give him an edge, perhaps some little nugget that most have overlooked. Unfortunately, in the Lane’s End (G3) I can’t glean anything that would dissuade me from going with the two favorites, Bittel
Road and West Side Bernie.

Last week I wrote about how the R.B.Lewis (G2) is the key race of the prep season (see ROTW). In that race Bittel Road finished 4th two lengths back. The three horses that finished ahead of him were, Pioneerof the Nile, PapaClem and I Want Revenge. With the exception of a bad race in the BC Juvenile Turf he has done nothing wrong except perhaps having the bad luck of running into the west coast’s toughest competitors. On Saturday he won’t be denied his moment in the sun. He is simply the best horse in the race.

His most likely competition will come from West Side Bernie. He too ran poorly in a BC race (Juvenile) but there is nothing else not to like. He’s won a stakes at Turfway and gives his all every race. He ran second a length back of the winner in the Delta Jackpot (G3). Terrain who finished a distant 5th in the DJ came back to be 3rd in the Louisiana Derby (G2). In his only start this year West Side Bernie ran a respectable third in the Holy Bull (G3). Both of those races were on dirt. Saturday he returns to synthetics. Being a son of Bernstein out of a Gilded Time mare--it reasonable to assume that turf or synthetics may be where he belongs. He displays three very sharp works for this return and the connections have secured the services of Edgar Prado. All looks well for West Side Bernie cashing a check.

The final spot is up for grabs. I see it as coming down to three horses. Hold Me Back, Jack Spratt or Proceed Bee.
Proceed Bee appears to be a turf /synthetic specialist and won the 100K J. Battaglia Memorial at TP. However, I don’t like how he finishes, even when winning, so I’m throwing him out.

Hold Me Back hasn’t been out since finishing 14 lengths behind Old Fashioned in the Remsen (G2) on 11-29 but that was on dirt. He has won both of his starts on a synthetic surfaces. He shows a strong work pattern punctuated by a bullet work on 3/15. Bill Mott also knows how to win off of a layoff. My instincts say to go with him. However, I don’t like his post position (1) and his lack of racing experience so I’m going to let intellect overrule instinct in this case and take a pass on him.

I had high hopes for Jack Spratt in the FOY but he came up flat. But I think he will appreciate the switch back to a synthetic track. I also am encouraged by the nice work he had after running such a poor race in the FOY. To me that’s a sign of a determined horse and I see him rebounding here. He has run well at TP and has the services of Julien Leparoux who knows a little something about winning at Turfway Park. He is also the only horse I see as a possible spoiler, albeit a slim possibility. Nonetheless he will be my pick for third.

Regardless of which horse wins I do not see any of them as factors on the road to the Derby. I think the best horses in this field will continue to see their successes come on synthetic surfaces.

The Picks:
Win: Bittel Road
Place: West Side Bernie
Show: Jack Spratt

A note to my readers.
I have to apologize for the infrequency of posts over the previous several months. I don't know when I will be able to post on a more consistent schedule again. Hopefully, sooner than later. However, I will be posting a minimum of once a week (on Fridays). And that will be a handicapping post. I have a lot more to say but my current schedule doesn't allow me to allocate the necessary time needed to do a proper job at blogging.
Final Note:
Is there any wonder why there are problems in racing? Turfway Park's hierarchy, in their infinite wisdom, are charging ten dollars admission on Saturday - Lane's End Day - when they usually have free admission. Is it any wonder why the sport has a problem attracting fans? Soak people on the biggest handle day of the season. It's a pitiful display of greed. I know they're having a tough time filling races et al. but if you want to nurture relationships you have to do the right thing. I hope no one shows up at the track!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Gotham S. (G3)

Aqueduct Racetrack
The Gotham S. (G3)
1 1/16 - Three Year Olds - $250,000
The synthetic surfaces of California are responsible for a few earlier than usual west coast invaders. The connections of I Want Revenge and Axel Foley are eager to see if their horses will
adjust to a real dirt surface.

Jeff Mullin’s I Want Revenge brings the most accomplished resume to the Gotham. His last two races, the Cash Call Futurity (G1) and RB Lewis (G2) were both excellent efforts. In the Cash Call he finished second by a nose to the formidable Pioneerof the Nile. In the RB Lewis he stayed close to the pace and made the lead before fading to third behind Pioneeof the Nile and Papa Clem. If this race was on a synthetic track he would be my choice. I think Pioneerof the Nile may be the premier colt of his division at this stage and I Want Revenge measured up well against him. But it is too much to expect a horse to run in top form in his first appearance on a new surface. He is by Steven Got Even and in my opinion they tend to run better on turf than dirt. Perhaps that is why he takes to the artificial surfaces. I don’t expect him to run to form on the dirt and will leave him out of my picks.

Two hometown runners, Haynesfield and Mr.Fantasy will figure prominently in the running of the race. Mr. Fantasy’s two races resulted in impressive speed figures. However, both were earned in state [NY] company. He has yet to be challenged but it’s certain he will be here. There is quite a buzz surrounding Mr. Fantasy and the connections are very excited about this colt. His team is an easy one to root for. He is also a half brother to Tin Cup Chalice, the winner of last year’s NY Big Apple Triple. But I feel this spot is a little too ambitious for him at this stage of his career; but I’ll be rooting for him.

The Steve Asmussen trained Haynesfield has more seasoning and boasts a 5-4-0-1 record but has run against suspect competition thus far. Asmussen always has them ready and with C.C. Lopez up I would expect Haynesfield to break well and run his usual race, up close or on the lead all the way around. And while I see him fighting for a show check with I Want Revenge, show may be the best he can do.

Masala, is an interesting horse. In three races he has, for all intents and purposes, run on three different surfaces: turf, wet and fast. He ran well on each of them. In his last he ran second to Take the Points. That horse shipped west and finished second to The Pamplemousse in last week’s Sham S. (G3). I expect Masala to move up going two turns. He’s had five weeks between races and great works at Palm Meadows. Coa is making the trip and I figure this pair will finish well and pick up a check.

My choice to win is Imperial Council. In his debut last summer at Saratoga he ran second by a neck to Hello Broadway. His next appearance was in October when he broke his maiden going 7f. at Belmont in a key race. Shug gave him a little time after that. They brought him back at GP Feb. 14th in money allowance conditions and he gutted out a tough victory. This is a signal to me that he has matured nicely. It’s been only three weeks since his return but McGaughey wouldn’t bring him back if he had any concerns. He’s by Empire Maker out of the Thunder Gulch mare Jaramar Rain so he will appreciate the added distance. He’s coming off a bullet at Payson Park. His works there assure he has a bottom in him. He has to overcome stretching out and a talented field but I see all systems ready to go.
The Picks:
Win: Imperial Council
Place: Masala
Show: Haynesfield

1 __ Naos________M.Luzzi______ T. Pletcher____116_ 20-1
2__ Russell Road__T.Dunkelberger_ J. Casey_____116_ 20-1
3__Masala_______E.Coa________T. Pletcher____116____5-1
4 __Axel Foley____R.Migliore____K. McLaughlin__116___15-1
5__ Mr. Fantasy___A. Garcia_____K.McLaughlin__116___7-2
6__Haynesfield____C.Lopez_______S. Asmussen__120___5-1
7__Imperial Council_R. Maragh___C. McGaughey__116___5-2
8__I Want Revenge_J. Talamo_____J. Mullins_____116___ 3-1
9__ Giant Ryan___J. Sanchez______B. Parboo____116_____50-1