Adam Hickman is back with his thorough and interesting analysis of the $1 million Belmont Stakes, run at Belmont Park in New York.
As tomorrow’s Belmont Stakes day script takes a very disappointing turn, I’ll Have Another provides us a bold reminder that horse racing’s heroes are to be savored, for their turn in the spotlight can be abbreviated and end at the worst possible times.
At risk of sounding cliche, the Belmont Stakes show will go on. And Saturday’s card from New York features a healthy slate of stakes action and of course, the Belmont, the third jewel of the American Triple Crown.
Not sure why the New York Racing Association has opted to have I’ll Have Another lead the Belmont field out to the track. It’s disappointing he won’t be running, but why dangle him in front of thousands of fans just because you can. It doesn’t seem fair to the horse, who is conditioned to associate an afternoon appearance with a significant display of speed, stamina and athleticism. If he’s as smart as jockey Mario Gutierrez says, he’s going to be one ticked off animal when he isn’t lead towards the starting gate.
In any event, public relations practitioning aside, the Belmont shapes up as just as interesting an event. Considering the top two finishers from the Derby are missing and none of the top five runners in the Preakness are present, this year’s Belmont seems to be more of a prelude to the rest of the year than a Triple Crown series conclusion.
The likely favorite, however, is the only horse with a top-three finish in the Triple Crown. That would be Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Dullahan, a pupil of Dale Romans of Shackleford fame. Dullahan rallied from 11th in the Derby, making up about 10 lengths. What’s of note is that his rally wasn’t enough to catch the very tired front-runner Bodemeister, who had set a nearly impossible temp for the 1 1/4-mile distance, despite the speed favoring nature of the Churchill Downs oval. Considering he went into the Derby a finisher with significant appeal, Dullahan underachieved by finishing third. Romans opted to bypass the shorter Preakness in favor of a break before the Belmont. Now, with five weeks of preparation and an extra quarter of a mile at his disposal, many are projecting that the son of Even the Score is sitting on a big race. He trained very quickly last Sunday, a half-mile in :45 4/5, breezing. The lone caveat, and it’s a significant one, is that the pace may not be as robust as in the Blue Grass or the Kentucky Derby. The rivals he’ll need to mow down in the Belmont may have much more left for the stretch run than in his past few outings.
One such rival is the Awesome Again colt Paynter, who is new to the Triple Crown scene, but not new to some of its stars. He ran second in the muddy Derby Trial, finishing 1 1/2 lengths behind Hierro, who will take on Trinniberg in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens earlier on the Belmont Park card. One start prior to the trial, however, Paynter raced in the Santa Anita Derby, which was the second of four consecutive victories by I’ll Have Another. The Santa Anita was just Paynter’s second career start and very much a jump in the deep end. The Zayat charge didn’t embarass himself one bit, finishing an even fourth out of nine runner, just less than four lengths behind. After the Trial, the bay Bob Baffert trainee journeyed to Pimlico with his stablemate Bodemeister and competed in a $50,000 allowance at 1 1/16 miles. Paynter performed brilliantly, taking pressure on the lead, but not acting overly keen, a trait that prevented the aggressive Bodemeiser from Triple Crown victories. Paynter doled out measured fractions of :24 1/5, :48 1/5 and 1:12 1/5 over the tiring Maryland track and then, under a hand ride, opened up with authority through the lane, completing the trip in 1:42 4/5. The time was dynamite considering how slow the track was. Tactically, he doesn’t seem to need the lead, but is comfortable there if that’s how the trip develops. As far as distance is concerned, he seems as likely as any of the others to appreciate the 12-furlong trip, based on pedigree. The important question is whether he can repeat what was a career-best effort on three weeks rest. It’s hard to say because he’s so lightly-raced and every effort to date has been followed by an improved effort. Paynter has an exciting future. Whether the future is now, we’ll find out after the Belmont.
The third major contender is last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Union Rags, who was seventh in the Kentucky Derby. He also skipped the Preakness in favor of one concerted effort at the Belmont. The son of Dixie Union’s experience in Louisville wasn’t the cleanest of trips, having been squeezed early and forced to race in 18th early. He closed quite a bit of a ground, but the improvement was illusionary since the late pace was pedestrian. He receives a new rider for the Belmont in John Velazquez, who will attempt to guide the Michael Matz trainee to a breakthrough performance. He hasn’t tasted victory since the Fountain of Youth, which he won so easily it had many talking Triple Crown sweep about him!
Other than Trinniberg, horses worth watching on the Belmont Stakes undercard include Winter Memories who goes for her second career Grade 1 in the Just A Game. She takes on Hungry Island and Tapitsfly.
The Grade 1 Manhattan came up a very wide-open affair with no less than seven of the eight with a realistic shot to score. At a price, Papaw Bodie, who is out of an In The Wings mare, could be a factor at this extended distance. Last time, he had way too much to do in the Turf Classic, drifting way off a moderate pace.
The Easy Goer could give punters an early read on Paynter. The three-year-old that finished second to Paynter, Brimstone Island, is entered in the listed 1 1/16-mile event. On a repeat of the Pimlico performance he’d be dangerous. He finished five behind Paynter, but was over eight lengths clear of the third-place finisher. He’s 5-1 on morning line, while the distance fifth-place finisher in the Preakness, Teeth of the Dog, is the early favorite.
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Our US Racing correspondent Adam Hickman brings us his analysis and tips for the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Saturday night!
All eyes are on Pimlico Racecourse on Saturday for this year’s renewal of the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the elusive American Triple Crown. What’s interesting, right off the top, is the number of three-year-olds returning that were forwardly-placed in the Kentucky Derby, just two weeks ago.
Of course Derby hero I’ll Have Another, who received a perfect steer from top Hastings Park rider Mario Gutierrez in Louisville, is in the lineup to put his impressive three-race win streak on the line. He stormed down the Churchill Downs stretch to catch a tiring Bodemeister, who despite the speed-biased nature of the track set a very ambitious pace. The question with I’ll Have Another is whether he has a third strong effort in a row in him. The son of Flower Alley had two months off in advance of the Santa Anita Derby. His campaign was designed to have a fresh horse going into the Derby. Will the freshness still be a factor in Baltimore, is the question. Two huge efforts in succession off a layoff has knocked many a talented horse off form.
The prospect of travelling one-sixteenth of a mile shorter in the Preakness is just one reason why the connections of Bodemeister should be excited Saturday. If the Derby had been the same distance he’d have been dubbed one of the most electrifying winner’s in recent memory. The Bob Baffert trainee entered the Derby on the strength of a runaway victory in the Arkansas Derby. Many believed he was a question mark to replicate the performance at 1 ¼ miles when faced with a great deal more pressure. They were partly right since, after all was said and done, he wasn’t able to hang on for the victory. However, they were wrong in the sense that he was able to supersede what has come to be expected of a Derby entrant that sets crippling, excruciating fractions. He opened up a huge lead turning for home and stayed on to finish in front of all but one of the other 19 entrants. Whether they realize it or not, casual horseplayers that react with excitement to Bodemeister’s Derby and declare that it was his best performance yet, are learning their first lesson in the underutilized art of pace handicapping. Pure speed handicappers, that tend to look figures that are derived from final time, would suggest Bodemeister regressed from Arkansas Derby peak. His Beyer, for instance, fell several points in the Derby. A true pace handicapper would say, “Of course. It did. He spent his all energy in the early stages of the race.” Then they’d quote another number. A pace number. A number that more truly illustrates how brilliantly Bodemeister has performed so far in his career. A pace handicapper would have no trouble telling you that Bodemeister ran a career race in the Kentucky Derby. If we treat it as such, the paramount question: How does this lightly-raced animal react after such a tough defeat just two weeks ago? The side of the question you land on will go a long way in determining how you play the Preakness. Another question concerns context. Without Hansen or Trinniberg in the field, does Bodemeister have to go as fast to secure an early advantage and dole out steady fractions?
A pair of other also-rans in the Kentucky Derby that have returned in the Preakness are fourth-place finisher Went the Day Well and fifth-place finisher Creative Cause. Both were closing in on Bodemeister in the final furlong, but didn’t find enough left in their own tanks to get to the front-runner inside the wire. Neither had the calculated trip that I’ll Have Another managed to have. Creative Cause was wide on the first turn and even wider on the second turn. Went the Day Well was four-wide on the first turn and made a run from 17th to get within a few lengths of a Derby score. Despite their respective trouble lines, they were each given a chance to capitalize on the suicidal pace set by Bodemeister and came up short. One wonders how a less favorable pace scenario could produce more desirable results for these two individuals. But many a three-year-old has thrown a clunker in the Kentucky Derby only to come back to reclaim the limelight in the Preakness. Creative Cause, Went the Day Well and even Daddy’s Nose Best could be such types this year, if Bodemeister can’t reproduce his strong form.
Of the five newcomers to the American Triple Crown, the two horses that look most intriguing in an exotics wagering capacity perhaps, are the Richard Dutrow, Jr. trainee Zetterholm, a New York-bred that is riding a win streak and Cozzetti an improving type that generally does his best running in the stretch. He was fourth in the Arkansas Derby.
The most exciting race on the Preakness undercard may be the Dixie Handicap for older turf runners at 1 1/8 miles. The race has attracted a pair of Canadian-based individuals in Trend and British-bred Forte Dei Marmi. Trend hasn’t raced since the Grade 3 Appleton at Gulfstream Park where he was second to Corporate Jungle. Forte Dei Marmi won a Keeneland allowance on April 15 by closing from ninth, unleashing an impressive final quarter-mile in less than 22 seconds. Among the favorites are the Chad Brown trainee Casino Host, who looks for his third consecutive victory of 2012.
Bodemeister is current 2/1 favourite with William Hill. Get a £25 free bet here!
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Photo Credits: sportsworldreport.com
Our resident US racing correspondent Adam Hickman brings us his analysis and tips for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday evening!
As wide open as this year’s Kentucky Derby appears this year, there’s only one horse that has minimal knocks, ample class, the right running style and sufficient pedigree power. His name is Creative Cause.
The Mike Harrington trainee enters off a narrow second-place in the Santa Anita Derby, the same race in which Real Quiet finished second before taking the roses. Now, what was impressive about this Creative Cause effort was that the pace was quite moderate for the speedy nature of the Santa Anita surface and he came from quite a bit further back than I’ll Have Another, the Santa Anita winner, who had two months to prepare for his big performance.
Furthermore, Creative Cause rallied along the inside. After reviewing the dirt races from this day, the impression left was that it wasn’t the ideal place to be. Maybe not dead, but the rail certainly wasn’t perfect. Creative Cause exuded athleticism moving quickly along the rail. After being headed by the winner inside the furlong pole, he came back along the inside and just lost the bob. What’s most exciting about Creative Cause’s runner-up finish was that he wasn’t at his best on this day. Whether you consider Beyers or BrisNet figures or whatever, he experienced the regression that many would have expected off his breakthrough performance in the San Felipe.
The San Felipe was more than just a three-quarter length win for Creative Cause. It came against one of the current favorites for the Kentucky Derby, Bodemeister, who romped home in the Arkansas Derby. But Creative Cause was able to mow this Bob Baffert beast down one race earlier, carrying five more pounds and travelling much wider. The pace wasn’t like it was so hot that Creative Cause had the edge.
So, Creative Cause had every reason to regress (or bounce) a bit in the Santa Anita Derby. The question will be if he can return to this strong form he showed in the San Felipe. Considering Creative Cause had a strong foundation in his two-year-old season that nearly climaxed in a Breeders’ Cup score, he may be sitting on a peak race in the Kentucky Derby.
He’s by Giant’s Causeway, so this distance should be a walk in the park. He’s raced on the outside and on the inside. He’s raced on a hot pace, as we saw in the Breeders’ Cup. He’s raced from middle of the pack. So Joel Rosario, one of the continent’s top five riders has tons of options.
Selection: Creative Cause
Exactor: Creative Cause up and down with Hansen, Union Rags, Bodemeister and Daddy Nose Best
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The day North American horse racing fans look forward to the most is almost upon us. Before we take a look at the Kentucky Derby itself, here’s a quick peek at a few of the exciting races on the rest of the Saturday Churchill Downs card.
Churchill Distaff Turf Mile
When fillies and mares go long on the turf, it almost always manages to produce an exciting finish. How could we forget Perfect Shirl’s upset victory in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf? Saturday’s Churchill Distaff Turf Mile is significantly shorter than the championship event, but not without its interesting talking points and competitive appeal. There aren’t any 50-1 shots in this group. There aren’t any 7-5 shots either. When all is said and done, the race may very well be the event that is looked back on as the coming-out party for rapidly improving Ontario-bred Marketing Mix.
The Glen Hill Farm four-year-old has quietly won four of her past five races. Her lone blemish? The prestigious Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland. Since then, she won the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes from post 10 over the same course she’ll compete on Saturday. After a brief pause, she returned in April and barely broke a sweat in capturing an allowance event that should serve as a useful prep for the $200,000 Turf Mile. The allowance win came over a filly named Inglorious, who had defeated Marketing Mix by two measly lengths in the infancy of her development.
To win, Marketing Mix will have to best a field that includes quick-finishing Aruna, the fifth-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Aruna, who finished second in this event last Spring, is a Grade 1 winner on Polytrack, by virtue of her off-the-pace score in the Spinster at Keeneland. The Graham Motion trainee was second in the Grade 1 Diana at 1 1/8 miles last Summer. There’s no questioning her ability, but if the race doesn’t set up with any pace, she could be vulnerable, as she showed in her 2012 debut versus Daisy Devine in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley, in which she was sixth by 3 ¾ lengths.
Daisy Devine goes for her fifth straight victory in the Distaff. With the help of James Graham, she caught the Jenny Wiley group napping and led every step of the way after stealing an opening half in :50 and change. Question is whether she can pull off this trick again? Her winning streak began in the Grade 3 Valley View at Keenland last fall. That day she was dismissed at 43-1. What works against her chances on Saturday is the versatility that Julien Leparoux has at his disposal with Marketing Mix.
The $300,000 Humana Distaff should be an exciting race that reassembles the two mares that finished one-two in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies Sprint, Musical Romance and Switch. The seven furlong event is by no means limited to these two high class individuals.
Musical Romance has started three times since her upset score in the Breeders’ Cup. One of the efforts was a success, but the other two were rather disappointing considering the profile that exists surrounding this Florida-bred, who will be ridden, as usual, by Juan Leyva. The daughter of Concorde’s Tune was an outsprinted fourth in her return, the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mares Sprint at Gulfstream Park, defeated over 7 ½ lengths.
The champion atoned for the defeat in her second race of 2012, rallying to win the Grade 2 Inside Information by three-quarters of a length over 55-1 shot Hot Summer. Groupie Doll was third, another half-length back in the seven-furlong contest. Both rivals are in the Humana lineup. The Inside Information earned Musical Romance a Beyer of 95, which is just slightly lower than the 98 she earned in the Breeders’ Cup.
Meanwhile, Switch, the hard-luck Breeders’ Cup runner-up for the second consecutive year, hasn’t seen action since the effort, in which she closed from 12th but came up 1 ¼ lengths short. The John Sadler has been working quickly in preparation for her return. The belated start may give the daughter of Quiet American a freshness edge over this group.
Another fresh contender in the Humana Distaff is last year’s surprise winner, Sassy Image. The Broken Vow mare hasn’t raced since the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga, but she’s been training forwardly for her return. When this mare is in the zone, she can flat out run. She’s reeled off two separate three-race win streaks, which have netted her two Grade 1s, a Grade 2 and two Grade 3s.
Woodford Reserve Turf Classic
The Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic has lured last year’s Woodbine Mile champion Turallure. This fast-closing grey closed out his 2011 season in very strong fashion. After the timely Mile score, under Julien Leparoux, Turallure journeyed to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Once again, he closed with furiously out in the middle of the course, but wound up a nose shy of victory, defeated by the previous year’s Woodbine Mile winner Court Vision.
The Charles Lopresti trainee has competed once in 2012, finishing second in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland. The result is a bit of a puzzler because it didn’t appear Turallure had any apparent excuse. He basically was outfinished by Data Link who was flying on the outside and up in the nick of time to tag him in the shadow of the wire. Meanwhile, Doubles Partner, under Javier Castellano, had a horrendous trip and could only muster a third-place finish in the one-mile event. This Todd Pletcher trainee was stopped behind horses at the top of the stretch. Once he found room, he wound up on heels a second time and had to steady mildly. By the time he found a path long the inside, the damage had been done and he was able to quicken at the same rate as the winner, who had finished behind him at Gulfstream Park.
With all three of the aforementioned in attendance for the Turf Classic, it is a bit of a rematch, with one key difference. They’ll have nine furlongs to decide who is boss instead of eight. It should make for an interesting stretch run. Also in the hunt is last year’s Turf Classic winner Get Stormy, who has quietly compiled an 11-for-28 record with $1.5 million in earnings. He’ll certainly be dangerous, if he can elude pressure of Little Mike and Turbo Compressor.
Check back at the Horse Racing Tavern for Adam’s Kentucky Oaks and Derby analysis and tips!
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Adam Hickman is back at the Horse Racing Tavern with a look at one of top fixtures from the US Racing calendar. It is Florida Derby Day from Gulfstream Park! Union Rags is going for the big one later in the card but there is a whole host of graded acti0n too!
The signature card on the racing calendar at Gulfstream Park is Florida Derby Day. The 13-race program features six graded stakes races worth a total of $1.8 million.
The Grade 3 Rampart, which is 1 1/8 miles on dirt, is a compact contest that features the second start of the season of Awesome Maria, who soundly defeated Royal Delta in the Grade 3 Sabin on February 25. The daughter of Maria’s Mon is gunning for her sixth consecutive graded tally. Royal Delta, of course, races for the winner’s share of the $10 million Dubai World Cup today.
Nine older males will face off on the dirt in the 1 3/16ths Grade 3 Skip Away. Lukewarm morning line choice is Todd Pletcher trainee Alma d’Oro, but the six-year-old hasn’t won a stakes race since July at Delaware Park. He was third in the Mineshaft at the Fair Grounds on February 25. Where’s Sterling faces easier after running fourth in the Grade 1 Donn, in which he was defeated 3 1/2 lengths. He’s an off-the-pace type that drew inside. Fort Larned, under Julien Leparoux, is worth a second look off his effort in the Challenger at Tampa Bay Downs, where he earned a decent speed figure. He’ll be forwardly placed in a field with no clear-cut pacesetter. Chad Brown trainee Self Control is lightly-raced son of Lemon Drop Kid who tries deeper waters after an easy-win over first-level allowance types. Overall pretty wide-open contest, so price shopping is best strategy.
The Grade 3 Appleton attracted eight runners to the Gulfstream turf for a $100,000 purse. The one-mile event marks the return of Brilliant Speed, who was third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. He nearly won last winter’s Dania Beach at Gulfstream at the same distance. Certainly his best results have come at longer trips. Upset chance goes to El Commodore who nearly wired Grade 3 Tampa Bay, where speed hasn’t exactky excelled going long. The Gulfstream surface will be more kind to his style. The Appleton will certainly determine if the future is now for impressive allowance winner Corporate Jungle, a son of Giant’s Causeway. The Chad Brown pupil may be ready for this test. Another four-year-old that might be sitting on a top performance is Street Game, a chestnut son of Street Cry. He won a second-level allowance by a nose on February 5, but probably had no business doing so. It was his first race since August and Ryan Curatolo had him second last into the first turn almost four back of a 24 4/5 quarter. The Philip Serpe trainee closed strongly and held on for the impressive score. He’s been given eight weeks to prepare for the Appleton. He breezed six furlongs in 1:11 3/5 on March 15.
Three-year-old fillies are in the spotlight in the $300,000 Gulfstream Oaks at 1 1/8 miles on dirt. Grace Hall and undefeated Zo Impressive will take the majority of wagering support. Grace Hall finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, three lengths behind My Miss Aurelia. The Empire Maker filly commenced her 2012 campaign in the Davona Dale, in which she was a disappointing second to 64-1 shot Yara, who is back to spring a second surprise. Despite the loss Grace Hall earned a speed figure higher than Spinaway victory, which was her fastest effort at age two. Live Oak homebred Zo Impressive makes her first career stakes attempt. The Hard Spun filly broke her maiden by more than six lengths on January 22 and returned on February 25 to triumph at one mile. Even though, she also makes her two-turn debut in the Oaks, she could be any kind and is one to respect. Captivating Less owns a late-developing pedigree, which means she could move forward in a serious manner at any time. The A.P. Indy filly was third in the Davona Dale, which was her first start of the year.
The $1 million Florida Derby boils down to a question of how talented is Union Rags at this stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby. He was very impressive in his comeback effort, the Fountain Of Youth Stakes, which he won with something left in the tank it would seem. He didn’t earn a huge speed figure, but since he won the event so easily, it may not matter. Almost every casual speed figure analyst is projecting a serious forward move for Union Rags in his second start of 2012. Provided another three-year-old isn’t sitting on a career race, Union Rags figures to be the horse to beat at a short price. El Padrino, recent second in the Louisiana Derby, has strung a pair of top-notch efforts together. Does he have a third such performance left? And if he does, will it be enough to hold off Union Rags? Big questions considering he’ll be less than 5-2 on the board. Perhaps a sneakier exotics strategy is to use Fort Loudon or Neck ‘n Neck under Union Rags in exactors and triactors.
Finally, the 1 1/2-mile Orchid, a Grade 3 turf event, is headed by Keertana, recent second in Very One, and Hit It Rich, who won the Long Island Handicap at the same distance last November. Many will also consider the undefeated Aqsaam, who makes her stakes debut.
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A pair of Grade 2 events highlight Sunday’s Santa Anita racing card. But it is the 1 1/8-mile Santa Ana that is by far the best betting contest of the two events (the other being the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey).
For older fillies and mares, the $150,000 turf event has lured a wide-open field of 11. The group is so evenly-matched that the five of the 11 received early quotes between 7-2 and 9-2.
The filly coming off the most successful 2011 in the Santa Ana is Irish-bred Cambina, who shared the top step of the podium in the Grade 1 American Oaks last July. Last Winter at Santa Anita, the daughter of Hawk Wing won the G3 La Habra and the G2 Providencia. Since the American Oaks, the stretch-running Jeff Bonde trainee has failed to finish in the top three in four consecutive starts. Most recently, she closed with a full head of steam to be fifth in the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap, which was won by City to City, who is also present in the Santa Ana field. The one mile distance of the Buena Vista may have proven to be too short for Cambina, though she couldn’t have asked for a better pace scenario with the half-mile in a spiffy :45 3/5.
The speedy pace of the Buena Vista cost the British-bred mare Strawberrydaiquiri, who enters the Santa Ana in search of her first group win since the 2010 Windsor Forest Stakes at Ascot while racing out of the yard of Sir Michael Stoute. Strawberrydaiquiri was within four lengths of the hot Buena Vista pace, rallied and led turning for home, but tired late, defeated just one length in her first start since last year’s E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine. The Dansili mare finished third in the G1 Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket. With the pacesetters from the Buena Vista absent Sunday, an easier tempo is in the forecast.
The aforementioned City to City, a City Zip mare trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and Buena Vista third-place finisher Wild Mia, were both beneficiaries of a pace meltdown. The back half of the event was a pedestrian :48 2/5, allowing both mares to make up significant ground. Wild Mia has showed less of a tendency to lay closer in most of her races of late and is at her best making the one run. City to City appears slightly more versatile if the pace slows down to a crawl, but it is still unlikely to find her in front four positions early. She drew post 11.
Camelia Rose is another recent European import to Southern California. Her second-place finish at 1 1/8 miles in her US debut on March 1 earned a decent speed figure. She rated just off a slow pace and quickened nicely despite lacking room turning for home. The Oratorio filly was fifth in a Group 3 at Deauville last July. Conditioned by Simon Callaghan, it will be interesting to see in which direction she goes in start No. 2.
Eric Kruljac trainee Bauble Queen last competed on New Year’s Day, which was a notable race for the four-year-old Arch filly. The Jan. 1 event, the Robert J Frankel at Santa Anita, was her first ever stakes score. The Kentucky-bred earned it in style, closing determinedly from next-to-last position after a moderate :49 1/5 pace. The lighly-raced filly completed her final three furlongs in :34 2/5. The absence is a question mark, but if she moves forward she may get a major piece of the purse.
Another interesting longshot is Peter Eurton trainee Hard to Resist, a daughter of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hero Johannesberg. She stretches out to a distance at which she has been successful in the past. Last Spring, she was only three or four lengths behind Cambrina on two different occasions. She arguably turned the corner in the Summer. If she’s improved anymore since Del Mar, she may fit with this group. The one knock is that she owns the same deep-closing style that many of these tend to use regularily.
The pick in the Santa Ana is Strawberrydaiquiri. She looks poised to control the pace, which should help her stay the full nine-furlong trip. Second billing goes to Camelia Rose, who is a bit of a wildcard but should also be making a move well in advance of the cavalry charge of closers. Bauble Queen is good enough to be third and Hard to Resist could sneak into the fourth slot.
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Santa Anita Tips
It wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day weekend with another edition of the Irish O’Brien from Santa Anita (R4). While the event is for California-bred or California sired fillies and mares, there are 1 million reasons to watch the turf sprint (about 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill). That’s because 14-time winner Unzip Me, who drew post one, is currently sitting at $959,228. A victory in the $100,000 event would graduate her into the seven-figure plateau in career earnings. The six-year-old daughter of City Zip enters the race off a half-length win over the same distance, course and class on January 29. Unzip Me, a pupil of Martin Jones, is equally adept on the lead or closing from mid-pack. The chestnut will be partnered with Mike Smith after 11 races straight with Rafael Bejarano in the tack. She is out of Escape With Me, who is a daughter of Arazi. Unzip Me will be the prohibitive favorite in the field of eight. The second-choice in the wagering may be Jerry Hollendorfer filly Halo Dolly. She’s 8-for-15 lifetime with most of her tallies coming around two turns. The daughter of Popular won five straight races last Summer at four different racetracks, including Del Mar and Golden Gate. She may find the trip a touch short so the call for the bottom of the exactor goes to four-year-old filly Secret Cove under a more patient ride than last time from new partner Joe Talamo. The daughter of Tribal Rule was up near a hot pace in a stakes event on February 25 and faded to finish fourth. She appears to have come out of the race none the worse for wear if her :46 2/5 work on March 11 is any indication.
The feature of Saturday’s card at Santa Anita is the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational, which is worth $300,000, for older fillies and mares. The field lured just six entrants, all of whom are gunning for their first career grade one. The logical favorite is Bob Baffert trainee Ellafitz, a five-year-old mare who has led from gate to wire in three straight events at a distance of a mile or further. Her most recent conquest was the Grade 2 Santa Maria, in which she prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths. Very few in this field have her brilliance early so she figures to have pace advantage again. The one knock is that she didn’t put the same exclamation point on her most recent victory as she did in her two previous. At the Santa Margarita’s nine-furlong distance she may be ripe to get tagged in the last eighth of a mile. This corner of the Tavern is calling another Baffert trainee for the victory. Her name is Awesomemundo and, yes, she managed to race as awesomely as her name is to say aloud on February 19. She destroyed a second-level allowance field, coasting home 7 1/2 lengths in front in a sterling time of 1:41 4/5. The effort, which was her first since August 7, was three ticks faster than Ellafitz had raced one day earlier over an equally fast surface. The Awesome Again has drilled six-furlongs on two occasions since and should be sitting on her career best performance in her first career stakes try. Mike Smith takes over for Martin Garcia, who stays with Ellafitz. The other major contender in the Santa Margarita is Ron Ellis trainee Include Me Out, a four-year-old filly that captured the La Canada last time out.
Gulfstream Park Tips
Meanwhile, on the East Coast, the theme of the day is also older fillies and mares in the Grade 2 Inside Information Stakes (R10). The seven-furlong sprint has attracted the interest of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint upsetter Musical Romance. The Bill Kaplan trainee was soundly defeated in her 2012 debut, the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint, which ran her record to zero-for-5 over the Gulfstream surface. The five-year-old daughter of Concorde’s Tune will get another chance to snap that streak on Saturday. She’s hooked a talented group that includes Maryland invader Magical Feeling (11-for-19) who won the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie on February 19 at Laurel Park. The top three finishers in last month’s Hurricane Bertie Stakes at Gulfstream, R Holiday Mood, Funny Sunny and Grade 1 Prioress heroine Her Smile, are also entered. Absence of a great deal of early speed may play into the hand of Groupie Doll, who is turning back from a 1 1/16-mile stakes try in which she couldn’t stay with runaway winner Awesome Maria, who was eight lengths best. Two starts ago, in a one-turn, one-mile allowance she was a game second to the classy male Boys at Toscanova. A repeat of this performance may make the grade, at a decent odds quote.
Fair Grounds Tips
While she’s not returning in a stakes race of any graded significance, it wouldn’t be right not to give some attention to the 2012 debut of Horse of the Year Havre de Grace. The daughter of Saint Liam faces four in the $150,000 New Orleans Ladies at 1 1/16 miles. She’s 1-5 in the morning line. It would take a career performance from Sterling Madame or Juanita to take down the champ.
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We welcome Adam Hickman to the Horse Racing Tavern, who has over 22 years experience in Canadian Thoroughbred Racing. He regularly contributes to Horse Racing Nation and has strong ties at Woodbine. Adam will be writing on all things horse racing from across the big pond, hopefully finding you a few winners along the way.
Adam kicks off at the Horse Racing Tavern with previews of the cards at Santa Anita and Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday evening, with some important prep races for the Kentucky Derby on the agenda.
This weekend features Kentucky Derby preps on east coast and west coast fronts in the United States. While Union Rags and Hansen have solidified their stature as key contenders for the 1 ¼ first jewel of the American Triple Crown, there are still plenty of positions in the starting gate waiting to be filled, especially in light of recent defections of such as Algorithms and Out of Bounds.
On Saturday, the Grade 2 San Felipe has lured a field of 10 sophomores. The 1 1/16-mile event is headlined by the third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Creative Cause and the Cash Call Futurity winner Liaison.
Creative Cause, a gray son of Giant’s Causeway, entered last fall’s Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs with a 3-for-4 record, including an impressive 3 ¼-length tally in the Norfolk at Santa Anita and at the same distance he’ll try Saturday. He tracked Hansen from third in the Breeders’ Cup and checked in one length behind. He kicked off his campaign to get back to Louisville with a close third to Drill in the San Vicente at seven furlongs. The quickly run event should have the Mike Harrington trainee sharp for his return to two-turn racing.
Liaison reeled off back-to-back scores in the Real Quiet and the Cash Call Futurity last year. The son of Indian Charlie’s return in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis on February 4 was anxiously anticipated. The result is best forgotten as he clipped heels in the stretch and unseated his jockey after a stalking trip behind rapid fractions. He was reportedly not injured in the spill and will race without blinkers for the first time in the San Felipe. The Bob Baffert trainee worked a half-mile in :47-flat on March 5, signalling his preparedness. Martin Garcia will take over for Rafael Bejarano.
Bejarano will partner the highly-regarded Bodemeister in the San Felipe. Also trained by Baffert, the Zayat Stables charge broke his maiden at a mile on February 11 by 9 ¼ lengths. The effort earned the son of Empire Maker a strong speed figure and he drew post two for his stakes debut. He worked six furlongs in 1:14-flat on February 26.
Empire Way is a second Mike Harrington pupil that is also worth a mention in the San Felipe. He drew post 10, but that shouldn’t bother him because of his sustained style. In his final start of 2011, he finished a belated fifth in the Cash Call Futurity. He appears to have turned the corner this year, having finished second to I’ll Have Another in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis. The usual speedy nature of the Santa Anita surface may work against him, but closers have managed to succeed of late, as last weekend’s Santa Anita Handicap showed.
Tampa Bay Downs
Meanwhile on the East Coast, all eyes will be on Tampa Bay Downs, where the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby has attracted an interesting group of 12. The top two finishers from the local prep for the event, the Grade 3 Sam Davis Stakes, will also compete in the Tampa Bay Derby at 1 1/16 miles.
Battle Hardened actually broke his maiden in the Sam Davis. Under Julien Leparoux, the son of Giant’s Causeway converted a perfect ground-saving trip into a 1 ¼-length victory over Prospective, who endured a very wide trip in the 1 1/16-mile event. Trained by Mark Casse, Prospective ran several feet further than the winner according to Trakus statistics and arguably may have been the more impressive performer on that day, despite being excluded from many Top 20 lists of Kentucky Derby contenders. Prospective, who won the Grade 3 Grey at Woodbine last fall, drew the rail post, which may lessen the likelihood of a wide journey.
The most anticipated horse in the Tampa Bay Derby is Spring Hill Farm, a Todd Pletcher trainee who enters with a perfect 2-for-2 record. Both wins took place in wire to wire fashion at Gulfstream Park. The son of Smart Strike drew post nine for his stakes debut.
Another shipper from South Florida who hopes to make some noise on the Gulf coast is Take Charge Indy, who is by A.P. Indy. The Patrick Byrne trainee hasn’t run since January 29, but he turned quite a few heads in this event finishing two lengths behind Padrino, who went on to win the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. Take Charge Indy was almost 14 lengths clear of the third-place finisher in the 1 1/16-mile event. Byrne’s given him plenty of time to recover from what was easily the fastest performance of his career thus far. He drew post 10 and will be ridden by Calvin Borel.
The Tampa card also features the Grade 3 Hillsborough at 1 1/8 miles on the turf for fillies and mares, which has attracted Grade 1 Diana winner Zagora, who seeks her third win in four starts.
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