Race of the Week: Dwyer Stakes

Dwyer-Odds-USRacingBelmont Park will be the focus for many racing fans and horseplayers this weekend, as the Stars & Stripes Festival takes place on Saturday. The 11-race card is headlined by two Grade I events — the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks Invitational — both for 3-year-olds at 1 ¼ miles on the turf, with the latter being restricted to fillies.

Two Grade 2 affairs are also on tap — the Suburban for older horses going 1 ¼ miles on the main track and the 7-furlong Belmont Sprint Championship, which is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3. Like the Suburban, the Sprint Championship is also slated for the main dirt track, which should be fast and dry all weekend long.

But perhaps the most intriguing race of the day is the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes, which draws a familiar name from the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail — Mendelssohn.

After winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last year, Mendelssohn stamped his Kentucky Derby ticket with an emphatic 18 ½-length win in the UAE Derby, which found him the 6-1 third choice in Louisville. But a sloppy track and horrendous trip proved to be too much for the Aidan O’Brien trainee to overcome and he finished dead last.

Can he rebound on Saturday? Let’s take a look:

1-SEAHENGE (15/1 morning line odds)
O’Brien’s “other” Dwyer entry looks overmatched against these, making me wonder what his true purpose in this race is (as visions of Restoring Hope racing wide and erratically dance in my mind). A non-factor in the UAE Derby (G2), Restoring Hope’s only other dirt race was in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on Kentucky Derby Day — and he finished a well-beaten seventh at 39-1.

Fair Odds: 20-1

2-SEVEN TRUMPETS (10/1)
He’s been awful on his three graded stakes appearances — never closer than 8 ½ lengths — but there’s not a lot of early zip in this race and the son of the quick Morning Line earned a career-best -12 early speed ration last time. Couple that with improving late speed rations (LSRs) and he’s one I’m keeping in the mix.

Fair Odds: 8-1

3-RUGBYMAN (2/1)
I like everything about this colt, except the price. After having shown a tendency to lollygag (one of my favorite words) in the stretch, the Graham Motion trainee will don blinkers on Saturday — a move that Motion is particularly adept at (a positive nine percent ROI with “blinkers on” horses over the past year). The speed and pace figures are also solid — and improving.

Fair Odds: 5-2

4-NOBLE INDY (7/2)
Talk about the wheels coming off! After a close third-place finish in the Risen Star (G2) and a game win in the Louisiana Derby (G2), this Todd Pletcher trainee was beaten like the proverbial drum in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 42 ½ lengths behind Justify. He then took some time off to prepare for the Belmont Stakes (G1) — and it paid off like an investment in The Green Monkey. Noble Indy was defeated by 54 lengths at Big Sandy and, now, drops in class and distance in an effort to become reacquainted with the winner’s circle. I like that John Velazquez returns to the saddle and the workouts have been OK… mixed signals.

Fair Odds: 3-1 

5-FIXEDINCOME LARRY (20/1)
After recording a blazing -15 ESR in a maiden race at Parx on April 14, this colt hit the gate and steadied at the 1/8-pole in his last start, yet still collected his first career win (at Belmont Park, no less). Has he turned the corner? It’s tough to say. I have a feeling the son of Flatter is a lot better than he was in the spring, but trainer Jeramiah Englehart — who is normally as solid as they come — has awful stats in graded stakes and with horses trying a route for the first time. Still, I think this guy could be an overlay on Saturday.

Fair Odds: 15-1

6-MENDELSSOHN (8/5)
On the basis of talent, this guy is a shoo-in. His speed and pace figures from the UAE Derby (about a 105 Brisnet speed figure and a -5 LSR) would easily win this contest and I think it’s clear the son of Scat Daddy likes a wet track about as much as most kids like spinach. In his two “off” track races — in the Kentucky Derby and the Howcroft Industrial Supplies Champagne Stakes (G2), a race won by Seahenge — Mendelssohn was beaten by a combined 107 lengths. He bounced back with a strong second-place finish after the Howcroft, can he rebound on Saturday as well?

I like his chances — especially since O’Brien has already mapped out a North American campaign, culminating with the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But I don’t like that morning line price.

Fair Odds: 2-1

7-FIRENZE FIRE (6/1)
After a promising juvenile campaign and a good start to his sophomore season, this colt has fallen onto hard times, as he’s been off the board in three straight starts. I’ll let his price be my guide — at 8-1 or greater, I think he’s worth using.

Fair Odds: 8-1

***

Race of the Week: Eatontown Stakes

Eatontown-Odds-USRSaturday’s card at Monmouth Park features three graded stakes races, including the Philip H. Iselin (G3) for three-year-olds and upward racing 1 1/16 miles on the main track, the Eatontown Stakes (G3), a 1 1/16-mile turf event for fillies and mares, and, of course, the biggie — the United Nations Handicap (G1).

Run as the 11th race on the card, the United Nations is a 1 3/8-mile turf test that has traditionally lured some of the top marathon grass runners in the country. Recent winners include World Approval, Big Blue Kitten (twice), Presious Passion (twice) and English Channel (twice).

This year, Bigger Picture will attempt to repeat his narrow victory in 2017 and his advanced age (7) would seem to be a plus. Over the past 30 years, 25 winners of the United Nation were five years old or older. In fact, the last sophomore to capture the Monmouth feature was Manila — in 1988, when the race was still 1 3/16 miles.

However, the race I chose as the Race of the Week is the Eatontown, largely because the likely favorite in that grass affair looks vulnerable to me, which means there should be some value elsewhere.

Below is a horse-by-horse preview:

1-Elyseas-World

Comments: This gal is the 5-2 morning line favorite and I think she looks very vulnerable to me. To begin with, in 12 graded stakes starts, she’s won exactly once — in Suwannee River (G3) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 10. Yeah, her late speed rations are OK, but her deep closing style is likely to be a detriment in a race without a lot of early zip.

2-Special-Event

Comments: Love this girl’s running style and the quick turnaround after a very good effort at Belmont Park. And while many will discount her on class, the fact that the daughter of Arch has no graded stakes wins is actually a plus in Grade 3 races, according to a recent study I did. Add a race-best +4 LSR in her most recent start and you have a filly that I think has a big chance at big odds on Saturday.

3-Lift-Up

Comments: This looks like a great spot for trainer Michael Dickinson’s 4-year-old filly by Ghostzapper, who makes her graded stakes debut this weekend after winning five of her last six starts. She sports solid speed and pace figures and, according to my Win Factor Report (computerized fair odds line), would be an overlay if her morning line odds hold true.

4-Dream-Awhile

Comments: She’s improved in every start since arriving from France and, after finishing second (beaten a neck) by Elysea’s World in the Suwannee River (G3), was made the 7-2 favorite in $300,000 Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs, where she finished a close third. Interestingly, trainer Chad Brown’s filly spotted Elysea’s World four pounds in the Suwannee River, but carries 116 lbs. today, compared to 123 for the morning line favorite. Daughter of War Front is a must-use.

5-Star-of-Midnight

Comments: She just broke her maiden — against $10K claimers, no less — on June 9 and now tries graded stakes company. If she wins, I’m trying out for the Denver Broncos.

6-Feeling-Bossy

Comments: This mare is also entered in the Perfect Sting at Belmont Park this weekend and, because of her early zip, would be a key scratch should she choose to stay in the Big Apple. Both her speed and pace figures fit well here and she’s another that has to be included in the mix if she goes.

7-Viva-Vegas

Comments: Daughter of The Factor has good early foot, even if she’s a little slow overall.  To win on Saturday, I think she’ll need to have a substantial cushion in the initial stages, which doesn’t seem likely.

8-Giannas-Dream

Comments: This is the kind of horse I see a lot — not terrible, not great. I think her computerized fair odds of 8-1 are about right, although I’d insist on double-digits before betting her to win.


Click HERE to get the latest odds on the Eatontown Stakes


Selections: 2-4-3

***

Race of the Week: Diamond Jubilee Stakes

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on June 22, 2018

This week’s Race of the Week takes us across the pond to Royal Ascot in Ascot, Berkshire, England where the Diamond Jubilee Stakes will be run on Saturday, June 23.

Run at six furlongs on the turf, the Diamond Jubilee is for four-year-olds and upward and offers a purse of £600,000 (approximately $795,00). Harry Angel has been made the 5-2 morning line favorite in the field of 12 and the United States will be represented by Bound for Nowhere, a Wesley Ward trainee who is 8-1 on the morning line.

Below is a horse-by-horse look at the field:

1-BOUND FOR NOWHERE (8/1)

Wesley Ward trainee won the 5 ½-furlong Shakertown Stakes (G2) at Keeneland by 4 widening lengths over Bucchero on April 7, recording a 101 Brisnet speed figure (BSF) and a 121 Racing Post rating (RPR), in his last start. Bucchero, as many will recall, came back to finish third at Churchill Down in the Grade III Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes and fifth, beaten 4 ¾ lengths, in the  Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes on the first day of the Royal Ascot meeting.

At 8-1 on the morning line, I find this guy really interesting, especially since, last year, he was beaten just 3 ½ lengths in the Commonwealth Cup (G1) by Harry Angel, who will likely be favored on Saturday. And that was this dude’s first foray into stakes company (whereas Harry Angel already had two Group 2 victories under his belt).

It doesn’t hurt that Ward is 8-for-46, with a 38 percent ROI, in the UK over the past 10 years.

2-CITY LIGHT (10/1)

Undefeated as a 4-year-old, this son of the French sire Slyouni has won three in a row, including the Group 3 Prix de Saint-Georges at Longchamp in his last start on May 13. His Racing Post ratings are a little light, but the improvement over last year is duly noted and makes him a contender.

3-D’BAI (30/1)

Earned a respectable 115 RPR in capturing the Betway John Of Gaunt Stakes (G3) on June 9 at Haydock. I also love the quick turnaround for high-percentage trainer Charles Appleby (23 percent wins over the last five years) and the fact that this Godolphin colt is a 1-for-1 at Ascot.

4-HARRY ANGEL (5/2)

Was runner-up in this race last year, beaten just three parts of a length by Caravaggio. He’s a two-time Group 1 winner with a lifetime record of five wins and three seconds from nine starts. Interestingly, though, he’s zip-for-4 at Ascot, with a median RPR of 115 — a far cry from the 128 RPR he earned in winning the Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes (G2) last time at York. I think he’s vulnerable at a short price.

5-INTELLIGENCE CROSS (99/1)

Comeback race at Curragh was hardly inspiring, as the son of War Front finished a well-beaten seventh while recording a dismal 93 RPR. However, with all due respect to trainer Aidan O’Brien, winning doesn’t seem to be the primary goal with this guy. Rather, he appears to be a rabbit for Merchant Navy, who is also trained by O’Brien and does his best running late.

6-LIBRISA BREEZE (12/1)

Earned a 121 RPR in his last start at Ascot — the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes (G1). Unforunately, a 161-day break and a ninth-place finish in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) in Dubai followed that race and another 84 days have passed since then. Regular jockey Robert Winston stays in the irons — but he’s only 3-for-50 at Ascot Racecourse over the past five years.


Click HERE to get the odds on the Diamond Jubilee Stakes


7-MERCHANT NAVY (3/1)

Even though he dwelt at the start last time (broke very slowly), this Australia-bred managed to catch the leaders with just less than a furlong to go to win the Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes (G2) at Curragh drawing clear, earning a 120 RPR. Two things make me think he could run even better today:

1) The presence of Intelligence Cross to ensure a brisk pace (see above).
2) The addition of blinkers. True, the 4-year-old son of Fastnet Rock has donned them before, but not while under the care of O’Brien, who is one of the world’s finest conditioners.

This colt has a big shot at what figures to be a fair price.

8-PROJECTION (20/1)

His Racing Post ratings are a little light and he’s won just two of his 14 starts — none in stakes company.

9-REDKIRK WARRIOR (5/1)

This guy is quick, quick, quick — which he showed in winning the Lexus Newmarket Handicap (G1) at Flemington, where he defeated Merchant Navy by a neck. It doesn’t hurt that the 7-year-old gelding lures jockey Frankie Dettori, who is on fire at Royal Ascot this year and has a 14.6 percent win rate and decent -5.6 percent ROI at Ascot over the course of his riding career.

10-Sir Dancealot (30/1)

Finished just 2 ¼ lengths behind Harry Angel in the Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes (G2) at York on May 16 and followed that up with a win in the British Stallion Studs Clyde EBF Conditions Stakes. He’s 0-for-2 at Ascot and will need a lifetime-best effort to win on Saturday.

11-Spirit of Valor (30/1)

Solid second behind Merchant Navy last time and was beaten just a neck in his only start at Ascot. He’d be a surprise, but not a shock.

12-The Tin Man (7/1)

Trying to repeat a pattern that led to a win in this race last year, as he makes his second start off a seven-month break. Son of Equiano captured the listed Weatherbys Hamilton Leisure Stakes last time, recording a 117 RPR. Last year the James Fanshawe trainee finished fifth with a 103 RPR in the Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes (G2) in his first start off the shelf.

He should get some pace to run at and looks to offer value at 7-1 on the morning line (he was 9-2 in last year’s edition of the Diamond Jubilee).

***

Race of the Week: Stephen Foster

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on June 15, 2018

It’s a great day of racing at Churchill Downs on Saturday, with five graded stakes on tap, including the Grade 2 Wise Dan, which drew last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile champ World Approval, and the Matt Winn, a Grade 3 affair that lured Ax Man.

Trainer Bob Baffert will saddle Ax Man in his biggest test to date and the son of Misremembered has been made the 4-5 morning line favorite to win his third race in a row and fourth in five lifetime starts.

But the race I want to take a closer look at it the Stephen Foster:

1-Honorable-Duty

Comments: Although he set an excruciatingly slow pace in his last start, I do like the way this guy finished. And I think the mediocre 92 Brisnet speed figure he earned that day may boost his price on Saturday. He’s met the Clark par (106) in the recent past, which is another plus, but jockey Corey Lanerie will need to work out a good trip and make sure this son of Distorted Humor doesn’t extend himself too much early.

2-Patch

Comments: Comeback race was OK, but he’ll need a career-best effort to visit the winner’s circle on Saturday — which is certainly possible given this dude’s relative lack of experience.

3-Hawaakom

Comments: Lost to the heavy morning line favorite, Backyard Heaven, in his latest and looks up against it this weekend.

4-Uncle-Mojo

Comments: This dude is really quick, but hasn’t faced anything close to the kind of competition he’ll see in the Foster. Still, there are worse gambles than a lightly raced Pletcher trainee that figures to dictate the pace.

5-Matrooh

Comments: This lightly raced 8-year-old gelding — only 23 lifetime starts — was claimed for $25K on March 3 and, following a win in the Grade 3 Hanshin at Arlington Park, tackles Grade I types on Saturday. Is he up to the challenge? The numbers say no, but trainer Cipriano Contreras has a 29 percent win rate and 23 percent ROI with shippers and is especially good with last-out winners, so I wouldn’t toss this guy, especially if he’s anywhere near his morning line odds of 20-1.

6-Backyard-Heaven

Comments: His last two Brisnet speed figures are both better than the best figure recorded by any of his rivals this year, so he’s a logical favorite. His speed rations are also very good. The Chad Brown trainee is inexperienced, though, so I wouldn’t take a super-short price.

7-Lookin-At-Lee

Comments: He’s got the best overall late speed rations (LSRs) and would certainly benefit if the pace is hotter than expected (the projected early speed ration is a -6).

8-Irish-War-Cry

Comments: Had a very solid comeback race in the Pimlico Special and should definitely put some pressure on Backyard Heaven this weekend.

9-Pavel

Comments: Recent LSRs are poor (relatively speaking), though he should improve in his second start since jetting off to Dubai for the $10 million World Cup.

***

Race of the Week: Arkansas Derby

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on April 14, 2018

The last Kentucky Derby preps take place on Saturday, as the Grade III Lexington takes place at Keeneland and the Grade I Arkansas Derby is slated to be run at Oaklawn Park.

And while the Lexington offers just 20 points to the winner, the Arkansas Derby is worth 100 points to the winner (not to mention 40 points to the second-place finisher and 20 points to the show horse).

Below is a horse-by-horse look at the Arkansas feature:

1-Beautiful-Shot

Comments: Terrible effort in the Gotham in his first start as a 3-year-old. Normally, I would excuse such an effort — at least to a degree — but this guy has consistently recorded subpar late speed rations and is bred to be a sprinter. I’ll pass.

2-Machismo

Comments: After an OK performance in the Fountain of Youth, this guy was blitzed in the Blue Grass. Clearly, the connections think he’s better than his 12th-place finish in that race, but, again, his LSRs are just so-so. I’m expecting a better run, but probably not a win.

3-Tenfold

Comments: Son of Curlin has earned some solid LSRs, but it’s not encouraging that regular rider and Oaklawn Park’s leading jock Ricardo Santana Jr. chose Combatant.

4-Dream-Baby-Dream

Comments: Late runner upped his game somewhat in the Sunland Derby, but he just doesn’t look fast enough to get the job done this weekend, although hitting the board is certainly not out of the question.

5-Solomini

Comments: Trainer Bob Baffert has won “13 Kentucky Derby prep races at Oaklawn Park since 2010,” according to the Sentinel-Record and this guy is certainly eligible to improve after making his sophomore debut in the Rebel. Son of Curlin also gets four pounds from the favorite after both carried 115 lbs. last time. Big chance at what should be a square price.

6-Magnum-Moon

Comments: Undefeated son of Malibu Moon has recorded spectacular pace figures and certainly deserves to be favored after an impressive score in the Rebel. Even though he’s spotting weight to his primary rivals, his overall LSRs are second only to Quip.

7-Plainsman

Comments: Should be on or near the pace and his trainer is no stranger to upsets in major stakes, with a 202 percent ROI in graded stakes over the past year. Son of Flatter has an upset chance at a monster price.

8-Quip

Comments: Son of Distorted Humor has talent, but the projected pace in this race is a -8 early speed ration (ESR) — about nine lengths faster (relatively speaking) than the pace in the Tampa Bay Derby. What this means is that Quip is going to have to come off the pace on Saturday — something he’s never done — or expend a lot more energy to stay in touch early. Either way, I would want odds in excess if his 9/2 morning line.

9-Combatant

Comments: Steve Asmussen trainee is as consistent as they come, but he’s going to need to improve to get the job done in this race.

Selections: 5-6-7

***

Race of the Week: Wood Memorial

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on April 6, 2018

Tomorrow is “Super Saturday,” as three Grade I races offering 170 Road-to-the-Kentucky-Derby points take place.

Aqueduct features the Wood Memorial, where Enticed, winner of the Gotham (G3) has been made the 6-5 morning line favorite; Keeneland, which opens on Friday, is the site of the Blue Grass Stakes (weather permitting), where last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ Good Magic is expected to be favored; and Santa Anita Park showcases Justify, a Bob Baffert colt drawing rave reviews and Bolt D’Oro, a two-year-old sensation who was awarded the victory in the San Felipe (G2) after a bumping incident with McKinzie in the stretch.

Let’s take a closer look at the Wood. Below is a horse-by-horse look at the field:

1-Heartfullofstars

Comments: Make his stakes debut — in a Grade I affair — with poor speed and pace figures. I’ll pass.

2-Firenze-Fire

Comments: Tough call here. He’s got the talent to win — I love the way he passed horses on the turn for home in both the Gotham and the Jerome — but I think he’s going to need to make one sustained run from about 10 lengths off the pace early to visit the winner’s circle this weekend.

3-Evaluator

Comments: Blinkers go on after the Michael Dilger trainee lugged in at the 1/8-pole and lost by a nose in the Damon Runyon Stakes for New York-breds. This guy has decent late speed rations in a race that figures to feature a hot pace. He’s got a shot at a price.

4-Old-Time-Revival

Comments: Really like the way he hung tough after recording a -13 early speed ration (ESR) last time. The problem is Saturday’s race figures to feature a pace nearly as demanding — and it’s a furlong longer.

5-Enticed

Comments: I’m still not entirely sold on this dude, even though I think he has a lot of talent. I’m even less sold on him at 6-5 (his morning line odds). His race in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) was great, his performance in the Holy Bull was awful and his effort in the Gotham was just OK.

Yeah, his 104 Brisnet speed figure was outstanding (Saturday’s par is a 98), but the -9 LSR he earned that day was just so-so.  Now, it could be that he does his best running behind a fast pace, which he should get again this weekend. Still, at 6-5 (or lower), I’ll have to pass.

6-Catch-Twenty-Two

Comments: Son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver could have an impact on the pace — but that’s about it.

7-King-Zachary

Comments: $550K yearling purchase recorded an outstanding +1 LSR in breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park last time. He should appreciate the added distance and has a shot at upsetting with a well-timed ride.

8-Restoring-Hope

Comments: Big Kentucky Derby prep, Bob Baffert… despite ho-hum speed and pace figures, this guy is a contender.

9-Vino-Rosso

Comments: Despite a clunker last time in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), this guy has the best overall LSRs in the field and is a threat based on that alone.

Selections: 7-5-2

***

Race of the Week: Florida Derby

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on March 30, 2018

Since 1997, five of the 38 Kentucky Derby entrants that competed in the Florida Derby won the Run for the Roses, making it the single most productive prep over the past 21 years. (The Santa Anita Derby has also produced five Kentucky Derby winners, but from 56 starters.)

This year, a field of nine has been assembled for Saturday’s Gulfstream Park feature. Here is a horse-by-horse look at the field:

1-Strike Power

Comments: While his tactics in the Fountain of Youth were puzzling given the slow pace (-3 early speed ration), it sure was encouraging to see how well this guy stayed on. The big question now is what are we going to see this weekend? Given his rail draw, I would expect the son of Speightstown to be encouraged a little early — but I thought that last time too.

2-Millionaire Runner

Comments: Trainer Jaime Mejia has a four percent win rate over the past year and this guy shows why. This is a very ambitious spot for a colt with a single (maiden claiming) win.

3-Tip Sheet

Comments: No Florida stakes race would be complete without a Stanley Gold entry, but this dude looks to be in over his head.

4-Promises Fulfilled

Comments: I was really surprised that this Dale Romans trainee was able to get such an easy early lead in the Fountain of Youth — the -3 ESR he earned in that event was the highest (slowest) of his career — and I simply cannot imagine it happening again, which makes the Shackleford colt an underlay on Saturday.

5-Storm Runner

Comments: This one ran horrendously in the Fountain of Youth, but didn’t get any help from jockey Joel Rosario, who trainer Dale Romans was critical of after the race. With the jockey switch to Tyler Gaffalione and a bullet five-furlong workout on April 24, I don’t blame those giving the Team Valor runner another chance.

6-Catholic Boy

Comments: He’s recorded the best overall late speed rations (LSRs) in the field and I like the bid-and-hung effort in his sophomore debut that earned a stellar 101 Brisnet speed figure (Saturday’s par is 102). I suspect he’ll move forward again this weekend.

7-Hofburg

Comments: Really like his last race and this guy is bred to be a good one (his dam has already produced two stakes winners). That said, it’s awfully late in the game to be making one’s stakes debut.

8-Audible

Comments: This guy’s effort in the Holy Bull — his first around two turns — was outstanding. Not only did he earn a race-best 105 Brisnet speed figure, he also recorded a 0 LSR, the best dirt figure in the field. Todd Pletcher is clearly the one to beat.

9-Mississippi

Comments: This guy is, by far, the best horse in the field without a stakes start. Trainer Mark Casse picks a tough spot for his added-money debut, but I don’t blame him for rolling the dice.

Selections: 6-1-8

***

Race of the Week: Louisiana Derby

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on March 23, 2018

No horse that used the Louisiana Derby (G2) as its final Kentucky Derby prep has ever gone on to wear the roses on the first Saturday in May and this edition of the race demonstrates why.

It’s not exactly a who’s who of racing royalty.

Yeah, trainer Todd Pletcher has a couple of entries — Noble Indy and Hyndford — and he’s won the Louisiana Derby three times and the Kentucky Derby twice. And, sure, D. Wayne Lukas is represented as well. The “Coach” saddles Bravazo, 21-1 upset winner of the Risen Star. Lukas is a two-time winner of the LA Derby and he’s posed for pictures in the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle four times.

But there’s nothing to really get the pulse pumping in Saturday’s Fair Grounds feature — no McKinzie, no Bold D’Oro, no Justify even.

Still, what it lacks in star power, it makes up for in betting drama, as there is no clear favorite and few obvious longshots.

Below is a horse-by-horse look at the field:

1-Bravazo

Comments: Love the improvement this guy has shown as a three-year-old, culminating with an upset win in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes, in which he earned a 98 Brisnet speed figure (Saturday’s par is 99) and a 0 late speed ration (LSR). Though the pace is the Louisiana Derby figures to be quicker than what he faced last time, the Calumet Farm homebred has already shown that he can come from further off the pace and an excellent five-furlong drill on March 18 hints that another move forward is possible.

2-Noble Indy

Comments: Though he traveled less distance than rival (and eventual winner) Bravazo in the Risen Star, Pletcher trainee never looked comfortable in that race. Interestingly, Pletcher adds blinkers on Saturday, which seems odds, given that Noble Indy appeared to have trouble settling down last time. Nonetheless, Pletcher has a 22 percent success rate with the move and this colt wins with any kind of improvement.

3-Marmello

Comments: Intriguing entry. He has earned some decent early speed rations (ESRs) and could be part of the early mix, although it’ll take massive improvement to see him in the winner’s circle.

4-Givemeaminit

Comments: Despite a dull showing in the Risen Star, I still think we haven’t seen the best from this Louisiana-bred son of Bayou legend Star Guitar. I wouldn’t take a short price, of course, but if he’s anywhere near his morning line odds, I think he has to be on one’s tickets.

5-Retirement Fund

Comments: Attempt to rate in the Southwest Stakes didn’t go so well; hence, I expect this son of Eskendereya to be sent on Saturday. And one stat to keep in mind: Jockey Shaun Bridmohan has a 27 percent win rate and 37 percent ROI with early-speed types over the past year.

6-Hyndford

Comments: Some might be tempted to think that this Donegal Racing-owned colt will simply help to ensure a fast pace, but don’t be fooled. The Todd Pletcher trainee just finished second to Magnum Moon, another Pletcher trainee, who came back to win the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park this past weekend. Granted, he’ll need to improve, but that is certainly in the realm of possibility.

7-Snapper Sinclair

Comments: This dude has run big — at big odds — in both of his sophomore starts. I expect he’ll get a tougher trip today, though, and his 9-2 morning line odds hint that he might actually be an underlay this weekend.

8-Lone Sailor

Comments: His tries versus graded foes have not gone well, but trainer Tom Amoss has surprised in these spots before. Despite an eight percent win rate, Amoss has a 27 percent ROI in graded stakes. Lone Sailor’s off-the-pace style could be a plus too.

9-My Boy Jack

Comments: As my colleague Noel Michaels pointed out in a recent column, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf has become somewhat of a key race on this year’s Road to the Kentucky Derby. This guy finished a close seventh in that race and, last out, stamped himself as a legitimate threat to win the Run for the Roses with an authoritative 4 ½-length win in the Grade III Southwest Stakes. My big problem here is with his morning line odds — I think 5-2 is too low.

10-Dark Templar

Comments: He’s going to need to improve — a lot — to win, or even place, in this spot.

Selections: 1-5-2

***

Race of the Week: Rebel Stakes

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on March 16, 2018

I’m zip for my last nine picks and now have a negative overall ROI (-10 percent) on the Race of the Week, so I was kind of hoping for a slam-dunk selection this week.

Apparently, the Racing Gods hate me.

As it turns out, the Rebel Stakes (G2), a prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 14, drew a very contentious field of 11.

Below is a horse-by-horse look at the field:

1-Title-Ready

Comments: Steve Asmussen trainee donned blinkers last time and took a big step forward, earning a 94 Brisnet speed figure and a -6 late speed ration. He’ll probably need to improve again to win on Saturday, but that’s certainly possible — having Jose Ortiz in the saddle doesn’t hurt either.

2-Curlins-Honor

Comments: He’s been highly regarded in each of his two lifetime starts. The big problem that I have with this son of Curlin is that he hasn’t routed yet (not a big deal) and his speed and pace figures regressed from his first to second race (big deal).

3-Solomini

Comments: Trainer Bob Baffert has won this race six times over the past eight years and, this year, saddles the 3-2 morning line favorite. Solomini has improved his Brisnet speed figure in every start — and his last two are better than the best number recorded by any of his rivals. In fact, the only horse that is close is Magnum Moon.

Son of Curlin is coming into Saturday’s race off a 98-day layoff, but Baffert has a 26 percent strike rate with horses that were on the sidelines for three months or more and the colt’s workouts have been sensational — five furlongs in 59 seconds flat (best of 61) on March 10 and six panels in 1:11-2/5 (best of seven) on March 4. The one to beat.

4-Magnum-Moon

Comments: Todd Pletcher broke Baffert’s streak of three straight Rebel Stakes victories with Malagacy last year and this guy has been prepared for the 2018 edition in a very similar manner, with a (debut) maiden win followed by an optional claiming score.

Granted, Malagacy was quite a bit faster (103.5 average BSF compared to Malibu Moon’s 94.5), but the latter’s LSRs rank higher (-8 and -5 versus -7 and -13 for Malagacy). Not surprisingly, Malibu Moon’s distance pedigree is also superior to Malagacy’s and, over the past year, jockey Luis Saez has a 23.6 percent win rate when riding for Pletcher.

5-Higher-Power

Comments: His LSRs are the best in the field and he’s improved, at least from a speed and pace figure standpoint, in every start. This is a big jump, but I think this guy is an overlay versus these.

6-Pryor

Comments: I was a fan of this guy’s sire and played him in the 2012 Belmont Stakes, where he finished second to Union Rags. Pryor is no Paynter, but the improvement he’s shown makes him my longshot key in here. If he can grab the early lead — and his early speed rations suggest that he can — I think, like his daddy, he could be tough to overhaul in the stretch.

7-Sporting-Chance

Comments: It will be interesting to see what tactics are employed on this son of Tiznow. He’s fast enough to get the early lead, but, to clear Pryor, he’s probably going to have to be pushed early. I think that would be wise… which leads me to believe that won’t be the strategy on Saturday, despite a :47 four-furlong drill on March 12. However, if the D Wayne Lukas trainee is sent — and can clear — I think he has a big chance to post the upset.

8-High-North

Comments: The -4 LSR he earned in the Risen Star is the best last-race figure in the field. If they go too fast early, this dude could mow ‘em down late.

9-Zing-Zang

Comments: I liked this son of Tapit in the Lecomte, where he finished fourth at 24-1. Still, he’s a plodder and not one I’d use on top here, although I certainly think he could hit the board (he reminds me a bit of Sonneteer, who was second in the Rebel and fourth in the Arkansas Derby last year).

10-Combatant

Comments: He’s been second in his last three starts, while recording similar pace and speed figures. He’ll need to improve to continue that string this weekend, but he’s not out of the question.

11-Bodes-Maker

Comments: His last race was a huge improvement over his previous eight efforts, but it still wasn’t good enough to place against the likes of these. Allen Milligan trainee is 50-1 on the morning line for a reason.

Selections: 3-6-4

***

Race of the Week: Gotham Stakes

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on March 9, 2018

The Kentucky Derby preps get underway in earnest this weekend with three graded stakes races for 3-year-olds scheduled to take place in a 22-minute span on Saturday.

The festivities start at 5:20 p.m. Eastern with the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), which drew Flameaway, Vino Rossi and World of Trouble.

That race is followed by what I think is the marquee event of the day — and the season, so far (at least for the sophomore set) — in the San Felipe Stakes, which lured both Bolt D’Oro and McKinzie. Right now, I think the latter is the best three-year-old in training… and we all know what Bolt D’Oro did last year.

Lastly, at 5:42 p.m. Eastern, the Gotham is slated to close out the Aqueduct card. It is this week’s Race of the Week and drew an interesting cast of characters. Below is a horse-by-horse preview:

1-Dial-Operator

Comments: This guy reminds me a lot of Irish War Cry. Yes, he’s only sprinted, but check out those late speed rations (LSRs) — they’re sensational! And here’s where it gets interesting:

  1. Two of the five horses Dial Operator faced in his last race, including the horse that finished last, came back to win (one has not started since).
  2. Over the past five years, trainer Jason Servis has a positive ROI with horses trying a route of ground for the first time and is 2-for-4 with such horses in graded stakes events (remember, too, that the Gotham is a one-turn route).
  3. Son of Dialed In outworked his more ballyhooed stable mate, Firenze Fire, on both March 4 and Feb. 21.

2-Cove-BlueComments: Look out! Dale Romans has another frontrunning type in a Kentucky Derby prep. But unlike Promises Fulfilled in the Fountain of Youth, I simply can’t see this dude getting away with a slow opening half-mile — not as long as Old Time Revival and Nine Route are in the field. On the plus side, his last two speed ratings are very competitive and it’s hard to imagine Romans not sending him after the success he had with that strategy a week ago.

3-Beautiful-Shot

Comments: Calumet Farm, trainer Keith Desormeaux — what’s not to like? Well, for me, it’s the LSRs this horse has earned — they’re not good — and the 8-1 morning line odds.

4-Whereshetoldmetogo

Comments: The average winning distance (AWD) of sire El Padrino’s progeny is 5.9 furlongs, making the fact that this colt has lost ground from the stretch call to the finish in each of his route tries worrisome to say the least. He has recorded some solid speed and pace figures, but I’m not sold that he’s ready for graded competition quite yet.

5-Firenze-Fire

Comments: Was too close to a fast pace in the Withers on Feb. 3 and finished an uninspired second in a five-horse field that day. But while he fits from a speed and class standpoint, his LSRs give me pause — especially since he’s listed at 5/2 on the morning line.

6-Free-Drop-Billy

Comments: Love the strong move on the turn in the Holy Bull, particularly since it was the colt’s first start of the year. Son of Union Rags is unquestionably the one to beat; only the price looms a question mark. On the plus side, over the past five years, trainer Dale Romans has a 39 percent win rate and -4.5 percent ROI with favorites coming off an in-the-money finish.

7-Old-Time-Revival

Comments: Although trainer Kenneth Decker is zip-for-12 in graded stakes over the past five years, he has finished in the money (third or better) in half of ‘em. Better still, this guy’s 87 Beyer figure in the Miracle Wood is the second-best last-out number in the field. The question is: Can he come off the pace if needed?

8-Nine-Route

Comments: This is the horse that I think will set the pace or push Cove Blue through some fast splits. And while I’m not thrilled with his LSRs — or trainer Jeremiah Englehart’s 2-for-27 record in graded stakes since 2014 — I do think this son of The Factor is a force to be reckoned with, as any step forward would likely be enough to see him in the winner’s circle.

9-Enticed

Comments: Inexplicably poor showing last time, as he was never involved in the Holy Bull and finished a well-beaten fourth. My confidence is not buoyed by the fact that trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has just a 12 percent win rate and -42.2 percent ROI in graded stakes with horses that finished out of the money last time. There are too many question marks to take a short price, in my opinion.

Selections: 1-6-8

***

Race of the Week: Fountain of Youth Stakes

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on March 2, 2018

After a brief stop in Texas for the Maxxam Gold Cup, the Road to the Kentucky Derby resumes this week with a biggie — the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

In addition to luring last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse Good Magic, who has been made the 7-5 morning line favorite, the Fountain of Youth also drew the undefeated Swale (G3) victor Strike Power and the Grade I winner Free Drop Billy.

Below is a horse-by-horse look at the field:

1-HeTakesCharge

Comments:
Mark Casse is pretty good with last-out maiden winners making their graded stakes debuts (2-for-12 with a 5 percent ROI over the past five years), but this guy looks like a real reach. He earned a lifetime-best 81 Beyer figure last time, which is just so-so, but it’s the -11 late speed ration earned in that same race that makes me put a line through this one.

2-FreeDropBilly

Comments: Really like the bid-and-hang effort in the Holy Bull after a three-month vacation — and particularly the -5 LSR he earned in that race. Son of Union Rags has only run one poor race and rates a strong contender on Saturday.

3-Peppered

Comments: His only try on a dirt surface was a disaster and it’s hard to see him turning things around on Saturday.

4-StrikePower

Comments: I’ve talked ad nauseam about frontrunning horses that rate on slow paces. On one hand, it shows a certain level of physical and mental maturity — and that’s a good thing. On the other hand, it is the easiest kind of trip a horse can get — meaning a future such trip is unlikely, especially as the competition gets tougher.

Strike Power has rated on slow paces twice. And the fact that his LSR got significantly worse in the Swale does not bode well.

5-StormRunner

Comments: If you throw out his turf tries, you have a horse that has won two of three lifetime starts, with one second-place finish. And while his last-race Beyer figure was a lowly 83, that same race yielded a 102 Brisnet speed figure, which ranks behind only Good Magic’s 105 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 103 earned by Strike Power in his maiden debut.

What’s more, the runner-up in that Feb. 4 optional claimer was Mississippi, who was 9 ¼ lengths clear of the third-place finisher and was also second in his prior start — to Noble Indy, who went on to finish a close third in the Risen Star Stakes.

6-GoodMagic

Comments: This horse oozes talent and is clearly the one to beat, as his effort in the BC Juvenile — just the third start of his career — was outstanding. It’s also worth noting that trainer Chad Brown wins at a 24.7 percent clip with horses coming off a 100-day layoff or greater in graded stakes.

And check out those improving — and positive — Pace Profiles (24, 62 and 78). In short, there’s a lot to like here, only the price is a drawback.

7-GottaGo

Comments: Ho-hum speed and pace figures leave me searching elsewhere.

8-Marconi

Comments: Trainer Todd Pletcher’s been hitting on all cylinders this year, but this guy simply doesn’t get my pulse racing. His speed and pace figures are simply OK, so he’ll need to take a pretty big step forward to visit the winner’s circle on Saturday. And while that’s certainly not out of the question, I don’t want to take 8-1 (or less) on the prospect of that happening.

9-Machismo

Comments: Huge improvement last time, despite switching from Pletcher’s powerhouse barn to the care of low-percentage trainer Anthony Quartarolo (5.3 percent win rate since 2013) this year. I’m intrigued, but feel there are too many question marks and not enough answers.

10-PromisesFulfilled

Comments: Should vie with Strike Power for the early lead, but his subpar speed and pace figures, coupled with his outside draw, make me think he’ll throw in the towel sooner rather than later.

Selections: 6-5-2

***

Race of the Week: Maxxam Gold Cup

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on February 23, 2018

Well, after a string of great races for the sophomore set, this week the Road to the Kentucky Derby winds through Nebraska — which is just a clever way of saying that there isn’t a big Kentucky Derby prep this weekend. (No knock to you Nebraskans out there, but if you’ve ever traveled through the Cornhusker State headed somewhere else, you know that the drive soon grows as tedious as the scenery — unless you’re one who is fascinated by various shades of brown.)

So, we here at US Racing thought we’d change things up a little bit and go to the great state of Texas for this week’s Race of the Week — the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup for 4-year-olds and up at Sam Houston Race Park.

In the past, the Maxxam has attracted some pretty good horses. Last year, Grade III winner Iron Fist beat fellow Grade III winner Fear the Cowboy and, in 2016, Grade 2 winner Mobile Bay visited the Sam Houston winner’s circle.

There are no graded winners (so far) in this year’s field and three of the six entrants — Social Misfit, Blueridge Traveler and Franco — have failed to win a stakes race, period, although Blueridge Traveler was second in his also stakes try, the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes, and Franco will make his stakes debut on Saturday.

Below is a horse-by-horse look at the field:

1-Social-Misfit
Comments:
Great connections — trainer Karl Broberg is winning at a 27 percent clip this year — and competitive speed and pace figures make this guy a strong contender despite a 0-for-8 record in stakes races.

2-Blueridge-Traveler

Comments: Had a dream setup after getting squeezed at the start in an allowance race at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 10, as the pace was exceptionally quick (-14 early speed ration) that day. This race could be tricky for jockey Channing Hill, though. The projected ESR is just a -5, so this guy needs to be closer early than usual and I’m note sure the morning line odds compensate for the risk of that not happening.

3-Franco

Comments: Son of Talent Search is highly tactical and has yet to run a poor race. On the other hand, he’s yet to run a truly fast race either.

4-Net-Gain

Comments: I’m not thrilled with the fact that his last race was contested at 1 ½ miles on turf — especially with the relative lack of pace in Saturday’s race. On the plus side, he’s 3-of-14 in stakes company and fits well from a speed and pace figure standpoint.

5-Holiday-Mischief

Comments: Love the early zip he’s shown; I just wish he was a little faster. Still, at 8-1 on the morning line, there’s value here.

6-Hyper-Drive

Comments: Although it doesn’t show in his past performances, this guy is 3-of-4 in stakes races, albeit against fellow Oklahoma-breds. Still, it speaks well for trainer Randy Oberlander, who also has a 111 percent ROI with horses moving from the turf to the dirt over the past year.

Selections: 6-1-3

***

Race of the Week: Risen Star Stakes

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on February 16, 2018

There’s a scene in “Bad Boys 2” in which Martin Lawrence turns to Will Smith and says, “[Expletive] just got real.”

That’s how I feel about the Road to the Kentucky Derby, which winds through Louisiana on Saturday where the first of the 85-point races (50 points to the winner) takes place at Fair Grounds Race Course.

The Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes offers a $400,000 purse and drew a highly contentious field of nine colts and one gelding looking to stamp their ticket to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Below is a horse-by-horse look at the field:

1-High-North

Comments: I like the versatility he showed in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 25. After being near the pace in all three of his previous races, the son of Midnight Lute had trouble early at Churchill Downs, yet settled nicely and wound up passing nine horses over the final 4 ½ furlongs of the Grade 2 event. Granted, he’ll need to improve, but I think the Brad Cox trainee has a shot at a price.

2-Noble-Indy

Comments: WinStar Farm homebred is a really tough call. His late speed rations are great, but were they aided by the slow splits he encountered in each of his first two starts? Mississippi, the horse Noble Indy edged last time, returned versus similar company on Feb. 4 and finished second again — but he was the odds-on favorite in that race and finished 9 ¼ lengths clear of the show horse, while earning a -6 LSR. If Noble Indy can rate — or, better still, get an easy lead on Saturday — he has a big shot.

3-Givemeaminit

Comments: If you’re looking for a longshot this weekend, I would give this guy a long look (see what I did there?). After a very promising try in the Hopeful Stakes in only the second start of his career, this dude settled into mediocrity — at least from a speed and pace figure standpoint — while he battled against the best of his generation.

Then, after a decent try in the Louisiana Futurity, he broke his maiden (finally) in very encouraging fashion, recording a 91 Brisnet speed figure and a race-best (on dirt) -2 LSR on Jan. 28.

Those are great figures, especially the LSR. Yes, his last two tries were against Louisiana-breds (no Louisiana-bred has ever won the Kentucky Derby), but check out that fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. I think Dallas Stewart’s charge may be coming around.

4-Snapper-Sinclair

Comments: Despite a good effort in the Lecomte, I’m not sure this guy is suited to two-turn races — or dirt races, for that matter.

5-Instilled-Regard

Comments: I doubted this guy in the Lecomte and he proved me wrong in a big way.

I don’t doubt him anymore — not after he earned a 96 Brisnet speed figure and -3 LSR last time. The only drawback is price. I’d want at least 2-1 odds on Saturday… and I’m not at all sure I’ll get that.

6-Supreme-Aura

Comments: Another tough call. On one hand, this horse is fast, having earned a 96 BSF last time. On the other hand, he hasn’t been around two turns and his trainer, Michael Stidham, has just an eight percent success rate in graded stakes. I’m on the fence.

7-Bravazo

Comments: Unlike The Monkees, I’m not a believer. Yeah, his last race was good, but it only showed that he can compete with these, not that he can win. His LSRs are underwhelming and if he’s anywhere near his 8-1 morning line odds, I think he’s an underlay on Saturday.

8-Kentucky-Club

Comments: Trainer D. Wayne Lukas is already in the Hall of Fame, but if he wins with this guy, they oughta induct him again.

9-Principe-Guilherme

Comments: I so badly wanted to recommend playing this colt on Saturday that I watched and re-watched the replay of the Lecomte Stakes, looking for anything to convince me that the son of Tapit can reverse his loss to Instilled Regard.

I found nothing.

True, he had a tough trip in the Lecomte. He was off the pace for the first time in his career and very wide around both turns, but he simply didn’t kick it in down the lane like Jerry Hollendorfer’s stable star. If he guns for the lead this weekend, I think his winning chances go up, but I doubt that will happen.

10-Ebben

Comments: He regressed in his Fair Grounds debut and his LSRs are mediocre. Can’t recommend.

Selections: 2-5-3

***

Race of the Week: Sam F. Davis Stakes

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on February 9, 2018

I have long believed that the key to consistently making money at the races is constructing good bets and, for the first time since US Racing launched the Race of the Week promotion, I think I failed in that endeavor last week.

I don’t say this because my top selection in the Holy Bull Stakes, Aequor, is still running. When jockey Jose Lezcano opted to press the pace from the outside instead of gunning for the lead, I knew the race was over and, at odds of 56-1, Aequor wasn’t exactly a high-percentage play anyway.

The truth is — and this may strike some of you as nuts — I don’t judge the validity of a wager based on the results. To me, a good bet is one that I know, either through extensive record-keeping or past experience, will make money in the long run. Playing my kids’ birth dates in a superfecta — something I like to do on every Kentucky Derby — does not qualify, regardless of whether or not the bet wins (so far, it hasn’t). I do it merely for fun, in the vain hope that I might get my brood interested in the Sport of Kings (so far, that hasn’t happened either).

What has made me money in the past and helped me produce a positive ROI over the 10+ years I have made public selections is my pace figures and, last week, I all but ignored them. Audible had the best numbers and looked to be a decent price, but I decided to swing for the fences.

I apologize.

This week, I’ll let my speed rations guide me once again and, win or lose, I promise the bet will be a good one.

Below is a horse-by-horse look at this week’s Race of the Week — the Sam F. Davis Stakes for aspiring Kentucky Derby hopefuls:

NavyArmedGuard
Comments: Even though he’s still a maiden, his speed figures fit very well with these. A sharp workout on Feb. 2 adds to the appeal.

Flameaway

Comments: He’s back on dirt where he’s a Grade III winner thanks to an off-the-turf score in the Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, where he earned an 84 Brisnet speed figure and a -3 late speed ration. There’s not a lot of early zip in here, which aids his cause.

VinoRosso

Comments: Repole Stable and St Elias Stable colt was a $410K yearling purchase who is a perfect 2-for-2 in his young career. After breaking his maiden at seven furlongs, the son of Curlin tried two turns at this track and won handily, earning an 84 BSF and -1 LSR in the process.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has owned this race of late, with six win the past 12 years, and this guy looks like a strong contender.

SeptimiusSeverus

Comments: Stretches out for the first time and both his breeding (Roman Ruler-Dark Eyes) and subpar LSRs suggest could be a problem.

HollywoodStar

Comments: This dude scratched out of the Holy Bull in favor of this spot. He’s clearly got talent — his connections thought enough of him to try the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — but his 5/2 morning line odds dampens my enthusiasm.

CatholicBoy

Comments: He’s a deserving favorite after an impressive score in his dirt debut in the Grade II Remsen Stakes. My only concern is that he does his best running late and the projected early speed ration on Saturday is just a -4.

Vouch

Comments: He pressed a slow pace in the Remsen and faded late. Love the local connections, but this looks like a tough spot.

Selections: 3-6-2

Note: If 6-Catholic Boy controls 75%+ of the show pool, bet 3-Vino Rosso to win & show and 2-Flameaway to show.

***

Race of the Week: Holy Bull Stakes

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on February 2, 2018

My top selection, West Coast, gave it his all in last weekend’s Race of the Week — the $16.3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park — but he couldn’t catch Gun Runner, who won his swan song by 2 ½ lengths and retired as North America’s second-richest racehorse of all time with $15,988,500 in career earnings.

This weekend, the Race of the Week is again at beautiful Gulfstream Park, but this time the sophomore set is featured, as the Road to the Kentucky Derby continues with the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes.

And, as usual, the field is deep and contentious. Let’s take a look…

1-Enticed (3/1 morning line odds)
After a better-than-it-looked effort in the Champagne Stakes (G1), behind both Firenze Fire and the eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champ Good Magic, this Godolphin colt put in the best performance of his short career — at least from a numbers standpoint — in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25. He should get a great trip on Saturday and is a strong contender.

Fair Odds: 3-1

2-Free Drop Billy (6/1)
He was the “wise guy” horse in the BC Juvenile (G1), but was beaten like Apollo Creed versus Ivan Drago in that race, losing by 29 lenghs. His last workout was great, so I certainly think he’ll run better than he did at Del Mar, but I’m still not enamored with his late speed rations — none of which match the race par.

Fair Odds: 6-1

3-Master Manipulator (20/1)
Trainer Eric Guillot can never be accused of being cowardly. Even before this guy had broken his maiden — which he did in his last race — Guillot had entered the son of Tale of the Cat in a stakes race (the Champagne). But despite Guillot’s track record of success in graded events (ROI of 68 percent), I think this is a tall order horse a horse that has shown just a modicum of talent.

Fair Odds: 20-1

4-Audible (6-1)
Son of Into Mischief has improved in every start and his speed and pace figures put him solidly in the mix on Saturday. Two things concern me, though:

  1. His last race was scheduled for the grass. (If trainer Todd Pletcher really thinks this guy is a Kentucky Derby contender, why is he trying the green after two tries on dirt?)
  2. He beat just three rivals in his latest after tackling New York-breds before that, which makes me question his class a bit, despite the stellar speed and pace figures.

Fair Odds: 5-1

5-Bandito (20-1)
This is another guy that won an off-the-turf event, sandwiched by two awful tries — one as the 2-1 favorite in his debut. I just haven’t seen enough to get my pulse racing… or even galloping.

Fair Odds: 20-1

6-Hollywood Star (12-1)
This dude intrigues me. After some really good tries against top company — including a close second-place finish in the Grade III Iroquois — this Dale Romans trainee bid and hung in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and returns to the races after a strong five-furlong breeze on Jan. 27. Gulfstream Park isn’t exactly known as a closers’ paradise and this guy definitely does his best running late, but he’s one I’ll definitely have my eye on as the first Saturday in May approaches.

Fair Odds: 15-1

7-Tiz Mischief (4-1)
Was narrowly beaten by Enticed last time, but arguably had the better trip. My only concern with this guy is the relative lack of improvement. On the other hand, he’s been recording consistently good speed and pace figures and clearly has a big chance again on Saturday.

Fair Odds: 6-1

8-Pony Up (8-1)
Returns to the main track after three starts on the lawn and could improve, as his breeding suggests a greater aptitude for a dirt surface. That said, his late-running style concerns me, especially on a track known to be kind to horses with more early zip.

Fair Odds: 10-1

9-Tip Sheet (30-1)
No Kentucky Derby prep race in Florida would be complete without a Stanley Gold runner. Unfortunately, this Sunshine State homebred looks a little overmatched on Saturday, although he certainly could outrun his odds.

Fair Odds: 12-1

10-Aequor (15-1)
This fella is bred to be a sprinter, but he breaks inside the other main speed horse and is likely to be on the engine Saturday. Over the past 20 years, the horse leading at the first call of the Holy Bull Stakes has won five times — including Hal’s Hope at 40-1 in 1999 — and has finished in the money (third or better) 14 times (70 percent). Couple that with a trainer who has great stats stretching horses out and I think this guy is a must-use in all your exotic plays.

Fair Odds: 12-1

11-Mississippi (5-1)
From a figures standpoint, this guy reigns supreme. His maiden-breaker, in particular, was outstanding. In that race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 19, the the Mark Casse trainee recorded a -14 early speed ration (ESR) and a -5 late speed ration (LSR) — good for a Pace Profile of 85, which is spectacular. My concern is what kind of a trip he’s going to get on Saturday and whether or not he’s ready to take the next step.

Fair Odds: 8-1

Selections: 10-1-4

***

Race of the Week: Pegasus World Cup

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on January 26, 2018

Pegasus-World-Cup-OddsThis week’s USRacing.com Race of the Week is the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes. And while this year’s $16 million Gulfstream Park feature may lack the luster of last year’s inaugural event, which featured a Breeders’ Cup Class rematch between the reigning Horse of the Year Arrogate and California Chrome, who was making the final start of his storied career, it still drew some great entrants.

In fact, I would argue that, in terms of depth, this year’s field is far better than the field that was assembled on Jan. 28, 2017. Last year, there were four Grade I winners in the field — the aforementioned Arrogate and California Chrome, along with Keen Ice and Shaman Ghost. (Eragon was also a Grade I winner, but in Argentina, where the competition is considerably softer.) This year, there are a half dozen Grade I champions entered, including two horses (Stellar Wind and Gun Runner) that have accounted for 11 Grade I victories between them.

Below is a horse-by-horse look at the field:

1-SINGING BULLET (30/1)
In a race featuring 11 graded stakes winners, this guy simply looks outclassed. He’s zip-for-3 in his stakes appearances and his speed figures leave a lot to be desired.

Fair Odds: 99-1 

2-WEST COAST (8/1)
Bob Baffert trainee was just named Champion 3-Year-Old Male and, on Saturday, seeks to resume his winning ways after a 5-race win skein was halted in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. What really intrigues me about this guy is the age factor. In a 2010 study for the Journal of Equine Science, Dr. Marshall Gramm, an economics professor at Rhodes College and NHC qualifier, found that thoroughbreds tend to peak at 4.45 years of age and that the improvement from the age of two until that time is about 15 lengths in routes.

Using some very simple math, this equates to about a half-length a month, which means that, in the 84 days since the Classic, West Coast has potentially improved by about 1 ½ lengths simply through age and maturation. Considering that he lost by just 3 ½ lengths to Gun Runner and 1 ¼ lengths to Collected at Del Mar — and both those horses are 4.8 years old and (possibly) on the downside of their careers — makes me think that Baffert’s colt could be right there at the finish. Some stellar workouts add to the intrigue.

Fair Odds: 7-2 

3-STELLAR WIND (30/1)
Call me crazy, but I love this spot for Stellar Wind at this point in her career. Yeah, she finished dead last in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last time and she’s started just four times over the past year, but what has she got to lose? Her best makes her a contender.

Fair Odds: 20-1 

4-SHARP AZTECA (6/1)
Believe it or not, this guy has the best overall late speed rations (LSRs) and he’s quick enough to get the lead early if he wants it — which is a big “if”. Last time, the son of Freud stalked the pace in the Cigar Mile and recorded the best Beyer speed figure of his career (115) in a 5 ¼-length win, so employing a similar strategy on Saturday might make sense.

Fair Odds: 8-1 

5-COLLECTED (8/1)
There’s an old saying that “pace makes the race” and nowhere was that more evident than in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 26 when Collected rated off a slug-slow pace (+3 early speed ration) and failed to fire as the prohibitive 1-5 favorite. Of course, all the naysayers came out in force after the race, claiming that it showed the son of City Zip was nothing more than a glorified sprinter (never mind that $1.6 million of his $2.3 million in career earnings came from his two tries at 1 ¼ miles).

I have little doubt that Collected will be ready to roll this weekend, but I am concerned by the fact that’s he’s never passed horses — or even a single horse — in the stretch in any of his races. So, to win, he’ll need to be leading at the eighth pole.

Fair Odds: 4-1 

6-GUNNEVERA (15/1)
I loved this guy in the Travers and he ran a bang-up second at 24-1. I would’ve liked to have seen a prep for this race, though, as trainer Antonio Sano is just 1-for-20 off a layoff of 60 days or greater in races offering a $50,000 purse or better. 

Fair Odds: 20-1 

Latest-Odds

7-FEAR THE COWBOY (30/1)
Recorded a career-best 105 BSF last time and is 4-of-6, with a second and a third over the Gulfstream Park oval. In most races, I’d give this guy a long look, but I just thing he’s in too tough on Saturday. 

Fair Odds: 25-1 

8-WAR STORY (25/1)
He’s never hit the board in nine Grade I tries, although he’s finished fourth four times. Simply put, he doesn’t look good enough to win, but, of course, there’s always the superfecta. 

Fair Odds: 50-1 

9-TOAST OF NEW YORK (20/1)
This guy was just a nose behind Bayern in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic before a tendon injury forced him to the sidelines and a three-year, largely unsuccessful, career at stud. Following a prep over the all-weather surface at Lingfield — 1 ¼ miles clocked in 2:04.01 — on Dec. 6, the 7-year-old is back in the United States.

On the plus side, his connections seem genuinely enthusiastic about this dude’s prospects. On the negative side, his 106 Racing Post Rating last time is a far cry from the 130 earned by Gun Runner in the 2017 BC Classic or the 126 recorded by Collected or the 123 garnered by West Coast or the 122… well, you get the picture. 

Fair Odds: 25-1 

10-GUN RUNNER (4/5)
He’s got the best overall speed figures, tactical speed and strong pace figures, but there’s one number I hate — his morning line odds. Look, this is another one of those cases where finding the best horse — at least the best horse as of a few months ago — is easy.  Gun Runner had a stellar campaign in 2017, with five wins from six starts and the title of Horse of the Year (as of yesterday), and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be any less brilliant on Saturday.

But there are reasons to believe he can be beaten.

To begin with, like Collected, this guy is not fond of passing horses in the stretch. In fact, he hasn’t done it since the first two races of his career when he was facing much easier company. Coupled with the fact that he’ll be breaking from the 10-post this weekend makes me think the trip he gets in the Pegasus could be less than ideal — which was not the case in the Breeders’ Cup Classic or any of his other races last year, for that matter.

GP9fTrue, great horses typically get great trips thanks to their versatility — and Gun Runner is no exception. The -9 ESR that he recorded in the Classic was the fastest since a -10 in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and, ultimately, that is what allowed Steve Asmussen’s stable star to cruise to victory.

The problem is an equal show of speed might not be enough to clear the field on Saturday. I’ve got to think that Mike Smith aboard Collected doesn’t want to get second-guessed again, not to mention the jocks on West Coast, Stellar Wind and Sharp Azteca. In short, there are a lot of speedy horses for Gun Runner to cross in front of entering the first turn — and a short time to do it (see track diagram).

This leads me to believe that the reigning Horse of the Year will likely stalk from the outside before making his move late. And in a sport where the blink of an eye can be the difference between victory and defeat, I’m inclined to play against the champ on Saturday.

Fair Odds: 2-1 

11-SEEKING THE SOUL (25/1)
He’s in the best form of his life and can motor home late. If you’re looking for a horse at a huge price that can win, I think this is the guy!

Fair Odds: 15-1 

12-GIANT EXPECTATIONS (30/1)
I felt this son of Frost Giant was a lot better than advertised last time, but that doesn’t change the fact that he got everything his own way in the San Antonio. That is highly unlikely on Saturday, especially given his disastrous post draw. Even at a big price, he looks like an underlay to me.

Fair Odds: 50-1

Also-Eligible: 

13-GIUSEPPE THE GREAT (30-1) 

Fair Odds: 30-1

14-GAME OVER (30-1)

Fair Odds: 99-1

Selections: 2-5-10-11   

***

Race of the Week: Sunshine Millions Turf

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on January 19, 2018

Well, last Saturday, my Race of the Week selection finished fourth, never threatening to claim the top prize at 24-1, while Instilled Regard, a horse I thought would be an underlay, was — but he won the Lecomte Stakes anyway and paid $6.60.

This week, we travel to Hallandale, Florida and beautiful Gulfstream Park for the Race of the Week — the Sunshine Millions’ Turf.

Conceived, in part, by Frank Stronach, the Sunshine Millions was designed to be a mini-Breeders’ Cup of sorts. Featuring races comprised of Florida-breds and California-breds, the series met with initial success and boasted several notable winners in the early years. Recently, however, purses have dropped and interest has waned.

In 2014, multiple Grade I winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Mucho Macho Man won the Sunshine Millions’ Classic for the second time; last year a horse named Hy Riverside won. So far in his career, Hy Riverside has won five of 24 starts and has yet to finish in the money in a graded stakes.

Still, that doesn’t mean the Sunshine Millions isn’t fun to bet and this year’s Turf event looks especially contentious. Below is a look at the filed:

1-Our Way (3-1 morning line odds)
Last year’s winner returns from a break of over five months for trainer Bond — Harold James — who sports a 77-percent ROI with horses returning off a layoff of 90+ days. This guy can stalk what figures to be a slow pace and is a deserving favorite.

Fair Odds: 7/2

2-Charlie Mops (10-1)
This dude was just claimed by trainer Peter Walder, who has accumulated a 10-percent ROI with his past 115 last-out claims, for $35K. I love the front-running style and Charlie’s late speed rations (LSRs) are solid as well; however, I am concerned about the 7-year-old gelding’s long absence from the winner’s circle. After winning five of his first eight starts (with a couple of seconds, one via DQ), Mr. Mops hasn’t posed for pictures after a race since Aug. 6, 2016.

That said, Walder 24.3-percent lifetime winning rate dwarfs the 11.8-percent rate of former conditioner Gary Jackson. And here’s where it gets really interesting: On Dec. 21, 2014, Walder claimed a horse name named Sr. Quisqueyano for Loooch Racing Stables Inc. (the new owner of Charlie Mops). A little over a month later, the gelding won the Sunshine Millions Classic — at over 20-1! What’s more, over the past five years, Walder is 6-of-14 with new claims adding blinkers — which is the case this weekend.

Fair Odds: 6/1

3-Spring Up (8-1)
His last race at Gulfstream Park was uninspiring, but this guy loves to win and fits very well from a speed and pace figure perspective. Plus, he’s 4-of-7 on the green at Gulfstream.

Fair Odds: 8/1

4-Manchurian High (12-1)
Ten-year-old gelding won this event in 2016, but was last seen jumping over hurdles at Charleston. Trainer and part-owner Lilli Kurtinecz has done a good job with the son of The Daddy, but I’d need to see a big price to put this guy on top.

Fair Odds: 30/1 

5-Galleon Mast (7-2)
Son of Mizzen Mast has finished in the money in all 12 of his starts at Gulfstream Park, including — count ‘em — 5 wins! He should be in the second flight and has a big chance on Saturday, following a sizzling five-panel drill for this race on Jan. 13.

Fair Odds: 3/1 

6-Enterprising (2-1)
He’s easily the class of the field, having been beaten by less than a length in the Grade I Arlington Million on Aug. 12. He also bested both Galleon Mast and Charlie Mops in the Millions Turf Preview on Nov. 11. My issues with the Michael Maker trainee boil down to two things: pace and value. While he’s shown that he can win despite slow splits — the early speed ration (ESR) in the Millions Preview was a +1 — his late-closing style is hardly ideal in a paceless affair and especially as the 2-1 (and likely lower) favorite.

Fair Odds: 3/1 

7-Second Mate (10-1)
Jane Cibelli trainee ran very well despite dawdling fractions in his latest. This is a tall order, but I think he’s good enough for a piece with the right trip.

Fair Odds: 8/1 

8-Swagger Jagger (15/1)
Very interesting that trainer Michael Maker sees fit to claim this horse for $35K immediately after losing him for $20K, particularly since the son of Crown of Thorns earned a race-best +5 LSR last time. My issue with this guy — and it’s a big one — is that he doesn’t seem keen on passing horses late. In fact, in his last six starts, he has lost position from the 1/8-pole to the finish five times.

In short, I love his numbers, but not sure I trust his heart.

Fair Odds: 12/1 

Selections: 2-5-1

***

Race of the Week: LeComte Stakes

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on January 12, 2018

Well, McKinzie got me back in the win column in last Saturday’s Race of the Week, the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park. Unfortunately, his $2.40 win payoff left me a few cents short of a gallon of gas, so I’ve been hitchiking a lot recently.

And after my last ride, with a guy sporting an eye patch… that he wore in lieu of pants, I’m pretty anxious to start driving again.

To win some gas money — and maybe a healthy service-station hot dog for the road — we’re going to the Fair Grounds in Louisiana, where this weekend’s Race of the Week in the Grade III LeComte Stakes, the first Kentucky Derby prep for the Midwestern hopefuls.

1-Lone Sailor

Comments: Repeat after me, “Late-running horses with poor late speed rations (LSRs) are among the worst bets in racing.” This has been a constant refrain of mine and certainly applies to Lone Sailor. On the plus side, the son of Majestic Warrior dons blinkers for the first time and gets Miguel Mena, who has a 25-percent win rate for trainer Thomas Amoss over the past year, in the saddle.

2-Snapper Sinclair

Comments: Tries dirt for the first time, though he’s probably a little better-suited to turf. That said, I love the Dec. 24 workout and he has the top Class Rating in the field, according to my Pace Profile Report.

3-Wonder Gadot

Comments: Mark Casse filly takes on the boys for the first time in her five-race career and her pace numbers make her very interesting indeed. Ignore that overall LSR rank — she’s only had two races on a dirt surface and one was against the best juvenile fillies in the country, which resulted in a troubled trip — and concentrate, instead, on the +1 LSR she earned last time. That’s the best dirt LSR in the field!

On the negative side of the ledger is the fact that this gal has a frontrunning style, yet  has earned early speed rations (ESRs) that place her in mid-pack.

4-Analyze This Jet

Comments: It took this dude six starts to break his maiden, but, when he did, he did so in style, drawing clear by 6 ¼ lengths and recording a -6 ESR and -5 LSR at Remington Park on Oct. 4. He followed that victory up with an impressive score in the ungraded El Joven Stakes at Retama 10 days later. The problem is he doesn’t have a lot of zip and Saturday’s race is a big step up in class.

5-Kowboy Karma

Comments: Son of Kodiak Kowboy — who’d a thunk it? — is interesting, based on his -3 LSR last time and a troubled trip in the Champagne, but I hate those 6-1 morning line odds.

6-Believe In Royalty

Comments: After an inexplicably poor effort in the ungraded Springboard Mile at Remington Park, where he made a wide bid and collapsed (figuratively speaking), this Larry Jones trainee came back to work five furlongs in 59 3/5 seconds two weeks later, on Dec. 31, and followed that with another strong work on Jan. 7.

Jones has won this race three times previously — most recently with Mr. Bowling in 2012 — and I expect Believe In Royalty to give a much better account of himself than he did last time.

7-Night Strike

Comments: After five unsuccessful attempts versus straight maidens, William Bret Calhoun trainee finally got off the schneid in a stakes race restricted to Oklahoma-breds, where he was made the 7-5 favorite (which should tell you a little bit about the strength of the field). He’s not one I’ll be concentrating on.

8-Zing Zang

Comments: If you’re looking for a good longshot, this could be the guy. With Saturday’s pace expected to be strong — a projected ESR of -9 — this late-running son of Tapit intrigues me, especially since he’s improved his Brisnet Speed Figure (BSF) in every start — by 12 points each time, no less.

Yeah, he’s still got a long ways to go, but trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan teamed up to win this race in 2008 with Z Fortune.

9-Zeke

Comments: LSRs are great, connections are great, speed figures… uh, they’re not so great. Look, horses with good late pace figures traditionally do well at Fair Grounds, so I don’t think guy can be tossed completely, but I’d insist on a good price.

10-Instilled Regard

Comments: This guy was certainly flattered my McKinzie in last Saturday’s Race of the Week, but the huge speed figure jump from his penultimate start to last time has me a little nervous — especially since his LSR in the Los Alamitos (Cash Call) Futurity was only OK.

Jerry Hollendorfer trainee has the look of an underlay to me.

11-Ciaran

Comments: In 1983, David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear on live television. That’s nothing compared to what trainer Thomas Morley is attempting to do in the LeComte — mainly win a graded stakes with a horse possessing poor ESRs, poor LSRs and poor speed ratings.

I think even Al Michaels would pass on this guy.

12-Principe Guilherme

Comments: He’s a deserving favorite, having won his first two starts by a combined 18 lengths. However, he went wire-to-wire in each of those wins and is probably going to have to run at least six lengths faster early if he wants to employ the same strategy on Saturday.

From a value standpoint, it’s an easy call.  At his morning line odds or less, the Steve Asmussen trainee isn’t worth the risk. However, much depends on what the other speedsters — most notably Prince Lucky and Ebben — do. The former has been showing speed in sprints, which would lead one to believe that he will be forwardly placed this weekend, but his rider, Julien Leperoux, isn’t exactly known as a “gate jockey” and could elect to take the son of Corinthian back. Ditto Ebben, which could lead to Principe Guilherme on the engine in soft fractions again – and I think we all know how that scenario is likely to play out.

13-Prince Lucky

Comments: Based on pace figures, this guy will be leading — or pressing an honest pace — into the first turn, but it’s hard to say what the tactics will ultimately be. Larry Jones trainee clearly has talent, but that -22 LSR last time has me looking elsewhere.

14-Ebben

Comments: He’s bred to be a sprinter, but his last race — a one-mile affair at Churchill Downs — was sensational. I think he’s got better than a puncher’s chance.

15-Trigger Warning

Comments: Also-eligible could be a pace factor, but his LSRs don’t instill confidence.

My Selections: 8-3-12-6

***

Race of the Week: Sham Stakes

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on January 5, 2018

All good things come to an end. After selecting the winner of US Racing’s Race of the Week three weeks in a row, my latest attempt — in last weekend’s American Oaks at Santa Anita Park — ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.

A big whimper.

After my top selection (Rymska) was scratched, I was left with Desert Duchess, who I felt needed the lead and a good trip to win. She got neither. Instead, jockey Drayden Van Dyke opted for a wide, off-the-pace run — I will never understand why so many riders go with this strategy on confirmed frontrunners — that resulted in a last-place finish.

To be a successful gambler, however, one must learn to quickly shake off disappointments and, as Andy Beyer was fond of saying, look for that “fastball down the middle of the plate.”

So, let’s take a look at Saturday’s Sham Stakes — again, at Santa Anita — and see if that fastball is looming:

MyBoyJack

Comments: Trainer Keith Desormeaux and his younger brother, Kent, team up for the first — but surely not last — time in a 2018 Kentucky Derby prep. Over the past year, the siblings have won 18 percent of their 111 pairings and are, perhaps, best known — at least as a duo — for their work with Exaggerator, who won the Preakness Stakes after finishing second behind Nyquist in the 2015 Run for the Roses.

Unfortunately, My Boy Jack is no Exaggerator. His debut on the dirt was uninspiring and it doesn’t buoy my confidence to see that, after getting beaten soundly in that main-track affair at 18-1, he was made just 6-1 when he tried turf and stretched out on July 1.

On the plus side, his bid-and-hang effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf was encouraging and I don’t ultimately believe that the son of Creative Cause prefers the green.

HereIsHappy

Comments: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times — closers with poor late speed rations (LSRs) are among the worst bets in racing. Granted, there is one major caveat here in that trainer Craig Lewis puts blinkers on this guy after four consecutive poor starts. Still, I would have liked to have seen a good workout — something, anything — to make me believe the son of Tale of Ekati will turn things around this weekend.

AllOutBlitz

Comments: Love the improvement in the races and on the training track, including a four-furlong drill in 47 seconds flat on Dec. 29. My only issue is, although there is stamina on the dam side, this colt has recorded mediocre LSRs at best and is trying a route of ground for the first time.

Still, he’s a strong contender.

Mourinho

Comments: This dude is an enigma wrapped in a riddle, but the one thing I know is that he’s fast — very fast. The Bob Baffert trainee earned a -16 early speed ration (ESR) in the Speakeasy Stakes at six furlongs on Oct. 15 and a -11 ESR in his maiden special weight debut 15 days earlier.

Yet, after trying and failing to get the son of Super Saver to rate in the Grade III Bob Hope at seven panels in his last start, it appears that Baffert has decided to throw caution to the wind on Saturday and let Mourinho do what he does best — run as fast as he can for as far as he can. The blinkers are back on (they were removed for the Bob Hope) and, assuming jockey Van Dyke isn’t intent on taking the scenic route again (see above), I expect this guy to be on the engine in the Sham.

He’s got the talent to win. On Saturday, we’ll see if he has the heart… or the oxygen.

Shivermetimbers

Comments: He’s improved in every start and, in his last race, recorded superior pace figures — including a positive Pace Profile. True, the son of Shanghai Bobby was beaten by the morning line favorite, McKinzie, on Oct. 28, but, at this age, horses often improve my leaps and bounds and it should be pointed out that McKinzie was a February foal, while Shivermetimbers was born in April.

McKinzie

Comments: Son of Street Sense was lucky to have won the CashCall Futurity — the very first US Racing Race of the Week — via disqualification, but, despite claims to the contrary by my brethren in the racing media, it was still a great race and a superb effort by trainer Baffert’s top Kentucky Derby hopeful.

Not only did McKinzie equal the outstanding 100 Brisnet Speed Figure he earned in his lifetime bow — over the past 26 years, 24 Derby winners earned at least one triple-digit BSF prior to the first Saturday in May — he improved both his debut ESR and debut LSR as well.

What really intrigues me, though, is that Baffert removes the blinkers today — presumably, to give them to Mourinho. All kidding aside, it’s a fascinating move and seems to indicate that Baffert wants McKinzie to relax a bit more. This idea is bolstered by the fact that, in his last work on Jan. 2, McKinzie went four furlongs in a very moderate — for said horse and trainer — 48 2/5 seconds.

CityPlan

Comments: Talk about the Rodney Dangerfield of racing. This guy has won two of his four starts — at odds of 19-1 and 24-1. Of course, both those wins followed truly dreadful outings, but still. I’m particularly impressed by City Plan’s latest victory, where he came from the back of the pack to earn an 83 BSF and race-best 0 LSR.

My Selections: 6-7-4-3  

***

Race of the Week: American Oaks

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on December 29, 2017

OK, so now the pressure is really on. Since our sponsor launched the Race of the Week promotion on Dec. 9 (you can get all the details here), I’ve selected the winner each week, starting with a lucky score on McKinzie ($3.00) in the CashCall Futurity and followed by Fear the Cowboy ($9.00) in the Harlan’s Holiday and Do Share ($10.80) in the Gravesend Stakes last Saturday.

This Saturday the big event is the American Oaks at Santa Anita Park and, I must say, the race looks wide open. Here’s a detailed look at the field:

1-MADAM DANCEALOT (6-1 morning line odds)
I’ve mentioned my aversion to late-running horses with weak late speed rations in the past and this gal kinda-sorta fits the bill. Her LSRs are not bad — in fact, they’re quite good — but they don’t stack up against her rivals’ in Saturday’s field.

Fair Odds: 10-1 

2-KATHY’S SONG (20-1)
She’s similar to Madam Dancealot in that her LSRs are simply not up to par. In fact, her numbers are quite poor relative to this field. This is partially offset by a really good effort last time, but I’d still insist on a big price should you decide to use her.

Fair Odds: 20-1 

3-BERNINA STAR (30-1)
Her two turf tries have come against inferior competition and have produced subpar speed and pace figures. She’s hard to recommend.

Fair Odds: 40-1 

4-DADDY’S LIL DARLING (3-1)
It’s hard to believe that this filly has a single graded victory to her credit, as she’s finished second in — count ‘em — four Grade I events, including one on the green. Her LSRs are great and she’s already won at Saturday’s extended distance (she captured the 1 5/16-mile Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs in September).

The big question mark with her is desire. After a huge effort in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland (one of the most prestigious turf races for fillies and mares in the country), I thought her performance in the Grade II Mrs. Revere was disappointing, even though a slow pace and wide trip surely didn’t help.

Fair Odds: 7-2 

5-PANTSONFIRE (30-1)
Took a giant step forward in her latest, with a strong runner-up performance in an optional claiming event at Del Mar, but this is a really big jump in class. I think the Richard Baltas trainee can be used underneath, but I’d need a massive price to consider her on top.

Fair Odds: 30-1 

6-BEAU RECALL (6-1)
She missed being a Grade I winner by a mere nose at Del Mar in August and, subsequently, had trouble early in the QEII. Her LSRs are OK, but I’m a little concerned about Saturday’s 1 ¼-mile distance. Beau Recall is an Irish-bred (typically known for their stamina), yet her sire’s progeny have an average winning distance (AWD) of just 6.8 furlongs.

Fair Odds: 9-2

7-DESERT DUCHESS (8-1)
Daughter of Hard Spun is the most intriguing entrant in the race, as she’s the likely pacesetter in a relatively paceless race. She was racing for a tag in May, so class is obviously an issue, but I was awfully impressed by the way she was able to raise her game in her stakes debut on Nov. 7.

On that day, she raced wide throughout, yet rated beautifully and motored past the leaders in the stretch. She’s had a series of good works since and jockey Drayden Van Dyke wins at a 15-percent clip with an 8.5-percent ROI with early/presser types.

Fair Odds: 6-1 

8-RYMSKA (5-2)
Her performance in the Winter Memories last time was outstanding, earning a competitive 90 Brisnet Speed Figure and a ridiculously good — especially considering the slow pace — +7 LSR. She is clearly talented and is bred to love Saturday’s 10-furlong distance, but there’s a problem… 5-2 odds? Really?

Trainer Chad Brown’s runner is a two-time Grade 3 winner and has earned $359,352. Meanwhile, Brown’s “other” entrant, New Money Honey, is a two-time Grade 3 winner and a two-time Grade 1 winner and has banked over $1.3 million. I love the horse, but hate the price.

Fair Odds: 3-1 

9-NEW MONEY HONEY (7-2)
Clearly the most accomplished horse in the field, as I outlined above. The problem with this gal is that I’m not sure where she stands physically. It’s easy enough to put a line through her effort in the Alabama — that was her first (and probably only) try on dirt — but what about that dud in the QEII?

It’s also hard not to notice that the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has started just three times since July. On a lark, I ran my Workout Report for this race and also for her last winning effort in the Belmont Oaks. Here’s what I found:

NewMoneyHoneyWO

Notice the big difference between New Money Honey’s latest work on Dec. 24 and the one on June 3 (the higher the percentage, the better the workout, at least statistically speaking). Coupled with that dull performance last out and her overall lack of activity, I’d be hard pressed to take a short price on New Money Honey, despite the fact that she is — or was — the best horse in the race.

Fair Odds: 4-1 

10-COACHWHIP (20-1)
Her lack of experience concerns me, though I love the fact that trainer Richard Mandella is showing the confidence to enter this gal in a Grade 1 affair.

Fair Odds: 20-1 

My Selections: 8-7-6 

Betting Suggestion: I would let the odds be a guide in this race. Look for horses going to post at odds greater than the fair odds I’ve listed.

***

Race of the Week: Gravesend Stakes

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on December 22, 2017

So far, so good with my Race of the Week selections, as Fear the Cowboy rallied to win the Harlan’s Holiday last Saturday and move my record to a perfect 2-0.

This week, we move from sunny Florida — it was 78 degrees for the Harlan’s Holiday — to cold and likely rainy Ozone Park in Queens, New York, for the Gravesend Stakes at Aqueduct.

The $100,000 Gravesend drew a field of eight older horses set to travel six panels over the main track at the Big A. And although Threefiveindia, who was last seen finishing second in the Fall Highweight while carrying 130 lbs. (he’s slated to tote a mere 116 this weekend), has been made the 2-1 morning line favorite, I have my eye on some more enticing prices.

Let’s take a look at the field…

TheTruthOrElse

COMMENTS: This is the kind of horse that I hate — a deep closer with subpar late speed rations (LSRs). He has run well against better in the past, but he’ll need to turn things around in a big way to have an impact here.

DoShare

COMMENTS: For the second week in the row, we have a classic example of a horse that may not be the fastest in the race overall, but is currently the fastest. While some may fret about the quick turnaround (nine days), this is a horse that is 3-for-4 on three weeks’ rest or less, including a win in the Stud Muffin after an impressive allowance score that earned the 4-year-old gelding a 100 Brisnet Speed Figure, matching today’s par.

LifeInShambles

COMMENTS: Steve Asmussen trainee has a great closing kick, as evidenced by his LSR Rank of 1+ (above). What’s more, the son of Broken Vow has finished fourth or better in 11 of his past 12 dirt starts, including a strong showing in this race last year, in which he was beaten just a neck and a head for second-place. He’s a major player at what promises to be a square price.

ChiefLion

COMMENTS: This guy is a key contender. To begin with, he looks like the speed of the speed — the only horse capable of outrunning Green Gratto early. Secondly, there is the David Jacobson factor. Jacobson horses owned in partnership with others have won at a 12.6-percent clip this year, whereas horses owned solely by Jacobson, like Chief Lion, have scored at double that rate (25.3 percent). The 7-year-old gelding was Grade 2-placed as recently as July of last year and is a huge threat on Saturday, especially with Martin Garcia retaining the mount following an impressive wire-to-wire score at Penn National on Nov. 22.

GoldForTheKing

COMMENTS: Son of Posse is 3-for-4 with one second-place finish at Aqueduct. In those races, he earned Brisnet Speed Figures of 95, 100, 104 and 95. As noted previously, today’s par is 100. In other words, there is no way this dude should be 15-1 on the morning line and I expect a strong showing on Saturday.

GreatStuff

COMMENTS: Four of his last six Brisnet Speed Figures meet or exceed Saturday’s par, but there are some red flags too. To start with, there is, once again, the Jacobson factor. But, this time, it is somewhat negative, as Great Stuff is owned by both Jacobson and Bruce Golden Racing (see Chief Lion above). Then there is that trouble line in the Fall Highweight; saying that the son of Quality Road “checked” in that race is dubious at best. Yes, there was a momentary pause in race riding as Threefiveindia (who is also in Saturday’s race) came over a little, but at no point did Great Stuff look like a winner and, in fact, he’d enjoyed a dream trip up until that time. He’s a definite contender… but I won’t use him at anything close to 7-2 (his morning line odds).

Threefiveindia

COMMENTS: He’s among the most accomplished runners in the field, having placed in all three of his Grade 3 tries, but there’s nothing compelling about him — nothing that screams “bet me!” He’s classy enough, fast enough and — at least based on the morning line — doggone it, people like him. But he just doesn’t get my pulse racing (not as the race favorite, anyway).

GreenGratto

COMMENTS: He’s clearly the classiest horse in the race, with Grade 1 and Grade 3 scores to his credit, but this guy knows only one way to win — on the lead in moderate fractions. And as long as Chief Lion is in this race, I don’t think that scenario plays out.

My Selections: 2-4-3

***

Race of the Week: Harlan’s Holiday

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on December 15, 2017

Well, thanks to a dubious disqualification in last Saturday’s CashCall Futurity, the horse that I liked won the inaugural Race of the Week.

This Saturday, the handicapping waters get deeper, as the Race of the Week is the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream Park, which drew an evenly matched field of 9.

USR-Race-of-the-Week

Let’s take a look at the entrants:

1-RICHARD THE GREAT (10/1 morning line odds)
This once-promising son of Distorted Humor clearly has some issues, as he was away from the track for over two years prior to his reappearance at Gulfstream Park on April 23, 2017. His presence in this race is interesting for two reasons:

  • Although there are numerous other frontrunning types in the field, the projected pace for the Harlan’s Holiday is slow (-2 early speed ration) and this dude is 3-for-4 lifetime when he’s had the lead at the half-mile call.

In fact, the last time the Stanley Gold trainee led after recording a soft ESR, he put in arguably the best performance of his career, winning the 7-furlong Trinniberg Handicap by 7 ½ lengths on Aug. 12.

Richard-the-Great-PPs

  • The fact that noted “gate rider” Paco Lopez — four of his 11 graded stakes scores this year have come in wire-to-wire fashion — takes the mount, leads me to believe that this 5-year-old gelding will be a pace factor if nothing else. And that has implications for a number of other contenders in Saturday’s race.

Fair Odds: 10-1 

2-MR. JORDAN (4/1)
Speaking of those implications, I think this guy could be one of the causalities of a more aggressive Richard the Great. Last time, in the Millions Classic Preview Stakes, this son of Kantharos was allowed to set a slow pace (-1 ESR) — and he drew clear to win easily. I don’t envision the same kind of trip today and, though I think Mr. Jordan can still win coming off the pace, I’d insist on a good price.

Fair Odds: 5-1 

3-DESTIN (5/2)
Todd Pletcher trainee appears to like longer distances — he was beaten a nose in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (G1) as a 3-year-old and recently won the Marathon Stakes (G2) at 1 ¾ miles — but has a clear class edge against these. The son of Giant’s Causeway is a three-time graded stakes winner, with a couple of Grade II tallies to his credit. The only other Grade II winner in Saturday’s field is Flatlined and that came in the Ft. Lauderdale on the green.

Fair Odds: 7-2 

4-CONQUEST BIG E (15/1)
This is another one that is likely to be impacted by the tactics of the rail horse. Unlike Mr. Jordan, though, this guy appears to need the lead to show his best. Couple that with the fact that he’s not very fast and you have the recipe for an underlay, despite the fact that he figures to be long odds this weekend.

Fair Odds: 20-1 

5-PAGE MCKENNEY (6/1)
This guy is the poster child for patience. Since breaking his maiden in start number 13, Page McKenney has been a win machine, capturing half of his 40 starts, including 10 of 16 in his birth state of Pennsylvania.

That said, his last race was dull and he’ll need to turn things around to be a factor on Saturday.

Fair Odds: 9-2 

6-FRAMMENTO (20/1)
Hard to believe that this Nick Zito trainee was once a Kentucky Derby contender — if a third-place finish in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and a distant fourth-place showing in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) qualifies. His last win came nearly a year ago in an optional claiming event that produced subpar speed and pace figures. If he wins, he’ll do so without my money.

Fair Odds: 30-1 

7-FEAR THE COWBOY (7/2)
A while back, I discussed time-adjusted speed ratings, or TASRs for short, and this guy illustrates the concept beautifully. He may not be the fastest horse in the field, overall, but his recent figures — particularly his last one — make him a big-time contender in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile contest. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s won three of five starts over the Gulfstream Park oval and boasts solid late speed rations to boot.

Fair Odds: 3-1 

8-FLATLINED (6/1)
He won his only race on dirt in a one-mile event that was originally carded for the turf course at Ellis Park on July 30, 2016. The bad news is he did so while rating on a slow pace (-1 ESR) against just three rivals. From a speed and class standpoint, he fits… but I’m not sure how his late-closing style will play if the expected slow pace develops on Saturday.

On the plus side, Flatlined’s recent workouts have been sensational.

Fair Odds: 6-1 

9-JOSHUA’S COMPRISE (30/1)
No one can accuse trainer Barry Rose of being a glass-half-empty kind of guy. This gelding is 3-of-73 lifetime and last won a $12,500 claiming event — at 14-1, no less — in July. So, yeah, put him in a Grade III. Hey, it’s the season of miracles; maybe one can happen for Rose.

Fair Odds: 50-1 

My Selections: 7-8-1

The Harlan’s Holiday is the ninth race on Gulfstream Park’s Saturday card, with an approximate post time of 4:06 p.m. ET.

***

Race of the Week: CashCall Futurity

By Derek Simon
Originally posted on December 8, 2017

Starting this week and continuing every Saturday, our sponsor is featuring a “Race of the Week”. Participants who wager at least $10 to win on the designated race will receive $10 in free casino chips — regardless of whether their wager wins or loses.

This week’s Race of the Week is the CashCall Futurity, a Grade I event for two-year-olds run annually at Los Alamitos Racecourse (since 2014) and the now-defunct Hollywood Park (1981-2013). Although the CashCall has only produced one Kentucky Derby champ in its 36-year history — Real Quiet in 1998 — the race boasts an impressive roster of winners, including five colts that were named American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse the next year.

It’s also worth noting that two recent winners — Shared Belief (2014) and Mastery (last year)—were in the midst of stellar campaigns when they were injured. Mastery finished his career a perfect 5-for-5, while Shared Belief won 10 of his 12 lifetime starts.

This year, a field of five will face the starter and it’s fitting that Bob Baffert trains the top two morning line choices, as he’s won this race nine times, including all three that have been run at Los Alamitos.

CashCall Futurity Fun Facts (since 2007) 

  • The post-time favorite has won 8 times (80%).
  • 7 winners (70%) were among the top three at the first call (opening half-mile).
  • No winner has come from more than 2 ½ lengths back at the first call.
  • Trainer Bob Baffert has won 6 times (60%), including the last three in a row.
  • No horse has gone wire to wire. 

Here’s a look at the field:

CashCall-Futurity-Odds1-INSTILLED REGARD (4/1 morning line odds)
Highly regarded Jerry Hollendorfer trainee broke his maiden by 4 ¼ lengths last time, but he did so after setting a soft pace (-3 early speed ration) — a highly unlikely scenario on Saturday (the ESR par is -10). I also don’t like the fact that regular jockey Mike Smith bails on the son of Arch; yeah, it’s to ride one of the Baffert runners, but still…

Fair Odds: 12-1

2-FOR HIM (15/1)
The last horse to go wire-to-wire in the CashCall was Stormello in 2006 (although he was briefly headed by the runner-up, Liquidity, in deep stretch) when the race was still being run at Hollywood Park. Yet, by the looks of it, that’s what this guy will attempt to do this weekend. He’s had clear early leads in each of his last two starts and recorded an insane -17 ESR in his maiden-breaker at Del Mar on Aug. 9.

I actually think he has a great shot of holding on for a piece of the purse, as his last race — in the Zuma Beach on the grass — was very encouraging. He’s also the son of 2012 CashCall champion Violence.

Fair Odds: 10-1 

3-SOLOMINI (7/5)
Bob Baffert trainee was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and has earned speed figures that dwarf all but those turned in by the other Baffert entrant, McKinzie. The son of Curlin has lost ground down the stretch in both of his route tries and his late speed rations in those races were nothing special (-8 and -13), but wide trips have undoubtedly contributed to his lack of stretch punch.

Fair Odds: 2-1 

4-RUNAWAY GHOST (8/1)
Although his pedigree (107 Brisnet distance rating) suggests the son of Ghostzapper may be best-suited to sprints, I’m impressed by this guy’s LSRs. What’s more, his trainer, Michael Machowsky, has a 19 percent ROI with first-time routers. He’s worth a deuce or two at the right price.

Fair Odds: 8-1 

5-MCKINZIE (6/5)
Under normal circumstances, this son of Street Sense would be considered the “other Baffert”. After all, his stablemate has been runner-up in two Grade I route affairs, including the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, while this guy has a single maiden victory to his credit, but the work tab tells a different story.

McKinzie has trained at Santa Anita on the same day as Solomoni four times over the past 24 days — and he’s outworked his barn brother on three of those occasions. Couple that with an extremely impressive debut and I think you’re looking at the sixth consecutive winning CashCall favorite.

Fair Odds: 3-5 

My Selections: 5-3-2

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.