Saturday, May 30, 2009

Gamely S. (G1)

Hollywood Park
Gamely S. (G1)
1-1/8 - Fillies &Mares Three-Year-Olds and Upward - $250,000

For a turf race at 1-1/8th the Gamely promises to have a good pace led by the filly Tuscan Evening. She will break from the inside post and attempt to go gate to wire. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee went 1-1/16th in 1:40 2/5 on May 2. It was her first attempt at over a mile. Since then she shows a nice 4f maintenance work in 48 3/5 on 5/21. Her pedigree suggests the added distance should not be a problem. She is fit, improving and likely to be the pace setter on a turf course where speed can hold. She will finish in the money.

Magical Fantasy from the barn of Paddy Gallagher is already a Grade I winner and has recently returned to excellent form. She has the ability to track a good pace and finish well. She exits a nice victory in the Santa Barbara H. (G2) 42 days ago so she is well rested. I expect a big effort from this filly. She will be tracking the pace by several lengths and finish well for second.

I like Modification to win. I am a bit concerned that she may have some distance limitations but I feel she can get the 1-1/8th on the turf even though she has come up a bit short on synthetics at that distance. She is coming off of a 7f win in the GI Humana Distaff at Churchill in 1:23 3/5. So I don’t think she was completely extended. As far as turf form she shows only one race but it was a good effort coming off the bench. With her pedigree she can probably run on anything. I also think her last race, 28 days ago, sets her up perfectly for this spot. I think this is how Allen Jerkens would get a horse ready for a spot like this, albeit the 7f may have been a work and not a race. Nonetheless, I see her putting in a career best performance in the Gamely. Cory Nakatani has the mount and is a perfect fit for this filly that will finish with a flourish to win the B.C. Gamely (G1).

The Picks:
Win: Modification
Place: Magical Fantasy
Show: Tuscan Evening

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Milady Handicap (G2)

1-1/16 Fillies & Mares Three and Up $150,000

When the connections of those running in the Milady H. circled the race on the calendar they didn’t expect to be running against Zenyatta but that is exactly what will happen. The 2009 edition of the Grade 2, mile and a sixteenth event will mark the first start of the year for last year’s champion older female. She had been scheduled to begin her five year old season on May 1, in the Louisville H. (G2) at Churchill but when the track came up muddy John Shirreffs called an audible and scratched her. Zenyatta is a perfect 9for 9 in her career and a perfect 4 for 4 at Hollywood Park. She will be the prohibitive favorite and I don’t believe she can be beaten. If she does lose it would be as much an upset as Mine That Bird’s victory in The Kentucky Derby. There is something very special about a horse that is unbeaten, even more so when they run at the highest levels of racing. She is one of those rare athletes that we hope to be able to see in our lifetimes. Her presence saps value from the race but the pleasure of watching this truly wonderful mare run is reward enough.

On paper Zenyatta’s most likely competition is stable mate Life is Sweet. Garrett Gomez retains the mount and together they will try to extend their streak of three consecutive graded stakes wins. She will probably enter the gate as the second betting choice but I don’t think she will be second to Zenyatta at race’s end. I will take a shot at beating her for second with Champagne Eyes. On paper Life is Sweet has an obvious class advantage. However, like most of the field she likes to come from off the pace. That means running Zenyatta’s race. So, when they turn for home and Zenyatta starts passing them as they start their move I can imagine most of this field becoming discouraged. I do think Life is Sweet has enough class to run on but not with the same confidence. I’ll place her third.

Champagne Eyes is taking a very big step up in this spot. In her only other graded stake, the 2008 Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) she was beaten 10-1/2 lengths while running a poor 4th in a field of five. However, she had just broken her maiden and in Indian Blessing she was facing the reigning Juvenille Filly Champion. It was also a 7f sprint that Indian Blessing ran in 1:19.89! That was a new track record and only .51 shy of the world record. I’ll forgive her that race. After that race she disappeared until April 11 of this year when she resurfaced to win the $70k restricted Santa Lucia H. at 1-1/16th. That race indicates to me that her problems did not compromise her obvious talents. Those considerations and her running style is why I like her for second in this spot. She likes to be forwardly placed but has shown the ability to lay just off the pace and that will help her in the Milady. Gambler’s Justice will probably go to the front with Taste’s Sister, leaving Champagne Eyes in the garden spot. I don’t believe either GJ or TS can get the distance and see Champagne Eyes inheriting the lead on the far turn after getting away with some relatively soft fractions. She won’t be able to hold off Zenyatta but will finish strong enough for second. She also has three works on display since the Santa Lucia. Her 7f work on May 9 in a click over 1:26 tells me she’s ready to roll. Michael Baze has the mount.

The Picks:
Win:--- Zenyatta------A truly great one!
Place:-Champagne Eyes--The O’Neill barn will enjoy some bubbly after this performance.
Show:--Life is Sweet--Just the wrong circumstances for her.

Enjoy the Race!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Preakness (G1)

Preakness S. (G1)
1-3/16 Three-Year-Olds $1,100,000

The 134th running of the Preakness Stakes sets up to be almost as contentious as the Kentucky Derby, and, with the addition of the super filly, Rachel Alexandra, perhaps more interesting.

The connections of Mine That Bird will probably be praying for rain. But even if they get some I don’t think it will help his cause enough to see him in the winner’s circle to collect a second jewel.

In her last race, the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Rachel Alexandra put in a Secretariat like performance winning by more than twenty lengths. Off that race she has been installed as the 8-5 ML favorite. I don’t believe she is that much better than the rest of this field. In fact I don’t think she is the best horse in the field and at 8-5 I will not be wagering on her. I do believe she will be competitive but I don’t think she’ll hit the board. She hasn’t faced anywhere near the level of competition she will face in this race. I like that she has the outside post but it also has its disadvantages. To run forwardly placed, as she likes to be, she will have to expend energy early. Big Drama, Friesan Fire, Papa Clem, Pioneerof the Nile and Take the Points all like to run close to the pace and they will make it difficult for her to get a good trip. In a 1-3/16 race every step can count. The long run to the first turn could help her cause a little. Borel will probably try to find a spot and drop down to the rail. But she will be tested, she will get dirt in her face and the pace will be set by horses that can carry their speed farther than those she has faced. I don’t see her finishing in the top four.

For me Big Drama is the key to the race. Regardless of his pedigree (Montbrook –Riveting Drama by Notebook) I think if he was fit enough he could go gate to wire. However, I think the Pimlico track, that can be tiring and having the best colts in the country pressing his every step will cause him to falter by the wire. This will be just his second race in five months. In his return in the Swale S. (G2) he got a little rubber legged in the stretch and was taken down for bumping This One’s for Phil. I’m sure that race helped get some bottom in him but I don’t think it will be enough. He will be the pace and I think he will run a strong race. But, I see him fading to third inside the 16th pole.

Since I expect a fast pace I think Terrain will finish well. It seems to me all the pieces are in place for him. This is the third race off a layoff. He is well rested having had 35 days since his last race and Jeremy Rose takes the mount adding, perhaps, a little home course advantage. His works are not noteworthy but they are consistent. He shows three maintenance drills and should be the freshest of the quality horses running. I see him coming down the middle of the track late to get up for second.

I think the best horse at the moment, maybe the year, is also the horse that will get the best trip, Musket Man. He breaks from the three hole. From there Coa will be able to get a good stalking position, save ground and wait for the pace to come back to him. The colt appears to have come out of the Derby in great form. He seems to still be getting stronger and improving. As evidence he had 4f bullet move on Tuesday. He is doing so well trainer Derek Ryan has said Musket Man may have put on weight since the Derby. Having run and finished well at Tampa I expect him to like and run well at Pimlico. Questions about his limitations at this distance have already been addressed. However, with his pedigree I think his appearance in the Belmont is still a question so this is his moment to shine. I see a Coa sitting fifth or sixth, two lanes wide, as he guides Musket Man around “Old Hilltop.” He’ll angle out exiting the far turn and finish through the wire to collect the blanket of black-eyed Susans.

The Picks:
Win:---Musket Man--Bags his first Grade I.
Place:-Terrain---------Patience pays off for the connections.
Show:-Big Drama-----If he hadn’t gotten hurt he may have been top of the crop.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Peter Pan S. (G2)

Belmont Park
Peter Pan S. (G3)
1-1/8 Three-Year-Olds $200,000

After Mine That Bird’s upset victory in the Run for the Roses any horse exiting the Sunland Derby will merit reassessment. One of those colts is Scorewithcater, who bested the Derby winner by ¼ length while finishing 3rd. Three weeks prior he scored a neck victory over him in the Borderland Handicap. Scorewithcater likes to come from off the pace. The Peter Pan field is filled with colts that like to be forwardly placed so the race sets up well for him. Also, his pedigree (Even the Score – Runaway Cater by Runaway Groom) suggests that he would benefit from moisture in the surface and after a week of clouds and rain in New York he’s likely to get that. Saturday’s forecast is also calling for morning showers. But, the question remains: is he good enough to win? I don’t think so. But he will have a good pace to close into and I expect the Doug O’Neill trained colt to hit the board.

All eyes will be on Imperial Council. During the prep season the 2-1 ML favorite was considered by many to be a top Derby candidate. His Wood Memorial put the final nail in the coffin of those hopes and now he’s back to prove that the talk wasn’t just hype. Both of his stakes appearances- Wood Memorial (G1), Gotham (G3) - were around two turns and the results were less than stellar. The one turn Peter Pan should be more to his liking. Although his pedigree says distance he has yet to prove that he can win over a route of ground in graded company. He shows a very interesting work tab since the Wood M. There are three tightly bunched works on 4/14, 4/17, and 4/19. I can only imagine he was kicking the barn down and they had to do something with him. He shows a 5f work on 4/26 in 1:02 and a bullet on 5/3. It appears to me that this is a horse that is ready for war. My concern is that he will be too sharp. I won’t be surprised if he wins, but I think he’ll fade approaching the wire and settle for second place money.

I had a very difficult time convincing myself Hello Broadway would win because I really don’t think the distance suits him. My instinct tells me he’ll come up short. However, his pedigree and his 6f work on 4/27 in 1:11 convinced me to give him the benefit of the doubt. That workout is much better than any other he shows at that distance. He then returned with a bullet work on 5/3. He is adding blinkers today and that should help him stay focused; his PP’s hint at him losing interest when he’s in front. Like Imperial Council, I think he’s a better one turn horse. Another point of confidence is that Garrett Gomez is in the irons. Hello Broadway has done his best running when creating the pace, but I’m expecting a different strategy on Saturday. I think they will try to get him to relax a few lengths off the pace, give him a target to run at – Imperial Council - and kick past at the wire. At 5-2 I’m not sure there is value in the wager but if he floats up to about 7-2, as I think he will, I think he is worth a wager. I’m giving him the nod over Imperial Council.

The sleeper in the race is Charitable Man. He may be the best horse in the field. But he’s going to have to prove it by beating me this race. Since moving to Keeneland and now Belmont his works do not instill confidence. At 3-1 on the ML I don’t like the risk. However, I think he is a horse that one should consider in exotics.

The Picks:
Win: Hello Broadway --- Stretches his limit to score the victory.
Place: Imperial Council- Too keen early and is beat at the wire.
Show: Scorewithcater ------------- The race sets up well for him.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

KD results

I don't usually post a result column here but for the KD I decided it appropriate. For results each week visit Thorofan look for the ROTW.
Churchill Downs
Kentucky Derby (G1)
1-1/4 Three-Year-Olds $2,177,200

# Horse ------------------Win------Place------Show------Final Odds
8--- Mine that Bird ---103.20----54.00---- 25.80------$50.60 – 1
16--Pioneerof the Nile------------- 8.40----- 6.40---------$6.30 – 1
2---Musket Man--------------------------- 12.00------------ $19.00 – 1
Splits: 22.98--47.23--1:12.09--1:37.49--2:02.66
$2 Exacta $2,074.80
$2 Trifecta $41,500.60
WPS Pool $43,434,837
Winner: Mine that Bird (g) by Birdstone -Mining My Own (Smart Strike)
Owner: Double Eagle Ranch & Bueno Suerte Equine
Trainer: Bennie Woolley Jr.
Breeder: Lamantia,Blackburn & Needham / Betz Thoroughbreds

The 135th Kentucky Derby once again lived up to the moniker ‘the most exciting two minutes in sports.’ In a patented ‘Bo-rail’ move, jockey Calvin Borel guided the largely ignored Mine That
Bird from a pinched start to a shocking upset. The rail-skimming ride from last to first delivered last year’s Canadian champion two-year-old home 6 ¾ lengths ahead of one of the most contentious fields ever to contest the Kentucky Derby and simultaneously lit up the tote board with the second-biggest payoff in the history of the race. Borel’s unbridled enthusiasm was contagious as he paraded the smallish gelding in front of the cheering crowd of 153,563. The charismatic rider was basking in the glory of his Kentucky Oaks- Kentucky Derby paired successes.
On Friday the popular rider cruised home aboard the sensational and highly favored Rachel Alexandra. On that day more than 20-lengths separated him from the second-pace filly. On Saturday he reveled in every moment of this surprise win as trainer Bennie Wooley Jr. navigated to the infield winner’s circle across the sticky track on his crutches.
At the top of the stretch it looked as though a real race was developing, but Borel shot through on the rail and in a blink of an eye opened up a widening lead on the field. Pioneerof the Nile, Musket Man and Papa Clem battled it out to the wire for second money with Pioneerof the Nile besting Musket Man by a nose and Papa Clem finished a head back of him for 4th money. Both Pioneerof the Nile and Papa Clem were forwardly placed throughout and while no match for the winner continued bravely to the wire. Musket Man had some problems early as he slipped and was bumped but was still able to display why he should be taken more seriously.

In my pre-race analysis Musket Man had been my favorite, but all the bad press about him looking poorly during the week caused me to me jump ship late. Lucky for me, I resurrected my belief in him before post time and put a small wager across the board on the Illinois Derby winner. While I didn’t have to visit the IRS window, there was satisfaction in the result. I also played a Musket Man, Pioneerof the Nile, Papa Clem and Summer Bird superfecta. Unfortunately I picked the wrong ‘Bird.’ The super with Mine That Bird paid an astounding $557,006.40 for a $2 bet! Wow! The results emphasize the lesson that one should always stick with your beliefs. In horse racing anything can happen. If you enjoy the sport, put in the time to learn and observe--it can be a profitable endeavor as well as an enjoyable activity.

It’s my financial misfortune that I ignored playing my own sentimental favorite, Mine That Bird. He was bred in part by Needham/Betz Thoroughbreds in Lexington Kentucky. I had the pleasure of working for this farm during a couple of foaling seasons and while there helped in the care of Mine That Bird’s dam, Mining My Own. She was an unnamed weanling and yearling then. Her dam, Aspenelle also resided at the same farm. So it is with particular joy that I am able to extend my congratulations to my mentors in the breeding end of this business. Among their other success stories are Roman Ruler, El Corredor and Madcap Escapade. Congratulations! And well done!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs
The Kentucky Derby (G1)
1-1/4 Three-Year-Olds $2,000,000

For a race fan I think the Kentucky Derby (G1) is the easiest race of the year to handicap; it is also the easiest race to get wrong. It is easy because one knows all, or at worst almost all, of the entrants. We know their PP’s. We have watched all of their races. So, we have marked their progress and have an opinion about their abilities. As a result my KD handicapping is more a watch than a study. I wait for the final works and let my impressions simmer. I find the overload of information during Derby week can be a distraction. It is a race to go with your gut. It is easy to get wrong because with a field of 20 and a crowd of over a hundred thousand it is impossible to account for all the variables. So it’s best to keep it simple. Will there be good pace? Can one of the pace horses win? If not which colt will benefit from the pace? Who may get a good trip? And lastly, what does your gut say?

I think unquestionably there will be a good pace. Regal Ransom and Join in the Dance -Pletcher’s rabbit- will see to that. If Papa Clem reverts to his usual tactics he’ll be close as will Friesan Fire and Atomic Rain. I don’t think any of this group will survive to cross the wire first, especially if the pace for the first three quarters goes in 23+, 47+, 1:12+, as I expect it will. In his last race Papa Clem changed tactics, he ran off the pace and as a result won his first stake, the (G2) Arkansas Derby. His works have been criticized this week. He’s been tagged as looking “tired.” But, perhaps, Gary Stute is just trying to get him to rate. He’ll need to if he is to win. If they can rate him he has a chance.

There are a lot of closers in this race and Dunkirk leads the list. He seems to have been the “wise guy” horse since his first start. I don’t see it. I agree that he is very talented, maybe even good enough to win, but I am not a believer. He is a slightly built horse so the physicality of the Derby will be an issue as will the 126 lbs impost. Other late runners include West Side Bernie, Mr. Hot Stuff, Advice, Hold Me Back and Summer Bird.

West Side Bernie is coming off of his best race, this is his third race back in the cycle and he worked well this week. But this will be his third race at 1-1/8 or better in 42 days. That just seems too much to me to get the effort necessary to win the Derby. I also believe he is a bit short at 1 -1/4. I think his connections would have been best advised to wait for the Preakness S. (G1).

Hold Me Back is a good price at 15-1. His pedigree is impeccable and he has exhibited moments of brilliance. However, in his lone dirt performance he tanked. He works well on dirt so I would not be shocked to see him move up here but I think he is a level below the best of these.

I really like Summer Bird. Like Dunkirk this is only his 4th race but I think his road has been a bit easier on him. He has responded with a better performance at each asking and of the closers I think he will be the only one to hit the board.

Of the nine mid pack/ press type runners I don’t believe Mine That Bird, Nowhere to Hide or Flying Private have a chance of winning. Chocolate Candy needs to improve more than he is capable of to win. I also don’t like his action for the dirt, so I’m throwing him out. That leaves us with 5 runners from which I think 135th Derby winner will come: Musket Man, General Quarters, I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile and Desert Party.

Of all the colts running Musket Man is the one that I liked best coming up to the race. He is 5 for 6 and still improving. He also possesses all the tools. He is agile, has tactical speed and a late turn of foot. But what sets him apart for me is the will to win he exhibited in his Tampa Bay Derby (G3). To me there is no substitute for heart. Yes, his pedigree is suspect but he’s already proved he can outrun its apparent limits. He breaks from post 2 but with West Side Bernie on his inside and Mr. Hot Stuff to his outside he should have no trouble gaining position on the break. The only horses that will be in front of him will be the speed. He can settle at the rail sixth or seventh on the backstretch and wait until they start backing up. Hopefully, he won’t be blocked and can start his move ahead of the closers. If he does I think he could continue to outrun his pedigree and all the other’s to the wire. Unfortunately with reports of him doing so poorly at Churchill (making one wonder if he is ill) I can’t back him. This is what I mean about an overload of information. If this were another race would he already be scratched? That is how it poorly the reports of his works sound. He is the colt I liked best but with such poor reports I can't bring myself to back him.

Desert Party took a step back in his last prep against Regal Ransom and may be headed in the wrong direction. I also don’t think the Dubai races prepare them enough for this race so I can’t support him.
If General Quarters and Tom McCarthy win it would be the best story possible. However, he isn’t the most agile of horses and he needs room to get his motor into overdrive. I don’t think he’ll get a clean enough trip to overcome his limitations.

I Want Revenge is one of the most agile as demonstrated by his Wood Memorial (G1) win. His last two starts have made him a star. However, those fields played right into his strength. That will not be the case here. His last two Beyer’s have been two of the best for any three-year-old this year and I think it unlikely for him to repeat those numbers. He did post a bullet at CD on 4/28 so perhaps he is still on his game. But I’m betting he won’t be able to shake loose of this field and he’ll wilt before the wire.

Pioneerof the Nile has been on everyone’s radar since his two-year-old season. Since moving to synthetics and Bob Baffert’s barn he hasn’t lost. He’s won four stakes in a row, two of them grade I’s. He has faced some of the toughest opponents in this field and has come out on top. But, he has never raced on dirt. His works at Churchill point to him handling the track but racing and training are not the same. Though doubt remains, without Musket Man being one hundred percent, I think Pioneerof the Nile is the best horse in the race. He will be breaking from post 16 and probably get caught back farther than he is comfortable. But Gomez will give him the best ride possible. If he moves up at all on dirt I think he delivers another Derby to Baffert in the year of his induction to the Hall of Fame.

The Picks:
Win: Pioneerof the Nile -Baffert goes into the Hall in style.
Place: Summer Bird -Skips Preakness to run in the Belmont
Show: Papa Clem -Lays just a little too close and can’t finish.