Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Super and Surreal Saturday

Gulfstream Park highlighted the most talked about stakes race of the week, the Holy Bull.  Whenever you get potential Derby runners in a stakes race, the anticipation of the emergence of a super horse is palpable.  The Holy Bull provided just that.  A super horse did indeed emerge.  With cockiness, confidence, and a “bully on the block” attitude in the form of Cairo Prince, whose broodmare sire is the namesake of this race, rose to the top of the 2014 earnings category.

Cairo Prince
Cairo Prince

As impressive as he was, there was another horse in a non-stakes race at Gulfstream that caught everyone’s attention.  In Race 4, a contender ran forth to push the “bully” back a few steps: Top Billing.  With the brilliant Joel Rosario aboard, Top Billing was strong and matter-of-fact about his win.  These two are a team to be reckoned with, and made their mark on this Saturday.  A super jockey and a super horse, a combination better than waffles and Nutella.

Joel Rosario on Top Billing
Joel Rosario on Top Billing

But the Super Saturday didn’t end there ….

Santa Anita brings a bit of the surreal to this day.  It was California Cup at Santa Anita which boasted six stakes races on a 10-race card.  In Race 10, the California Cup Derby, the busiest riders were the outriders.  California Chrome ridden by Victor Espinoza won the $250,000 race in star fashion over heavy favored Tamarando, certainly garnering some attention.  However, three horses didn’t finish the race.  Around the last turn, Gary Stevens pulled up Aotearoa and was led off the track by an outrider.  Then in deep stretch, Electric Eddie, ridden by Mario Gutierrez, broke down and tossed Gutierrez.  With a serious injury to his front left leg, Electric Eddie veered into the #1 horse, Oh Billy Billy, ridden by Martin Garcia, trained by Bob Baffert, and knocked them into the rail, dismounting Garcia.  Oh Billy Billy crossed the finish line without a rider, as did Electric Eddie but with a visible limp.  The horse was vanned off the track.  Garcia and Gutierrez were taken to the jock’s room for evaluation.

As reported by TVG through Twitter, veteran jockey Patrick Valenzuela pulled a Garrett Gomez and didn’t show up at Santa Anita for two days.  He allegedly sent a text to his agent saying he was “done riding.”  Enter Kent Desormeaux.

Kent Desormeaux
Kent Desormeaux

Kent Desormeaux, who has been racing mostly on the east coast and in Florida, injected himself into the Santa Anita jockey colony on Saturday like a bolt of lightning.  Everything Desormeaux did on Saturday was on point.  The only thing missing was his red cape.  Today at Santa Anita there is a carryover of over $430,000.  You can thank Desormeaux for that.  You can also thank him for the surreal (and unconscionable) payouts in the $200,000 California Cup Oaks.  On a genius ride, he flew by favorites Swiss Lake Yodeler, Princess Geneviev and Rovenna to bring in a very long-shot Susans Express, trained by Jorge Periban (ever heard of him?) for a $132.40 win.  Anniversary Kitty, Rovenna and Harlington’s Rose rounded out the superfecta which paid …. $1,235,437.40 on a one dollar wager.  Yep, it’s an actual payout.  This just shouldn’t happen like this.  No “proper” handicapper would ever put these four horses in a super!  But indeed, Desormeaux brought in the most unlikely of winners, and the “Super Superfecta” was born.  Unfortunately for the horses, they will forever be overshadowed by that number.  In a week or two, we probably won’t even remember their names.

As for the rest of the Cal Cup, the much-hyped Teddy’s Promise, trained by Ron Ellis, finished what I’m sure for all the connections was a disappointing third in the Grade 2 Santa Monica.   Scherzinger did get the win over Iotapa and Teddy’s Promise with Heir Kitty filling the superfecta (which paid $144 … ho hum).

Unusual Hottie was also disappointing in the $125,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint.  She finished fourth behind Tribal Spy and Marks Mike.  The winner of the race was Ciao Bella Luna guided by The Super Jockey Kent Desormeaux, who won his first stakes race since 2009 on the daughter of Shadow of the Moon and Tribal Rule.  This was his first win of the day, only to be followed by the upset in the Cal Cup Oaks.

Another surreal event at Santa Anita, Joe Talamo actually does know where the Winner’s Circle is, and he found it twice.  He won a non-stakes, maiden special weight with Ron Ellis trained Sea John’s Spirit.  He also won the California Cup Turf Classic on an off-the-radar horse named Weewinnin, which paid $44.80 for the “winn.”   A skilled horseplayer could probably have picked this superfecta considering the jockeys on the top four finishers were Talamo, Espinoza, Stevens and Smith.  However, I had Summer Hit, ridden by Rafael Bejarano who had a “sidekick” kind of day.  Desormeaux was definitely Superman, but Superman didn’t have a sidekick, so it’s possible that on this day Bejarano was Robin, or maybe even Barnacle Boy.  Sorry, I’m a little upset with Bejarano since I was doing well with my picks until Summer Hit didn’t hit.  I failed to get my picks into for his handicapping contest which benefitted the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund but by this point in the card, I was glad I didn’t.  Due to the poor performances of Summer Hit and Cyclometer my chances of winning those nifty goggles signed by recently minted Eclipse Award-Winning apprentice jockey Victor Carrasco were crushed.  The apprentice jock notched another victory to his stellar record by winning the $100,000 Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel Park on Bold Curlin and finished third in the What a Summer on Vicki’s Dancer both run on Super Saturday.

I don’t want to even talk about what happened with Mike Smith and Cyclometer in the Valpredo Sprint, other than to say that Bejarano did win this on Big Macher and Desormeaux brought in Coach Bob for second.  Coach Bob?

A couple stakes races were taking place in Texas and Arkansas as well.  Julien Leparoux had a good day in Houston winning the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf aboard Admiral Kitten, trained by Mike Maker, and owned by the Ramseys. Admiral Kitten has 11 career starts and 10 finishes in the money, including winning the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington.

Down in Oaklawn, the non-graded $100,000 American Beauty Stakes was won by a horse that I probably should have put on my “Diamonds in the Rough” list – Apropos.  This was an amazing stretch run by Ricardo Santana, Jr. to squeeze through horses just before the wire, narrowly avoiding, I might add, inquiry by the stewards.  Apropos, a four-year old mare owned and bred by Clairborne Farms, whose broodmare sire is A.P. Indy, has nine career starts, five wins, two places and only one show.  I hope Santana keeps the mounts on Apropos.  He was very confident with this horse, more so then with any other he rode that day.

As you sit down to make your picks for the carryover at Santa Anita today, look to the Clocker’s Corner Stakes in Race 8.  Gutierrez and Garcia both have mounts in this race, so I’m happy to see they are cleared for riding after the nasty incident yesterday.  A few familiar names show up here, Boat Trip, Drill, Handsome Mike and El Commodore.  Talamo, coming off a great day, is on Boat Trip.  Martin Garcia, if truly healthy, is aboard Drill.  A couple notable three-year old races here as well.  In the 7th, Mike Smith gets a mount for Ron Ellis aboard Surfer Moon; Garcia gets the Baffert toddler, Superlooper.  Gary Stevens gets the post position on Chelios for Tom Proctor.

Race 6 has three-year old fillies and mares for six and half on the turf.  Baffert has #1 Morning Star with Garcia aboard.  Bejarano rides for Doug O’Neill on #7 Bird in Love and the super combination of Mike Smith and Mike Puype have #11 Pragmatical for Little Red Feather Racing.

Desormeaux has one on the card at Santa Anita – Race 4, and then back to Gulfstream on the 29th.  The Super Jockey flew in, took control and exits as fast as a speeding bullet.  It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  Nope, it’s just Kent Desormeaux.

Kent Desormeaux

What’s the Saturday Special? Stakes.


Gulfstream is Serving Surf and Turf

Florida Sunshine Millions Distaff:  $300,000, four year old fillies and mares going 1 1/8th.  Todd Pletcher has #1 Sweet N Discreet here with Joe Bravo in the irons. Paco Lopez gets the mount on #5 Sky Skier and I have to go with Eclipse nominee Joel Rosario on #4 Devil’s Cave, the current favorite.  The only thing that makes me nervous is that Jose Ortiz kid is on #2 Toasting for trainer Albertrani and West Point Thoroughbreds and could be the spoiler. (1, 5, 4 and maybe 2)

Florida Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf:  Proctor flies in Gary Stevens for a couple stakes mounts on Saturday.  His first is on #3 Wishing Gate in this race, and she’s a good one.  Pletcher also has #5 Silsita entered here with Eclipse nominee Javier Castellano in the irons.  I’ll fill the Trifecta with #1 Parranda.   NOTE:  #7 Millennia finished fourth in this race last year. (3, 5, 1)

Florida Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint:  Six furlongs for $150,000.  For me, there’s only one clear winner in this and that’s #4 Ullapool – Peach Tree Stables, Kenneally and Lezcano.  Pletcher has Sweet N Discreet listed in this one too, if she’s in I’ll take her, but if not I’m going with the #1 Salamera who has a win at Gulfstream, her only race and only win in 2013.  Castellano gets the ride … and your luck gets better.  From there, I’ll take #5 R Free Roll to fill the Trifecta. (4, 5, 1)

Florida Sunshine Millions Turf:  $150,000 on the turf for four year olds and up.  This is Stevens second stakes ride for Proctor on #10 Old Time Hockey.  He might get caught by Rosario on #7 Bad Debt.  Kenneally and Lezcano team up again on #5 Star Channel and should be in the pace.  I want to take the Sadler horse, #2 Spring Up, so I might take a Superfecta.  (7, 10, 5, 2).  Can I give a shout out to the #9 here?  Racing Aptitude… which we all should have.

Florida Sunshine Millions Sprint:  Six furlongs for $150,000 on the main track.  You can have some of the best jockeys in a race but the fact remains someone has to lose.  I’m sticking with Paco Lopez, Rosario and Luis Saez in the Sprint.  Paco has won on #3 Ribo Bobo and knows this horse well.  Rosario is a brilliant rider and has #7 Star Harbour in this one.  Luis Saez, who recently celebrated his 1,000th win, is on #8 Apriority, and I think Saez will make this stakes race a priority.  Hopefully, this is a good battle between these three. (7, 3, 8)

Florida Sunshine Millions Classic:  Oh that Mucho Macho Man loves the Classics!  Kathy Ritvo and Gary Stevens team up again to attempt to recreate the magic they had in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Going for the $400,000 a 1 1/8th on the main track shouldn’t have the nail biting finish that the Breeders’ Cup Classic had, but who knows!  Mike Maker has #5 Bernie the Maestro for the Ramseys (a rare non-Kitten) ridden by Rosario to give “The Man” a challenge.  After that, the rest of the field would have to sprout wings to beat MMM.  I hate the name of the #6 in this race, Gourmet Dinner, but this this lucky horse has the top jockey in the country on his back, Javier Castellano, who might be enjoying a gourmet dinner himself after picking up his Eclipse award later that night.  (4, 5, 6)


Santa Anita is Serving Black and Blue

The Megahertz:  A mile on the turf for $75,000.  Seven of the best trainers and jockeys in the business.  Santa Anita is tough.  However, Proctor, Mike Smith and a European horse bred for turf, yeah, I’m going with #1 Gulsary.  Has races all over California in 2013, four starts and three in the money, including a 3rd place finish in the Bobby Frankel Stakes in December at Santa Anita.  Gary Stevens usually rides Gulsary, but he’ll be in Florida for Surf and Turf.  Mike Smith certainly has a good record on the turf at Santa Anita so this should work out just fine for Mr. Proctor.  From there, I’ll take #2 Moone’s My Name with Bejarano in the irons.  I usually don’t give Bejarano second chances, but I will in this race.  This horse has excellent past performances and can do better.  The #4 Dancingtothestars has the loyal combination of O’Neill and Gutierrez but that’s about it.  There’s no argument that Gutierrez has been on a less-than-glorious journey since I’ll Have Another, but Mario is one of the most well-liked jockeys out there and I’m gonna keep giving him a chance as long as Mr. O’Neill does.  I looked at the Baffert horse #5 Lady Ten but this horse has two starts in 2013 and two fifth place finishes.  Can’t do it.  (1, 2, 4)

Oaklawn is Serving Razorback Ribeye

The Pippin:  $100,000, four year olds and up, fillies and mares, going 1 1/16th.  Asmussen and Casse each have runners in this race.  Ricardo Santana, Jr. rides #1 Sister Ginger for Asmussen and Eurico Rosa De Silva rides #6 Dixie Strike for Casse.  I’ll take them both.  All Kentucky bred except for Dixie Strike (ironic).  #3 Don’t Tell Sophia is the favorite in this race and Channing Hill gets the leg up. (3, 1, 6)

Fair Grounds is Serving Cajun 5 Ways

The Louisiana Handicap:  $100,000 for four year olds and up going 1 1/16th on the main track.  Asmussen has #4 Prayer for Relief for Zayat Stables in this one, ridden by Rosie Napravnik.  Greg Geier has two here and both are good, #1 Fordubai and #3 Street Spice.  Robby Albarado rides on Fordubai, but I’m going with Street Spice.  The #5 is Voodoo Storm, and being in Louisiana, I would guess this horse will get bet down on Saturday.  But I’ll go with the Thomas Amoss horse #6 Grand Contender to fill the board.  Grand Contender is listed twice on Saturday’s card but is bet 3/1 in this race.  If he scratches, I’ll take the #5.  (4, 3, 6)

The Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap (Gr. III):  $125,000 for four year olds and up going 1 1/16th on the main track.  Full field of 12.  Although, Agent Di Nozzo and Grand Contender are listed in the Louisiana as well.  Asmussen and Napravnik team up again for the #9 Daddy Nose Best.  Everyone will be watching this horse.  As noted above, European horses on turf … so #10 Speaking of Which is bet to 4/1.  Christophe Clement and Shaun Bridgmohan should have a good run with this horse.  #3 String King is also getting some play.  The Minnesota connection here is Alex Canchari who takes a break from Oaklawn to ride for Hugh Robertson at Fair Grounds.  He’s on the #2 Slip and Drive.  It seems like all these other random horses will just be in Daddy Nose Best’s way.  (9, 10, 3)  NOTE:  #8 Zenji is owned by Sheikh Abdullah Almaddah. 

The Marie G. Krantz Memorial:  Another full field for $75,000 for four year old fillies and mares and up going 1 1/16th on the turf.  Several Minnesota connections here.  Hugh Robertson teams up with Alex Canchari again on #9 Starry Eyed Kate, a horse Canchari has won on; Richard Scherer enters #8 Grandma’s Rules.  Unfortunately for both, the Ramseys have #11 Always Kitten trained by Mike Maker, ridden by Bridgmohan.  Calumet Farm has two entered here as well, #10 Channel Lady and #6 Starstruck (IRE).  Starstruck has impressive past perfs.  First race on U.S. soil was May 1, 2013 at Churchill Downs for a victory, and she never stopped after that, six starts and four in the money.  The other two were fourth place finishes.  #12 Eden Prairie ran in Minnesota and flopped.  However, she’s one of the favorites in this race and with seasoned rider Napravnik, I’ll try again.  Besides, my office is in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, so I’ll stick with the connection.  Since it’s a large field, my ticket’s a Superfecta.  Both #9 Starry Eyed Kate and #8 Grandma’s Rules are in the middle-range odds.  I’ll take the “Minnesota Kid” Canchari on #9 Starry Eyed Kate. (6, 11, 12, 9)

The Silverbulletday:  Three year old fillies for $125,000 non-graded stakes on the main track.  Whenever there’s a race between all three year olds, all eyes will be watching.  Speculation is this will be between #2 Unbridled Forever and #6 Divine Beauty, however, the current favorite is #4 Istanford.  Three starts in 2013 and all three in the money including a win at Fair Grounds on December 19.  I’m going with #4 Istanford over the #6 Divine Beauty.  I would really like to see the Vashchenko horse #3 Army at least to show, but is currently 20/1.  Such a strong, mighty name for a little filly.  I like it.  (4, 6, 2)

The LeComte (Gr. III):  More three year olds, this time the boys, in the $200,000 Grade III on the main track.  All eyes on #4 Gold Hawk with the team of Asmussen and Bridgmohan again and is a heavy favorite, and should be.  #6 Albano is a good horse.  In 2013, went 3-for-3 in the money.  #7 Vicar’s in Trouble is the Mike Maker horse, ridden by Napravnik, but this horse is 2-for-2 in the money and that just doesn’t seem “tested” enough for me but still a 9/2 favorite, so far.  Both #3 Got Shades and #5 Smarty’s Echo have more races under them, and could be considered the more experienced three years old in the race.  Got Shades was 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and has top 3 finishes in his other four races in 2013.  Smarty’s Echo has four races in 2013 and three top 3 finishes with his worst performance in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.  Smarty’s Echo cost me some points by finishing second in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity but I’m all about second chances today. (4, 6, 5)


Turf Paradise is Serving Potatoes on the Side

The Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile:  One mile on the turf in the desert for $75,000.  This little horseplayer learned her lesson about European horses on the turf after the 2013 Breeders’ Cup.  So, as fitting as it is, I’m going with the horse from Ireland #6 Tones.  Giovanni Franco (Minnesota connection) gets the mount and has been riding well this meet.  McFarlane brings two in this race and one is my favorite big boy Red Zeus at #2.  The son of Red Sky’s – Crimson Cricket, by Crimson Slew runs well in the heat.  This will be his first race in 2014 after ending 2013 with three stakes races at Turf Paradise, winning the Walter R. Cluer Memorial Stakes and Jack Coady, Sr. & Jeff Coady Stakes and a second place finish in the Luke Kruytbosch Stakes.  I’m swaying between #3 Fire with Fire, #9 Hammers Terror and #10 For Cash, but For Cash is ridden by another Minnesota rider Scott Stevens.  The current favorite is actually the other McFarlane horse, #1 Az Ridge, at 5/2.  NOTE:  Another Minnesota connection – Patrick Canchari is riding #4 Pastero for his dad, Luis Canchari.

Quick Pick: Turf Paradise 1/14/14


Turf Paradise
Turf Paradise

TUP 1/14/14: Race 7:

#3 Pork Chop:  California bred; 5G, ridden by Anne Von Rosen (Minnesota connection).  Best performance in 2013:  1st place finish at Turf Paradise on 12/17/13.  Current works 1/8 at 3F, should handle the 6F distance well in this race.  Currently, 7/2 ML.

#8 Silvanus:  Arizona horse, the other 5G.

#4 Dog:  Last work at 5F was 1:00.06 on dirt.  Last win was 12/28/13 at Turf Paradise.

4, 3, 8.  Mix em up, play how you want, but these are your Top 3 in Race 7.  Good luck!

Firmly in the Irons: Jockeys to Watch in 2014

Taylor B. Rice:  This Lady Bug is making it hard for us to ignore her.  In her first year of riding, she finished third for the riding title at Hawthorne.  She repeatedly impressed being part of several all-female trifectas at Hawthorne.  She started 2014 with 7 mounts, 3 win and 2 second place finishes at Aqueduct, where she is currently riding.  Proud of this little Lady Bug for taking on the challenge of Aqueduct, unfortunately the competition begins with the Ortiz brothers, who currently rule that track.  Which brings me to …

Jose Ortiz on Strong Mandate
Jose Ortiz on Strong Mandate

Jose Oritz:  How this kid didn’t get an Eclipse nom is beyond me.  He and his brother, Irad Ortiz, Jr., are currently the top jocks at Aqueduct.  Jose is a multiple stakes winning jockey winning the Grade 1 Hopeful on Derby contender Strong Mandate for D. Wayne Lukas.  Jose also rode two winners in Grade 2 stakes and two winners in Grade 3 stakes races in 2013.  He ranked 11th by earnings and 10th by wins.  In 2012, he was an off-the-radar 91st in earnings.  Jose started his year at the Big A with a second place in the Judy Soda stakes aboard Tahoe Tigress.  After picking up wins on Jan. 9 and 10, Jose surpassed his brother Irad as the leading rider at Aqueduct, but that could change at any minute.  The brothers are followed closely by Eclipse Apprentice nominee Manuel Franco.

Dylan Davis:  Since his riding career began in 2012, Dylan has gone from 90 starts to 881 in 2013.  He has accumulated careers starts of 1,001; 132 firsts, 115 seconds and 112 thirds.  Those are huge numbers for a young rider.  So far in 2014, he has 32 starts and has hit the board on 16.  Dylan raised his apprentice earnings from $65,000 to $2.7+ million in 2013.  To make it more impressive, he’s riding at Gulfstream, where the big boys go to ride.  This young rider is holding his own against the biggest names in racing, finding himself currently in fourth place, between Luis Saez and Jose Lezcano.  Dylan consistently rides for Wesley Ward, including a winner on Jan. 5 aboard Round Midnight.  He has upcoming mounts for Nick Zito, Tom Proctor and Todd Pletcher at Gulfstream.

Irving Orozco:  Talking about holding your own at a high-profile track! Irving is perfecting his riding skills by taking style tips from some of the best jockeys in the country at Santa Anita Park.  In 2013, he had 409 starts, 46 first, 40 seconds and 61 thirds.  So far in 2014 he has 22 starts at Santa Anita and has hit the board in 11 of them.  He started the year with five mounts on Jan. 5, and took two trips to the Winner’s Circle on Two Blue Hens and Italian Mirage.  He recently had mounts for Ron Ellis and Kristin Mulhall.  He raised his total earnings from $500,000+ in 2012 to $1.6+ in 2013.  Irving is narrowly behind Martin Garcia in fifth place for wins at Santa Anita.

Alex Canchari:  I have been following Alex Canchari’s career since he first put his toes in the irons.  He’s a Minnesota boy from Shakopee home of Canterbury Park.  This is an incredibly driven and focused young man.  He has remarkable vision on the track.  I’ve seen him squeeze a horse through a hole and catapult to victory more than once. Alex won the 2012 Fall riding title at Hawthorne, but was unable to repeat in 2013.  At Oaklawn in 2013, Alex got his first stakes win on Devil and a Half before arriving at Canterbury Park in the Spring of 2013.  His patient, yet explosive, riding style soon launched him into contention for the riding title at Canterbury.  After a suspension, Alex returned 12 back of leading rider Dean Butler, but a five-win card brought him within reach going into the last week of the meet.  He lost the title to Butler by 2 literally on the last day of the meet.  Alex won more stakes races at Canterbury than any other jockey during the 2013 Canterbury meet.  He rode nearly exclusively for Mac Robertson, Canterbury’s leading trainer, and picked up good mounts for Clay Brinson.  His stakes wins are impressive, in fact during the Festival of Champions, he won three.  He also swept the Princess Elaine and the Blair’s Cove.  He won the Northbound Pride Oaks on Stoupinator, the HPBA Distaff on Starry Eyed Kate, and took a trip to Canada and won the Manitoba Lotteries Derby on Assembly Hall for Bryan Porter.

Alex Canchari on Assembly Hall
Alex Canchari on Assembly Hall

He entered the 2014 Oaklawn meet on opening day with mounts for Allen Milligan and picked up a mount for Calumet Farms and D. Wayne Lukas, where he finished third on Chalybeate Springs.  On opening day, he had five mounts and was in the money on four of them, including a third place finish for Allen Mulligan in the Dixie Belle Stakes.  2014 will be Alex Canchari’s breakout year, but only if he skips Chicago and heads to the East Coast between the Canterbury and Oaklawn meets.

Looking Ahead: Finding a Diamond in the Rough

I recently heard the TVG boys give a list of horses to watch in 2014.  You can over-analyze, debate and make a case for many horses, no doubt.  And let’s admit it, you can’t call yourself a thoroughbred racing enthusiast, analyst, expert, handicapper, blogger (whatever), unless you do.  It’s part of our nature to pick a race apart – to look, look and look again.  I’ve compiled a short list of what I feel are horses that deserve a second (or third) look in 2014.

Mighty Brown:  Currently racing at Tampa Bay Downs.  Owned by Tri-Star Racing and trained by Tim Ice.  This horse has huge potential.  The breeding is there:  Big Brown and Mighty Martha by Chester House.  Started 2014 off with a win in the Pasco Stakes on Jan. 4 in Tampa Bay.  Finished second in the Jean Lafitte and Sunday Silence.  In 2013 had 8 starts and hit the board in 6 of them. In the Pasco the 3 yo went 7 furlongs in 1:24.17 and won by 3 ¼ lengths.

Shared Belief:  Okay, fine, I’m on the bandwagon.  Derby talk began months ago for this horse.  It is quite possible that we will see Shared Belief draped in roses in May.  Multiple stakes winner by Candy Ride and Common Hope by Storm Cat.  Ridden by Corey Nakatani and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Jungle Racing.  Shared Belief had three starts in 2013 and three victories, including two stakes races, the CashCall Futurity (Gr. 1) and the Hollywood Prevue (Gr. 3).  Huge potential but needs to be tested and needs to stay healthy to make it to Kentucky in the spring.

Awesome Baby:  I like this horse.  Bred by Awesome Again and Miss Attractive by Running Stag, and with the ever-brilliant combination of Mike Smith and Bob Baffert.  Awesome Baby won the Santa Ynez (Gr. 2) on Jan .4, 2014, but in Grade 1 stakes (the Chandelier and the Del Mar Debutante) finished a disappointing 5th and 7th.  Will need to be tested again at the Gr. 1 level, but has huge potential in 2014.

Fashion Plate:  Momentum going into 2014.  On Dec. 29 finished with an impressive win at Santa Anita, and 3rd at Betfair Hollywood Park.  Rafael Bejarano rides for Simon Callaghan.  Bred by Old Fashioned and Miss Puzzle (AUS) by Citidancer (IRE).  Anxious to see where this horse is entered in stakes races in 2014 and what the preferred surface will be.

Red Zeus:  Not in the 3 yo race, but love this horse.  Foaled by Red Sky’s and Crimson Cricket by Crimson Slew.  Currently racing at Turf Paradise ridden by Kelly Bridges and trained by Dan L. McFarlane.  Multiple stakes winner including first place finishes in the Coady Stakes, the Walter Cluer Memorial, Gene Fleming Breeders’ Derby and the Arizona Stallion Stakes.  Has raced most of his career in Phoenix but did make a brief appearance at Canterbury Pak last summer and should’ve staying in the desert.  Race three races in prep for the Mystic Lake Derby, where he finished fourth, had one win and a disappointing sixth before he was shipped back to Turf Paradise.  In his career 19 starts, 12 have been in the money.  Has good stakes history.  In 2013, maybe McFarlane needs to take this horse west of Phoenix and see what happens.

A Storm Enters the Gulfstream

Joel Rosario
Joel Rosario

Joel Rosario does not like to finish second.  Rosario finished one win shy of the riding title at Santa Anita behind Rafael Bejarano.  He finished second in the overall jockey standings in 2013 behind Javier Castellano.  Don’t look for Rosario’s name on Santa Anita cards this meet however.  This shark has left Bejarano behind and has his eyes on a bigger fish.

Joel Rosario on Animal Kingdom
Joel Rosario on Animal Kingdom

Rosario has dropped tack in Hallandale Beach, Florida, the location of Gulfstream Park.  Currently, the leading jockey at Gulfstream is … Castellano.  Gulfstream draws the big names in riders, but Rosario is one of them, and not easily intimidated by the other names on the lockers:  Castellano, Paco Lopez; Luis Saez; Jose Lezcano, to name a few.  From the first day in 2014, it was obvious that Rosario intends to be the Alpha Shark in Florida.  On January 1, 2014, Rosario had six mounts; all six were in the money and he crossed the wire first in four of them.  He also won the Voodoo Dancer Stakes on Tapicat for Bill Mott.  Rosario is not messing around.

As mentioned above, some of the best riders head to Florida for the winter meet.  One name that is not recognizable to most is Paco Lopez.  I am going to lobby until my fingertips wear the letters off the keyboard for Paco Lopez to get more recognition than he currently garners.  Even though he is the second leading rider at Gulfstream and finished 9th in the overall 2013 standings for wins and 22nd in the overall earnings standings, if you bring up the name Paco Lopez you still get a quizzical look.

Even the occasional race fan is familiar with names like Stevens and Smith, due to their national television exposure, but if you mention Paco Lopez people would think you were talking about a bush league rider or (Gasp!) a quarter horse jockey, but never a multiple stakes winning thoroughbred jockey.   Even if you mention Paco’s name to so-called “experts,” you would rarely register a blink.  He consistently gets mounts and consistently finishes in the top 3 in 50% of those mounts.  If he’s in the race, he should be on a Tri or Super ticket.

Paco Lopez

Maybe Paco Lopez feels complacent.  He doesn’t seem to be complaining about finishing the year as one of the top 10 jockeys in the U.S. – even though no one noticed.  Maybe he likes to quietly go about his job without television cameras, interviews – or critics.  Maybe retaining his anonymity is the key ingredient to a masterful recipe for success.  Maybe in 2014, Paco will slowly, without pomp and circumstance, emerge at the top of the shark invested waters in Florida and take the title that Joel Rosario so obviously, desperately covets.