Monthly Archives: January 2015

Tampa Bay Downs: Royally Red

The Road to Kentucky continues on Saturday with a stop at Tampa Bay Downs. The parade of 3-year olds continues in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. The field of 12 will go the distance of one and one sixteenth miles for a purse of $250,000 and pick up a few Derby points in the process.

Let’s start with the rail, and my pick to win the Sam F. Davis, Catalina Red. This beautiful colt has five career starts and five times in the money. He also has two stakes wins to his credit and both were at Tampa Bay. In the Pasco Stakes on December 27, 2014, he sat in a perfect stalking position assessing the pace and caught X Y Jet at the wire after shaking loose. Catalina Red will get his regular pilot, Daniel Centeno, who is also Tampa Bay’s second leading rider and trained by one of the top Tampa trainers, Chad Stewart. Catalina Red was getting a little bit of attention after his win in the Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay, but then along came another Red, this one of the Texas kind. The only concern comes from the fact that Catalina Red’s the last two stakes races (and wins) were at shorter distances.

Next to Catalina Red is the “prince” of the bunch, Royal Son. The connections on Royal Son are blinding. How do you create a Kentucky Derby winner from scratch? You could just follow the Royal Son recipe. Let’s start with the pedigree – Tiznow and A.P. Indy, mix in the owners and breeder, WinStar Farms, then throw in a dash of the best trainer in the country, Todd Pletcher, and oh, yeah, put John Velazquez as the icing on top. Sounds like a recipe for Roses. Royal Son is a perfect three for three, but has never been up against stakes company of any kind.   He’s currently 8/1 on the morning line, but won’t be there at post time. With all the jewels in this Royal Son’s crown, he’ll probably go off as the even money favorite come post time.

I wouldn’t talk anyone off the 8 horse, G Five, Pletcher’s second entry. Pletcher gets horses with exceptional breeding. G Five is out of Harlan’s Holiday and Flashy Bull and is 4 out of 5 in the money lifetime starts but is coming off a third place finish. Maybe the help of jockey Rajiv Maragh will help get G Five to the Winner’s Circle.

I cannot overlook the number 9 horse, My Johnny Be Good. This horse has four starts and four times on the board. He also had the guidance of Antonio Gallardo, Tampa Bay’s leading jockey. He has over 25 more wins than Daniel Centeno. Gallardo is the Russell Baze of Tampa Bay Downs. The guy just gets up, goes to work and wins a bunch of races every day. My Johnny Be Good doesn’t have the fancy pedigree and connections that Royal Son has but this horse is a gutsy runner and has been training well at Tampa Bay Downs. Johnny finished second behind Eagle at Keeneland in September, and showed the ability to go to the front, lay back and then re-rally down the stretch. You cannot bet against the home team on this one.

Near the outside post is the questionable heavy favorite, Ocean Knight. Other than being the son of Curlin and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, I don’t see the favoritism. Ocean Knight did break his maiden on the first try at Aqueduct on December 13, 2014, but beat a group that was less-than competitive. The benefit may be that he keeps his Aqueduct pilot, the East Coast phenom Irad Ortiz, Jr. However, in Ocean Knight’s first race, the young Ortiz was doing all he could to get to the wire with this erratic colt.

Numbers to play: 1, 2, 9, 11

Best Price: 8 (G Five)

Looking at the LeComte and a Power Play in the Desert

The Gumbo Got Ya

When researching for the LeComte, I looked deeper into the Saturday card at Fair Grounds in Louisiana, there are several notations I’d like to make. First, Mike Smith is not in Louisiana for gumbo, well, maybe, but probably not. He has more mounts than just the LeComte on the card. Second, it’s good to see the young jockey Denny Velazquez on the card at Fair Grounds. Denny took a nasty spill at Canterbury Park last summer and ruptured his spleen. I am happy to see the talented rider back in the saddle and picking up mounts for trainer Gary Scherer. Third, Eden Prairie. I’m still sore at Paul Allen for making the football reference to the Eden Prairie High School football team at Canterbury Park last year when this “ho hum” horse ran in the Lady Canterbury, but I quickly got over it. Eden Prairie is entered in the Marie Krantz Memorial at Fair Grounds on Saturday. This horse just likes to finish third. I mean, she likes to finish third. This well-traveled mare has been to Arlington, Canterbury, Kentucky Downs, Keeneland, Delta Downs and Fair Grounds and has been quite content to just barely get on the tote board. In this stakes race, however, she’ll get the enthusiastic yet patient Florent Geroux in the saddle. Florent finally got his accolades when he guided Work All Week in the Breeders Cup and has been a long-time pilot of The Pizza Man, but The Pizza Man and Work All Week are gifts, compared to the complacent Eden Prairie. Good thing for Florent, Eden Prairie loves Fair Grounds. In fact, it’s the only track where she actually knows how to find the Winner’s Circle, and she is the defending champ of the Marie Krantz Memorial. Florent will really need to get this horse motivated with the likes of Notte d’Oro, Kitten’s Dumplings and Every Way pushing her.

The Grade 3 LeComte has early Derby Points on the line (10 points to the winner). I saw the video of Runhappy at Turfway Park and the horse ran like an out-of-control toddler jacked up on Mountain Dew. He missed the break, and then caught the field on the rail, ran passed the entire field with ease, then ended up four lengths ahead of the field in an insane fraction at the half, went wide on the turn and was still eight lengths ahead going into the stretch. The stretch run was really something to witness, as Runhappy truly fits his name. He looked like he was chasing butterflies in a field! The jockey was doing everything he could to hold this horse straight, and failing, miserably at that! In fact, when the jockey got out the stick (and seriously, 8 lengths ahead!), the horse slowed down when he felt the whip. Chaos. Wi all that being said, this horse is FAST, and if I’m seeing the charts correctly, runs without medication (well at least the kind you can put on a chart). Buckets of Mountain Dew with his hay is not a required notation. Let’s take a look at the field.

International Star–trained by Mike Maker, a rare non-kitten for the Ramseys. This one is out of Fusaichi-Pegasus. Has grade 1 experience in the Breeders Cup but finished 9th in that top class field.

Tiznow R J – trained by Steve Asmussen. Has no graded or stakes experience but is a perfect 3/3 and coming off a win at Fair Grounds.

Four Leaf Chief – Colt out of Looking at Lucky, Florent Geroux in the saddle. Last time out finished third behind War Story at Fair Grounds.

War Story – trained by Tom Amoss and gets the help of leading Fair Grounds jockey, James Graham. 2 starts 2 wins, last out at Fair Grounds where he was bumped out of the break.

Hero of Humor – longest shot on the board. Does not take well to stakes company.

Savoy Stomp – Mike Smith/Todd Pletcher/Team Valor, and the pedigree is even better Medaglia d’Oro – Crystal Current, by A.P. Indy. Untested, but showing improvement. Mike Smith should help.

Runhappy – (See Above) One start, one win – and first in all current works. They’ve been hiding this Super Saver colt at The Thoroughbred Center, and unleashed him at Turfway Park. He is so green, but so exciting. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan better hang on.

Killingit – Was doing fine until he got to Turfway Park with a disappointing sixth. He is a training mate of Runhappy at The Thoroughbred Center. Killingit at least has racing experience 3/4 on the board. Neither run with medication.

Dekabrist – Trainer Dorochenko has Hero of Humor as well. Both are long shots. This horse has been struggling for a while. Been entered in a lot of stakes races and just seems to get in the way rather than in the winner’s circle.

Another Lemon Drop – Out of guess who? Lemon Drop Kid. Gets the help of veteran Calvin Borel. Has experience on the race track and has hit the board 3 out of 4 starts but no stakes experience. A contender nonetheless.

Eagle – This colt of Candy Ride is also 3 out of 4 starts on the board but with a third place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club, a Grade 2 stakes race, puts this entry as the morning line favorite.

If you’re going for experience against graded company, International Star is your top choice. Savoy Stomp has the full package for me: trainer, owners, jockey and breeding. Savoy Stomp on top for me followed by International Star and Another Lemon Drop, and I’m very excited to see Runhappy. I’ll throw some money down and hold my breath. Numbers to play: 1, 6, 10. Good luck in the LeComte!

Turf Paradise: Playing a Power Pack

On Saturday, Turf Paradise has two stakes races on the turf and some familiar names to the Canterbury regulars appear as very competitive in both. The $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons for the male turf milers and the $35,000 Glendale Handicap for fillies and mares.

As of this writing, Scott Stevens leads the jockey standings at Turf Paradise by one over Giovanni Franco, followed by Jorge Carreno. It’s a long meet but Stevens and Franco have almost 20 wins over Carreno to top the standings.

In the trainer standings, Robertino Diodoro is just engulfing the other trainers with 68 wins, nearly 50 more than his closest competitor, Dan McFarlane. Both Diodoro and McFarlane train some of my favorite horses. Diodoro covers both stakes with Rock and Glory, Ricsprentiousgal, She’s Stella Marie, Storm Power and Twelve Tribes. McFarlane enters Red Zeus and Az Ridge in the Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile.

First up, the Glendale Handicap: There are some seasoned runners in this race and all of which have an opportunity to hit the board, which makes the odds very unappealing and little money to be made. Diodoro has three in the seven horse field. He should hit the board with two: Ricsprentiousgal and Rock and Glory. However, trainer Valorie Lund has two entered, one of which is a very good turf horse. Lady Rosberg has never raced anywhere but on the desert turf in 2014. She has four races on the turf and four times in the money, winning the Queen of the Green Stakes at Turf Paradise. Beware the bounce. She’s coming off a third place finish in the Kachina Stakes on December 20 at Turf Paradise, beaten by … Rock and Glory.

Lady Rosberg has put in good works since her third place finish in the Kachina. In fact, Lady Rosberg has not finished out of the money since 2013. She did have a disappointing run in the Kachina, though, as she fell back in the stretch as Rock and Glory and Maker or Breaker were dueling it out up front. Without Maker or Breaker in the race, Rock and Glory should be on the front and game down the stretch. Rock likes to go head to head, so I am hoping to see her stable mate Ricspretentiousgal give it to her. Unfortunately for Rock and Glory, her stable mate is piloted by jockey Giovanni Franco, who also likes a duel down the stretch.   Rics finished second to Lady Rosberg in the Queen of the Green, followed by Rock and Glory. These three apparently like to race each other and share the victories as well. They are usually 1, 2, or 3 in nearly every turf race at Turf Paradise.

Diodoro’s 7-year old mare Rock and Glory started 2014 with a sixth place finish in the Paseana Stakes at Santa Anita, but let’s just put a line through that and move on. Since the Paseana, Rock and Glory has only been entered in stakes races at Turf Paradise, but has never made it to the Winner’s Circle. She inches closer and closer each race and I believe the Glendale will be her chance to finally pose for the camera.

Interesting that Scott Stevens jumps off Rock and Glory and gets on the third Diodoro entry, She’s Stella Marie. At a morning line of 8/1, Stella is my long shot best play in the Glendale.

Numbers to play: 3, 5, 6. I know it’s the three favorites but to not get booted out of the first leg of the Pick 5, I’ll play them without shame.

Let’s move on to the highlight turf race, the Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile. Dan McFarlane and Diodoro train some of my favorite horses. McFarlane has two of my favorites in this race, Az Ridge and Red Zeus, and they usually race against each other with Az Ridge coming out on top. Az Ridge has been racing consistently since winning the Mystic Lake Mile at Canterbury Park, but will have to be more than just “consistent” to get in front of this field.

Diodoro enters Storm Power and Twelve Tribes, and he puts his “go-to” jockeys on each. Storm Power, with Giovanni Franco is the overwhelming favorite, and will be bet so low that I would put him on my Pick 5 ticket but look elsewhere for a price. Storm Power is a very strong horse and has the racing chops to back it up. Since breaking his maiden at Santa Anita in June 2014, this horse has been running like a powerful storm. He has faced tougher competition on the California circuit, and since settling at Turf Paradise, he won the Hank Mills, Walter Cluer and Beinvenidos stakes. The only three races he’s been entered in at Turf Paradise. Yes, the others should seek shelter when he hits the turf. However, there is another power moving in from the West that could make it much more challenging for Storm Power to swallow up the usual competition. That horse is Power Ped. Accomplished trainer Neil Drysdale ships over Power Ped after an impressive third place finish in the Grade 2 San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita. Flavien Prat keeps the mount for Drysdale and Power Ped should take nicely to the turf in Phoenix. Power Ped’s only poor finish was a 9th at Keeneland in 2014. He obviously prefers the warmth of the West Coast. He’s the class of the bunch.

Another big-name trainer ships one over from California as well. Richard Mandella brings in Trend, who gets the hand of Scott Stevens. Trend has not had the same success in his races in California that Power Ped has. This horse is morning line 10-1, and should be, there’s really nothing remarkable about him, other than Scott Stevens in the irons, of course.

But, I digress, let’s get back to Diodoro. Twelve Tribes has won all four of his last four starts including two stakes races at Turf Paradise. Apparently after this horse got into the Winner’s Circle at Canterbury Park on closing weekend, he liked it … a lot! Twelve Tribes keeps usual pilot Jorge Carreno. I’m not a fan of Carreno on the turf but since I’m a little on the fence about Az Ridge, I might put Twelve Tribes in my Pick 5 ticket. These California shippers are tough company for the Turf Paradise regulars. But never underestimate the home field advantage. I’m gonna play a Power Pack: Storm Power over Power Ped in the Fitzsimmons. Will play Az Ridge and Twelve Tribes underneath.

Numbers to Play: 1, 3, 7.

Best long shot bet: Mandella/Stevens and Trend (8) in the Fitzsimmons.

.50 Cent Pick 5: 356/26/345/13/35 $36

It’s a Sham!

I believe Peter Miller wants some Derby points for his milers. The Grade 3 Sham Stakes will be run tomorrow at Santa Anita with 10 Derby points on the line. Miller has three entered in the mile on the dirt and he’s got a very good chance of collecting the 10 points and some minor points as well. The obvious morning line favorite is Calculator. This 3-year old has some battle-tested Grade 1 races in his past, finishing second behind American Pharaoh in both the Frontrunner and Del Mar Futurity. With the absence of any other Grade 1 competition, Calculator has the opportunity to prove himself with a win in the Sham.

Miller also has Rock Shandy with Victor Espinoza in the irons. Victor knows how to get 3-year olds to the Derby gates, but it will be much harder to put Rock Shandy in the gate than it was California Chrome. Rock Shandy could do no better than third in the Grade 3 Cecile B. DeMille Stakes back in November.

The final entry for Miller is St. Joe Bay which has me slightly interested. This colt has only been able to pick up show and superfecta spots in the Cecile B. DeMille and the Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar, and has been working very well over the dirt and gets the assistance of veteran jockey Martin Pedroza on the rail. Hmm….

I was somewhat anxious to see the progress of Papacoolpapacool but he failed to impress in Grade 3 company and with Calculator back in form, I feel this horse will have to get the perfect trip to hit the board.

Casse and Nakatani team up on Pioneerof the West. I usually like Pioneerof the Nile offspring but this colt broke his maiden in November after four tries and then finished ninth in the ungraded Eddie Logan Stakes his next time out.

Doug O’Neill enters Rockinatten. This Gulfstream Park shipper has no stakes experience on his resume but has improved with every race at Gulfstream. Interesting to see how he takes to the California dirt. He’s currently second favorite behind Calculator.

Smokin’ Joe Talamo gets on Unblunted (pun intended). This son of Sharp Humor prefers the dirt apparently. Has been working fairly well at Santa Anita, but his one stakes try at Golden Gate resulted in a fifth place finish. Only natural surfaces for Unblunted from here on out. He should put in a good run in the Sham.

The last in line is Hero Ten All who broke his maiden on December 7 at Los Alamitos. This one could be the hero for some bettors in this race. Untested in any stakes race, this son of Rock Hard Ten (and relative to Rockinatten) gets the help of the red hot Tyler Baze. The works have been good, and this horse is at the beginning of his momentum, instead of coming off a disappointing finish.

I think I’ll play a couple exacta boxes and include Calculator in most of them. Numbers to play: 7,8,3,4

I’m gonna take a look at the Pick 4 starting with the Sham so I get both graded stakes on a ticket.

Race 7: Talamo on the turf is just too tough and he’s on the rail and on the favorite. Seriously. I hate to single anyone in a field of 11 so I’ll put the other toughest turf rider in the West, Corey Nakatani, and Conquest Harlanday in an exacta box. Please note the #2 Secreto Primero has the notation of a first time gelding. Numbers to use: 1, 9

Race 8 is the Grade 2 San Pasqual and I’m more excited about this race than I am about the Sham. Yes, the Sham starts the Derby chatter, and has the big name Calculator, but the San Pasqual has several big name players as well: Hoppertunity, Majestic Harbor, Big Cazanova and Tonito M. It also has some big time connections. Bob Baffert and Martin Garcia are California’s dynamic duo. Hoppertunity is coming back to Santa Anita after winning the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Majestic Harbor certainly is the horse for course racing nearly exclusively at Santa Anita in 2014. He’s had nothing but graded stakes competition all year and finished second in the San Pasqual last year. However after winning the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita, Majestic Harbor has had a rough go of it.

Big Cazanova, I like this 6-year old son of Giant’s Causeway. Although he is lightly raced in stakes’ company, he did manage to win the Native Dancer back in November and has been putting in good works on dirt at San Luis Rey.

Oh, Tonito M. I had high hopes for Tonito M. This horse has been everywhere gobbling up exactas and trifectas in stakes races: Zia Park, Remington, Los Al, Del Mar, and well, let’s face it, he should never have been at Belmont. If we scratch through that race in the Woody Stephens, Tonito M. looks good on paper, and Hollendorfer and Bejarano know how to use a little bit of that Jedi magic in California.

What I’m hoping for is the favorites to hit the front early, because I’ll be watching for Gary Stevens to make a move on the outside with the #6 Bronzo. This 6-year old Chilean horse has been doing nothing but winning races in his homeland since 2012. He shipped up to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup mile and finished fourth. While the rest of the world was watching Goldenscents make history, the consistent, steady, seasoned Bronzo just missed hitting the board. Gary understands the horse beneath him and knows what he needs to do hit the board this time around. I’m hoping trainer Drysdale has him ready for the extra distance. Recent works would indicate he does. Numbers to play: 2, 3, 6, 11

I’m going deep in my Pick 4 ticket on Race 8, so have to lighten up in the 9th, which I hate to do. The favorite is Snowday with our soon-to-be Eclipse winning apprentice Drayden Van Dyke (whom, I believe, will be missing an asterisk soon) aboard. I’m from Minnesota, where we have a lot of snow days so I’ll go with the favorite. I’m interested in the two Canani runners as well, and Bejarano and Talamo are on both, and both are good turf riders. My exacta 8, over 10 / 2.

Pick 4, starting with Race 6: 7,8/1,9/2,3,6,11/8,10

Best Long Shot: Sheer Talent (R9) and Tonito M. / Bronzo (R8)

Good luck!

“And away they go …”

The first steps on the Road to Kentucky began on Saturday with the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct for the much-anticipated 3-year old colts with 10 points being awarded to the winner. Points will accumulate towards the total needed to get into the gate at the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2015. As expected, most rankings throughout the thoroughbred industry have Carpe Diem and Texas Red in the top two spots, and that might have been a fair debate until Dortmund exploded on the scene.

The stable to watch in 2015 is Zayat Stables. No rookie to racing thoroughbreds, Zayat has three potential Derby contenders in the top 10 rankings: Mr. Z, El Kabeir and American Pharaoh. The speedy El Kabeir picked up the first points on the Road to Kentucky by winning the Jerome Stakes in impressive fashion. However, dare I say the competition was not that challenging for El Kabeir, and it’s very early to electrify any kind of meaningful buzz. I am more anxious to see the return of American Pharaoh.

This is simply the beginning of a crucial and calculated campaign for all the newly-turned 3-year old equine athletics. We await the emergence of another California Chrome to pin our Triple Crown dreams on. At this point last year, I was already posting the “#Chromie.” I feel a bit more uncertain going into 2015. However, I am hoping the connections of Ocho Ocho Ocho make wise decisions in this California runner’s campaign. I also want to see a few more races from Dortmund before I go placing hash tags on him. The 3-year old milers are up next in the Sham at Santa Anita on January 10.

The placement of the horse in each race is very calculated and cautious. The health of the horse is the most important as this is truly an unpredictable animal. Even the strongest and impressive specimen can be so fragile at the same time. The campaign begins. Which races to enter the horse? What other contenders are in the race? Do you hold off and continue aggressive training, waiting to gobble up the higher points coming mid-season in the Gotham or the Wood? These 10 points earned by El Kebeir are nothing but a pebble in the road to Kentucky.

The 3-year old fillies also got a chance to introduce themselves in the Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday. I am without a strong opinion about the fillies this year, and am waiting for an Oaks champion to emerge further down the road. Gone is the Untapable fervor. In fact, another daughter of Tapit failed to fire in the Santa Ynez. All eyes (and wagers) were on Rattataptap, and she finished last in a field were Conquest Harlanate was pulled up early in the race. The obvious “it” horse going into the discussion of the Oaks is of course Take Charge Brandi who is at the top of nearly (if not all) the rankings. But who comes next? Who can compete with her? Angela Renee’s campaign should be a well-designed one in order to keep this filly in consideration. Seduire took the field gate-to-wire on Saturday in the Santa Ynez going 6 and half furlongs. Seduire had a good race with Rafael Bejarano aboard. Good, and that’s about it, but it’s so early. We shall see if this daughter of Holy Bull can go the distance of the campaign. The Oaks is a wide-open field. Angela Renee sits behind Take Charge Brandi in the rankings and with the uncertain injury Conquest Harlanete, the gate is certainly wide open for another contender to enter. I am almost hoping for an unknown to have a breakout performance in the Gazelle or the Davona Dale. Up next for the 3-year old fillies is the Silverbulletday on January 17 at Fair Grounds.

Regardless of the length of the campaign (it’s five months until May), I need to see at least two or more graded stakes wins against quality competition and need to see runners winning races with real points attached – the 100 and 50 point races. The complexion of the rankings change dramatically if a top horse misfires in a 100 point race, so keep an eye on those horses finishing in second and third in Grade 1 races. Those horses that improve during their campaign and have the momentum and confidence going into the prep races in April could be our next California Chrome, but there is much more to prove in the months to ahead.