Monthly Archives: February 2014

Coming Up Roses

With a mere 70 days until the Kentucky Derby, thoughts are turning toward the 20 three year olds who will make up the all-star cast on the first Saturday in May.  Two stakes races on Saturday, February 22, have the biggest Derby points thus far going towards the winners – the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.  The winners of each race will receive 50 points towards getting in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

Trainers have shipped in some of the best equine pilots from Santa Anita to take mounts at Fair Grounds, and we anxiously wait to see if a star will emerge from the shadow of big name runners like Top Billing and Ria Antonia.  Could it be Medal Count, Intense Holiday, Rise Up, Almost Famous or General a Rod? We shall see in a few short hours.

Gulfstream:

Fountain of Youth (Gr. II) 3 year olds:  I’m a huge fan of Joel Rosario but he better not ride Top Billing the way he did Strong Mandate, or we’re gonna have a problem.  If Top Billing gets a bad trip, I think Commissioner will come up and steal it.  I’m curious to see Almost Famous run, but don’t like the jockey on this colt.  After Luis Saez lost the Donn Handicap to Lea, I’m wondering if he’s ready.  If he can ride Wildcat Red with confidence, I’m willing to put Wildcat Red on my Derby list.  It’s a bold statement, I know.  Javier Castellano is certainly ready for a trip to Churchill Downs and he’s on General a Rod for Mike Maker.

Davona Dale (Gr. II) 3year old:  Todd Pletcher has two, Stopcharginmaria and Onlyforyou, and they’re both good, but Catalano’s Aurelia’s Belle could be the spoiler.  I’ll take Javier Castellano on the Pletcher horse Onlyforyou, which I’ve gone to before.  The Darley Stables’ owned Penwith is the McLaughlin runner and I’ll take her too.

Canadian Turf (Gr. III) non-3s:  I really like Reload in this one, Castellano again, this time for Shug McGaughey.  However, Joel Rosario is on two good ones at Gulfstream, Top Billing in the Fountain of Youth, and the entry here, Bad Debt, for Trombetta. I’m torn for the show spot with Unbridled Ocean and Joha.

Fair Grounds:

Rachel Alexander (Gr. III) 3 year olds:  Streaming.  It’s Steaming.  Good pedigree on this horse (Smart Strike – Teeming, by Storm Cat), and good past perfs.  Three for three in career starts at hitting the board, two of them in Grade I company, including a win in the Hollywood Starlet and second in the Las Virgenes.  Martin Garcia keeps the mount for Bob Baffert.

Got Lucky is also 3/3 in career starts including a win in the Demoiselle (Gr. II) at Aqueduct.  She has the pedigree – daughter of A.P. Indy, and the connections, Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, and trainer Todd Pletcher.

Of course Ria Antonia’s “win” in the Breeders’ Cup brings the most attention to this filly.  Regardless of the infamous bump, she is still a decent runner and deserves respect.  She gets the gutsy Joe Talamo this time around.  Her usually pilot, Castellano, is in Gulfstream.  Talamo is a different kind of rider, not afraid to take risks down the stretch.  I’m anxious to see how it plays out.

Risen Star (Grade II) 3 year olds:  It sure got interesting with the scratch of Bond Holder.  I’m looking for horses to dominate.  I have not completed my Derby list.  I’m waiting to see if a horse in this race steps up. I know the focus is on Vicar’s in Trouble, Intense Holiday, and Gold Hawk, but I’m watching two others:  Rise Up and Son of a Preacher.  As they say in racing, a horse could “come out of the clouds” and win, and in this case take the Derby points too.  I’m hoping the Amoss colt can Rise Up and do just that!

Of note – Non-Three Year Old Stakes Races:

Bayou Handicap:  Oh, geez, there’s that horse Eden Prairie again!  The filly sticks with regular rider Rosie Napravnik for the one and one sixteenth at Fair Grounds.  She runs well here with two recent non-graded stakes wins in the Pago Hop and Krantz Memorial. This could be another winner for Eden Prairie.  The spoiler could be Starstruck.  Has respectable finishes against tougher company in graded stakes races.  Most recently finishing third in the Krantz Memorial.  Class Included is the oldest mare in the race, and definitely has experience on her side.  In her entire career, the worst she has ever finished was 7th in 2012.  Definitely has the class and experience to win this one.   Joe Talamo gets the mount on the Ramseys’ horse, Awesome Flower, for Mike Maker.  Awesome Flower is the daughter of Flower Alley and Formalities Aside, by Awesome Again, but does not do well in graded company.  She won the Lady Canterbury at Canterbury Park in July 2013, and has only one non-graded win since then.  But, with these connections and Talamo on board, anything can happen.

Mineshaft (Gr. III):  Corey Nakatani came to win on Prayer for Relief. Period.  Micromanage is a good horse too, with Mike Smith aboard, but Mike isn’t really putting forth his best effort on the track lately.  He looks like a jockey who’s just going through the motions.  I like the #4 in here, Ground Transport, son of Big Brown.  Runs well at Fair Grounds – no less than a second place finish in recent starts there.  He’s entered in the Fair Grounds Handicap (Gr. III) as well, but with tougher company:  Daddy Nose Best, Gentleman’s Kitten, Potomac River and Skyring will make the Fair Grounds ‘cap a good race.

I look at pedigree as a guide when selecting horses.  In the Bayou, Street of Gold looks good with the pedigree – daughter of Street Sense – Harriett Lane by Giant’s Causeway, but is not producing.  The same is true for Afford in the Mineshaft.  Ironically, Afford is the son of Street Sense – Unaffordable by Unbridled.  Both are the offspring of Street Sense, and both ridden by Brian Hernandez.  It’s irony, that’s all I’m saying.

JOCKEY FEATURE: LUIS SAEZ

When you think of the best jockeys in the country, who comes to mind first?  Stevens, Smith, maybe Castellano, Rosario or Bejarano?  The media coverage of the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup helped elevate Smith, Rosario and Stevens to be recognized by even fair-weather race fans.  Stevens’ epic wins on Oxbow and Mucho Macho Man; Rosario’s Kentucky Derby win on Orb; and Smith’s amazing Breeders’ Cup success and, of course, on Palace Malice.  It might take the average fan a while to recognize Eclipse-winning jockey Castellano’s name, but only needs to be reminded of the infamous nudge in the Breeders’ Cup and his win by DQ on Ria Antonia before you get see the recollection set in.  Bejarano has been dominating the southern California racing circuit for years, winning riding titles like they were gifts, and of course riding Goldenscents to victory in the Breeders’ Cup.

Will Take Charge
Will Take Charge

For many race fans, it’s the name of the horse that sticks with them, not necessarily its equine pilot.  You remember Will Take Charge.  The power horse, trained by the incomparable D. Wayne Lukas.  Will Take Charge was freakishly good in 2013 winning the Travers, the Clark, the Pennsylvania Derby and missed winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic by literally the hair on his chin to Mucho Macho Man in one of the most thrilling Classics yet.

A young jockey by the name of Luis Saez has rode Will Take Charge in every victory, and will guide him again in Saturday’s Donn (Gr. 1) at Gulfstream Park, his home track.  Saez is an accomplished rider in his own right.  At 21-years of age, he has won 25 graded stakes races. Most recently, he won the Awesome Feather aboard Munnings Sister at Gulfstream on Feb. 6.  He finished 9th in the earnings standings and 36th for wins in 2013.  Saez, ironically, has also accumulated quite a list of second place finishes, but people barely remember the place finishers let alone the jockeys.  Saez not only finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he also finished second in the Filly and Mare Sprint aboard Judy the Beauty.

Cairo Prince
Cairo Prince

If you only remember the name Luis Saez from piloting Will Take Charge, you’re about to hear his name a lot more in the months leading up to the Kentucky Derby.  Saez will take get the mount on not only a Derby contender, but the possible Derby winner, Cairo Prince.  Saez has been blessed to have ridden Cairo Prince to victories in the Nashua Stakes and the Holy Bull.  Cairo Prince has only one second place finish of his career and that was to Honor Code in the 2013 Remsens Stakes at Aqueduct.  The jockey?  Luis Saez.

Luis Saez
Luis Saez

The Panamanian jockey honed his skills at the Pincay School in Panama City.  He arrived in the United States in 2009 at the age of 17 and quickly set up shop in Florida, winning the riding title at Calder in 2011 and 2012 and received an Eclipse apprentice nomination in 2009.  Saez’s graduating class contains an impressive list of riders such as Abel Lezcano and Ricardo Santana, Jr.  Santana (no surprise) was the leading apprentice jockey at the school.  He is currently riding at Oaklawn.  Abel Lezcano is riding at Aqueduct.  The Pincay School has produced successful riders like Eddie Castro, Jose Lezcano, Gabriel Saez (a cousin to Luis) and Elvis Trujillo.  Veteran riders such as Alex Solis, Martin Pedroza and Cornelio Velasquez (all of whom are still riding) are graduates of the school.

Luis Saez and D. Wayne Lukas
Luis Saez and D. Wayne Lukas

If you do an internet search for Luis Saez you will need to scroll down a few pages to get past the media overload regarding an alleged incident involving Will Take Charge and Moreno in the Travers.  The trainer of Moreno accused Saez of using a shocking device on Will Take Charge, advancing the horse rapidly to the lead and defeating Moreno.  The New York Gaming Commission reviewed the incident and cleared Saez of any violations and called the allegation “unsubstantiated.”  The young jockey was shaken by the accusations and emphatically denied that he had done nothing wrong.  D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame Trainer of Will Take Charge, stood by Saez’s side during the investigation.  Lukas never gave up on Saez and continues to give him the Will Take Charge mounts.

Saez is quickly moving up the jockey standings at Gulfstream, currently in third behind Castellano and Paco Lopez.  He has 10 mounts in Saturday’s 12 race card at Gulfstream and 8 mounts on Sunday including Will Take Charge in the Donn.  Joel Rosario is riding Lea in the Donn, a horse that Saez rode and won with in the Hal’s Hope Stakes in January 2014.  The victory gave Saez his 1,000th win of what looks to be a very promising career.

Transitioning from the Terrible Twos

Every two-year old racehorse becomes a three-year old, whether they like it or not.  They are part of a master agenda and occasionally test the boundaries and push the buttons of those in charge of their destiny.  With so many three-year olds chasing after the ultimate prize (to be wearing a blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May), there needs to be strategic stakes races in place to decipher the posers from the legit contenders.

Aqueduct:

Withers (Grade III):  This is a points-earning (10) race to qualify for the 2014 Kentucky Derby.  I like @racing_dudes (www.racingdudes.com) picks in this one, #5 Samraat, ridden by Jose Ortiz.  This horse is 3-for-3 and loves the speed.  The #1 Uncle Sigh is 9/5 on the early ML and takes a jump in class here.  I’ll take #4 Classic Giancnroll to fill it.  I agree with the Dudes, 5, 1, 4.

Busher Stakes:  Non-graded points-earning qualifier for the 2014 Kentucky Oaks.  The winner gets 10 points here too.  I’m gonna make it two for Jose Ortiz, who’s on the filly #2 Fierce Boots for Todd Pletcher, owned by Bobby Flay.  Pletcher saddles another one, #8 My Jimmy Chew Girl but is 20/1, obvious money going to the rider/trainer/owner connection on #2 Fierce Boots.  The early favorites in this race are the #9 Vero Amore and the Darley Stable owned #5 Ballylee trained by Albertrani and ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr.  I’m taking the Ortiz brothers 1 and 2; good mounts on a home track where they dominate.

Gulfstream:

Hutcheson (Grade III):  One of my horses to watch in 2014 is entered in the Hutcheson at Gulfstream, #3 Mighty Brown, trained by Tim Ice, and ridden here by Joe Bravo.  The pedigree is so good on this horse, but unfortunately for Mighty Brown, this is a deep field.  Pletcher again saddles two, #10 Vinceremos and #8 Trail Blaze with the brilliant Joel Rosario in the irons.  John Velazquez is on #7 Long on Value for Bill Mott, and Eclipse winner, Javier Castellano, rides for Garoffalo on #5 Wildcat Red, a serious contender, and the favorite behind Trail Blaze.  I’d do an exacta box with the #8 and #5, and not count out #4 C. Zee or #6 Gambler’s Ghost, although I’m hoping to see Mighty Brown crossing the wire in 4th or 5th.

Santa Anita:

Las Virgenes (Grade I):  A field of three-year old fillies going a mile at Santa Anita for the $300,000 purse.  Hollendorfer has two good ones here:  #7 Taste Like Candy with Bejarano for Bad Boy Racing, and #4 Artemis with Eclipse-deserving rider Mike Smith.  Artemis is good at this distance and so is Mike.  Harty puts Nakatani on #3 Arethusa and Espinoza on #6 Sushi Empire.  However, Baffert brings in the much-anticipated favorite, #8 Streaming with Martin Garcia getting the call.  Another one of my horses to watch in 2014 is entered in this race, #2 Fashion Plate.  This time Gary Stevens gets the leg up as Bejarano, her usual jockey, is on #7 Taste Like Candy for Hollendorfer.  I like Fashion Plate, a lot, but Streaming is too good.  8, 4, 2.

Arcadia (Grade II).  This one is not for three-year olds, but wanted to mention the Super Jockey Kent Desormeaux makes his return to Arcadia, California and is aboard Unbridled’s Note for Asmussen here.

Oaklawn

Martha Washington:  This non-graded stakes race is also a points-earning qualifier for the 2014 Kentucky Oaks.  (Three-year old fillies going a mile.) There are some good ones here, and hard to call, starting with #5 Ireland, owned by Calumet Farm, trained by D. Wayne Lukas.  Israel Ocampo gets the mount (Minnesota connection).  This is the Hall of Fame trainer’s only entry and Ireland  is 4/1 in the early ML.  Asmussen, on the other hand, entered two, and they are both favored:  #7 Street Story (Ricardo Santana, Jr. is Asmussen’s go-to jockey at Oaklawn), and #1 Euphrosyne, ridden by Channing Hill.  #4 Kiss Moon and #8 Cheerful Contender both landed in the mid-level betting lines, but are good enough to keep it interesting.  Allen Milligan saddles two here as well, #2 Racing Holiday, ridden by Alex Canchari (Minnesota connection) and #10 Redgrass Cat.  The field is stacked, but I think this comes down to #5 Ireland and #7 Street Story, with Street Story getting the points.