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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
- 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
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
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
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:
1-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
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
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