The Future’s so Bright …

In case you haven’t heard, Canterbury Park is offering the lowest takeout in America.  The opening weekend boasted increased wagers 31% from last year’s opener.  Wagers at the track were up 25% and bets from players not on site were up 34%.  It’s good to go low to bring all things up for Canterbury Park and players betting Canterbury around the country.

With the exit of long-time paddock analyst Angela Hermann to California, the paddock analyst position became a two-horse race between writer/handicapper Candice Hare and local boy and Canterbury regular Brian Arrigoni. Both received assistance in the paddock auditions from Keeneland analyst Katie Gensler.  Candice is a talented handicapper and received an offer to be a national correspondent for Canterbury.  The local boy Brian prevailed in the paddock standoff and will be going solo this weekend as the new Paddock Analyst for Canterbury Park.  Brian brings an impeccable handicapping ability and knowledge about the track. Brian has a bright future ahead of him.  We welcome both Candice and Brian to the Canterbury team.

The future looks bright for Rake Farms and its new connections with another local boy jockey Alex Canchari.  Rake Farms entries Bourbon County and Horse of the Year Sky and Sea returned to sweep both stakes races on opening weekend.  Both Bourbon County and Sky and Sea were guided by Canchari, who is leading the jockey standings after the first weekend.  Alex is coming off a great meet at Oaklawn and was hitting on all cylinders last weekend.  Canchari is without question one of the best riders we have at Canterbury.  He used to be known as the “Minnesota Kid” but I’m certain he’s dropped that moniker as the Kid is one heck of a talented rider.  You can’t go wrong with the best rider on the best horses.  As the summer progresses, if you can get Canchari on a 5-1, bet it!  There will be very few times this season that he’s sitting on anything higher than that.

Alex Canchari Photo by Miz Post Parade
Alex Canchari
Photo by Miz Post Parade

Other connections to watch are jockey Dean Butler and trainer Francisco Bravo, and, jockey Hugo Sanchez and trainer Tim Padilla.  Sanchez rode for Padilla in Tampa Bay over the winter and Padilla is shipping up some very good horses from Florida.  Sanchez put the Padilla-trained Congratulate Me in the Winner’s Circle on Saturday and it paid $25 on a $2 win bet.

It’s a bright start to the meet for trainer Nevada Litfin as well.   Litfin had two winners in three entries on Saturday.  The very speedy filly Some Say So took to the Canterbury course like a kid takes to cake.  She loved it!  Getting the number 1 gate on Saturday was a bit tricky as the inside dirt on the track was soft and most of the horses used up a lot of real estate avoiding the rail.  But Some Say So showed huge potential responding to jockey Giovanni Franco’s commands.  She has a very bright future ahead of her at Canterbury.

The other Litfin winner was the professional Jifquick who fought hard in the stretch with the urging of Alex Canchari in the irons. That’s a win-win.  Jifquick bested Yes By Gold and Pendulum (Sanchez/Padilla) in the 5 furlongs on the grass.

What’s Up next?

The upcoming Memorial Weekend will have another stakes race on the Memorial Day card, the $75,000 Honor the Hero turf sprint.  There are some impressive nominees for this race including Undrafted and Uno Pecodor.  The draw will be on Wednesday for the final entries.

The infamous Running of the Bulldogs will take place between races on Monday, Memorial Day.  If you haven’t been there to watch the bulldogs, you need to put it on your “to do” list.  Paul Allen always brings good entertainment to the call of the bulldog races.

The Muddy Freakness

The second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness, went off on a very muddy Pimlico track in Maryland on Saturday, and Exaggerator showed how much of a mud-loving freak he is.  Wow, talk about one lucky mudder!  Exaggerator is a very talented and strong horse to maneuver the mud the way he does.  Keith Desormeaux, the trainer of Exaggerator, said that he hoped people would not contribute this victory in the Preakness to the muddy track.  Um… sorry Keith, but Exaggerator had four chances to get passed Nyquist on dry tracks and didn’t.  I think every person that follows horseracing changed their win bet from Nyquist to Exaggerator when the rain started falling in Maryland.  I certainly did.  I predicted that Exaggerator would eventually catch the Derby winner, but I thought it would happen in the Belmont, until I saw the mud.  Exaggerator excels in the mud when the other horses are doing all they can to lift their heavy hooves over the muddy track.  In the Preakness, his jockey Kent Desormeaux brought him to the rail shortly out of the gate, sat back and avoided the mud sprays, and eventually came up the rail to about fifth behind the leaders Nyquist and Uncle Lino, who were setting a blazing pace up front.   It set up perfectly for Exaggerator’s closing speed.  At that pace, he was going to catch the front-runners, it was just a matter of when.  Kent moved him out and it was over.  When Exaggerator saw daylight and had an open mud pit to work with, he was like a pig in Heaven.

I had an Exacta play in the Preakness: Exaggerator over all.  Not so ironic that the only other mudder in the field, Cherry Wine, came in for second. The Belmont is up next on June 11 and as of now Exaggerator will give it a shot, but Nyquist is out due to fever.

The future is looking bright for One Lucky Mudder too.  Please continue to follow as we will be introducing weekly picks for Canterbury Park, featuring local handicappers and analysis, photos from Heather Grevelis and possibly a webcast from yours truly Miz Post Parade!

So grab your Ray Bans and head to the track!  The future is bright at Canterbury Park!

 

Weathering the Withers and the Holy Bull

Evidence of the recent snowstorm to cripple the East Coast was on display at the Big A for the running of the Grade 3 Withers Stakes with snow still lining the track. The Withers winner receives Derby points and this race has produced some longevity on the road to Kentucky for the past winners, such as Far From Over and Samraat.  Ironically, young jockey Manuel Franco won this race last year aboard Far From Over and repeated again this year with Sunny Ridge. This horse was coming off two strong second place finishes in two Grade 3 stakes races.  Those losses were to Exaggerator and Greenpointcrusader.  Not bad company.  The overly bet, and morning line favorite, Flexibility, could only get up for fourth in the Withers.  But,  he deserved the credit for being the favorite considering his past performances in three graded stakes races.  Flexibility finished second to Mohaymen in the Remsen and the Nashua stakes.    Sunny Ridge etched his name on the Derby point list and focus soon switched from the snow at Aqueduct to the sunshine at Gulfstream Park.

More coveted Derby points were on the line in the Holly Bull Stakes at Gulfstream.  The sunshine provided a beautiful day for the card of 12 races at Gulfstream, including five stake races and the pinnacle race on the card the Holy Bull, and Holy Moly Mohaymen!  If you haven’t heard of this undefeated 3-year old son of Tapit before the Holy Bull, you’ll be hearing a lot about him from now until May! In the post parade, the handsome gray walked onto the racetrack with confidence and focus; his neck coiled and his head down.  He seemed to not even notice the crowd, nor the spectacle of being in a post parade.  Even when the horse in front of him freaked out and started jumping all over the place, Mohaymen remained unflappable, keeping his head down and never flinched.  He has the epitome of a game face on the track.  For a young horse, he exhibits maturity beyond his years.  Even when he steps into the gate, he is confident.  When the gate popped, Mohaymen was off a step slow, but it didn’t seem to throw off his game at all.   In fact, sometimes these young horses need time to figure out the track and learn a little bit each time.  Mohaymen’s jockey from the start of this race, when the horse came off a step slow, knew exactly how to handle it.  Jockey Junior Alvarado has been on Mohaymen in all four of his races, and they are undefeated in all four.  Junior took Mohaymen in between horses on the first turn and Mohaymen simply slid through without a concern at all of getting pinched.  This horse is the real deal.  He broke away from the field to stamp his name in big, bold, undeniable letters on the Derby points list.  The aforementioned Greenpointcrusader and Conquest Big E were also in this race, and already on the Derby list, but they had nothing on Mohaymen. Neither of them has the graded stakes experience nor the maturity to pass “Holy Mo” today.  Even the gallop back by Mohaymen was impressive, ears up and alert.  This was the only time this horse acknowledged his surroundings.  He is an extremely focused horse and very professional when it comes to doing his job.  His Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin indicated after the race, that they would wait for the Fountain of Youth and on to the Florida Derby to gather up higher Derby points.  And, for the record, both Greenpointcrusader and Conquest Big E have been on the same dirt as Nyquist and were no factors there either.

Speaking of West Coast Derby contenders like Nyquist, Sunshine Millions Days at Santa Anita did not disappoint.  In fact, another Derby contender emerged in a race where Derby points were not awarded.  But, the connections of the California Cup Derby winner Smokey Image will soon be looking for races to gather up  points because Smokey Image is definitely a Derby contender.  Smokey Image beat the field of seven by 10 lengths in a time of 1:43.49 seconds.  Previous winners of the Cal Cup include the one-and-only California Chrome.  California Chrome went on to be the Kentucky Derby winner.  In the Cal Cup, California Chrome clocked a 1:43.22.  Similarities continue between California Chrome and Smokey Image, although Smokey Image is not as muscular as California Chrome, they still share the same color of coat, and, the same jockey, Victor Espinoza.  He knows a thing or two about winning a Derby, a Triple Crown and well, pretty much everything.  Victor may have contemplated retirement this year, but when he sat on the back of Smokey Image and crushed the field by 10 lengths, I hope the similarities to previous champions echoed in his head and he reconsiders.  Again, the “luckiest Mexican in the World” finds himself on the back of another probably Derby contender.  It’s good to be Victor.

I know it’s early, but my top three on the Derby watch so far are Nyquist, Mohaymen and Smokey Image.   We may not have a Triple Crown winner in the bunch, but if they all stay healthy we may have a very competitive Run for the Roses.

That’s a Wrap! Closing the History Book on 2015

What a year in horseracing!   American Pharoah took the country on a ride of a lifetime.  His historic racing career came to an end after the Breeders’ Cup and the final chapter of the history book was closed on Saturday, January 16, 2016 at the 45th Annual Eclipse Awards held at Gulfstream Park in Florida.  It was Pharoah’s night and rightfully so.

It’s no surprise that the impressive champion received a unanimous vote for Horse of the Year. It’s also no surprise that American Pharoah was awarded 3-year old champion as well. The accolades showered down on Pharoah and his connections all night long.

American Pharoah had the interest of die-hard horseplayers long before he became a celebrity, long before America took notice, and long before the casual horseplayer bought a $2 ticket on American Pharoah for a souvenir.

Under the skilled guidance of Bob Baffert, and a well-planned campaign, the Zayat family insisted that American Pharoah become the horse for the people, and the sturdy champion mugged for all the cameras.

The Zayat family picked up several Eclipse Awards including Owners of the Year, Breeder of the Year and American Pharoah picked up Moment of the Year for the winning the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, dubbed the “Grand Slam.”

Zayat Stables won Breeder of the Year honors with much thanks going to their lead stallion Pioneer of the Nile who sired American Pharoah.  Kenneth Ramsey took the podium to accept the award for older Turf Male Champion, Big Blue Kitten, but did not leave the podium without acknowledging the Zayats’ accomplishments with American Pharoah.  Very gracious of him. To note, Big Blue Kitten was a go-to horse for money in the bank.  He hit the board in all of his starts in 2015.

No surprise also that Pharoah’s trainer, Bob Baffert, won for Trainer of the Year.  Baffert made Pharoah available to the public per the owners’ wishes but also was very guarded with his exceptional 3-year old early in Pharoah’s career. Baffert provided the most entertaining part of the night when Jerry Bailey handed him the Eclipse Award and Baffert fumbled the award and dropped it on the floor of the stage.  The blame should be placed squarely (or triangularly) on Bailey who was wearing a Cheese Head and watching the Green Bay Packers game at the same time he was presenting the award.  Baffert’s wife retrieved the award and handed it to son, Brody, who cradle it like it was a squirming puppy.

The only person missing from the connections of American Pharoah was his jockey, Victor Espinoza.  Undeniably, Espinoza had the year that jockeys dream about.  It’s the type of year that makes young jockeys get up early and hustle on the backside trying to pick up mounts for top trainers. Espinoza not only guide California Chrome, but had the mount in all of Pharoah’s winnings races.  Espinoza lost the Jockey of the Year vote to Javier Castellano, who took home a 3-peat as Jockey of the Year.  Castellano is one of the best riders in the country.  He ended 2015 with $28 million in earnings, 17 Grade 1 wins, and also guided top horses like Honor Code and Liam’s Map to the winner’s circle.  Espinoza may have rode THE horse of the year, but Castellano rode more graded stakes winners than any other jockey in 2015.  Castellano impresses me every year with his well-planned speech and gracious acceptance.  He is class act, on and off the track.  Basically, if I had a horse with potential to be great, I’d want Castellano on it.

Moving on to some of the other awards presented:

Three-year old filly of the year went to Stellar Wind, the daughter of Curlin.  Stellar Wind is trained by John Sadler and guided by Victor Espinoza.

Older champions went to Honor Code and the incomparable, Beholder.  Gary Mandella has a soft spot for Beholder as do we all.  She won the Pacific Classic over the boys and she is truly a horse you cannot forget.

Runhappy received the Male sprinter of the year.  Runhappy first ran with one intention: to run fast, and to run happy.  It was interesting to watch the horse’s progression and maturity along his 2015 campaign.  Once Runhappy became a more disciplined horse, his victory in the Breeders’ Cup was inevitable.  This is a horse to keep on the radar, if the connections can stop the squabbling and do what’s best for the horse.

Female Sprinter of the Year belonged to La Verdad.  She is trained by Linda Rice and owned by Sheila Rosenblum of Lady Sheila Stables who took the stage and gushed about La Verdad.   These women reminded us that the representation of female owners and trainers is minimal in this industry but growing every day.  La Verdad was ridden to by Jose Ortiz.

Tepin collected the award for female Turf Sprinter of the Year by winning several Grade 1 races including the Breeders’ Cup mile.  Tepin is trained by Mark Casse and retained the turf talents of jockey Julien Leparoux for all of her mounts.

Apprentice Jockey of the Year went to Tyler Gaffalione.  The young 21-year old rider capped off 2015 with 182 wins and $5 million in earnings.  He rides mainly in Florida but it won’t take long before the talented young rider moves his tack to other tracks.

The Kentucky Derby watch turns to the 2-year old champions of 2015, Nyquist and Songbird.  Both 2-year old sensations are undefeated in their young campaigns.  Nyquist is currently leading the points list on the road to Kentucky.  Trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez hope to have another Derby hopeful after Triple Crown hopeful, I’ll Have Another, was unfortunately retired after the Preakness in 2012 due to a tendon injury.  The strength of these connections continues in Nyquist.  Reddam Racing has stuck with O’Neill and Guitierrez and if Nyquist can stay healthy and have a calculated plan for the next four months, he is definitely the favorite going into the 2016 Run for the Roses.  Songbird is undefeated in four starts and is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.

That wraps up the best of 2015. Will 2016 bring us another Triple Crown winner?  It’s really too soon to tell, but you can count on the Sport of Kings to always provide chills, thrills, twists and triumphs.

Minnesota Festival of Champions Day at Canterbury Park

(Photo courtesy of Heather Frisbee)

Sunday, September 6 is a day to celebrate Minnesota bred horses. A full card of 11 races including 8 stakes races for both quarter horses and thoroughbreds.

Let’s begin with the quarter horses.

Race 1: $40,000 Minnesota Quarter Horse Futurity – 350 yards

Streak N Diamonds is the favorite in this race and should be. A true quarter horse that needs the distance to get rolling. Leading quarter horse rider Jorge Torres keeps the mount. Streak N Diamonds had a tough race last out losing by a head to No Regrets Here.

V Os Filo is another horse that had a battle at this distance in his last race, but prevailed. This Ed Ross Hardy trainee is 3 times in the money on 4 starts in 2015 and Nik Goodwin stays aboard.

Dashing Good Reason comes out of the same last race as Streak N Diamonds finishing just behind him. He gave up in the duel for second place and let Streak N Diamonds go on. For that reason, I’ll put him in third. Ry Eikelberry returns from a stint on the West Coast to get aboard.

Picks: 5, 7, 3

Race 2: $40,000 Minnesota Quarter Horse Derby – 400 yards

A field of 10, yes 10, quarter horses head to the gate for the Derby. A little bumping is expected in the quarters but with 10 coming out of the gate it may look more like billiards. I’m hoping the one that stays straight and true is the outside runner the 10, Cokato Cartel. Cokato Cartel is coming off a good second place finish is his last race at 440, so the cutback should help him. Ry Eikelberry gets aboard this one too.

The inside runner is Tyt from Mr Pye who exits the same race at Cokato Cartel but was not a factor. I think he prefers a shorter distance. He is one of the few horses in the race with stakes experience but hasn’t had a profitable 2015.

Morning line favorite Fishing in the Brook had trouble in his last three races at 350 yards, so not sure if he will enjoy 400.

Long shot Crashed on Corona is my first long shot play of the day. He unfortunately has the 6 spot in this large field but he gets bumped out of the gate often and still consistently finishes second. His last out he won at 350 and finished strong. Unlike Fishing in the Brook, Crashed on Corona will love the extra 50 yards.

Love My P A is another horse that put in a good meet at Canterbury, but he’s coming out of the 5 spot in this race and Crashed on Corona has more grit for this large field.

Picks: 10, 6, 1

Now on to the thoroughbreds.

Race 3: $32,500 MSW — 5 ½ furlongs

First detail to notice is that leading jockey Leandro Goncalves jumped off Star Spangled and onto a first-timer for Mike Biehler, the 7 horse Bar Fight. Obviously, Star Spangled at 5-1 is not the better of the two. Duly noted.

Richard Thomas is the 5 horse in the race, and was bred by the late Minnesota breeding ambassador Camela Casby. Ironically, Richard Thomas finished ahead of a horse called The Great Casby in his last race. I like this horse at 5-2, but in his last race he didn’t really seem all that interested in finishing strong. I think jockey Denny Velazquez can help urge him on.

Dakota Native is the 3-1 favorite in the race, and I’m not sure why. He doesn’t seem all that interested in winning either. He got into a head-to-head his last time out and appeared exhausted at the 5 ½ furlongs only 3 weeks ago and now comes back with lackluster works.

The 11, Rumorhe’s Theone with the Dean Butler/Francisco Bravo combo, was in the same race and watched the two upfront duel it out and came in third. He’s had better works than Dakota Native too, and these winning connections at 12-1, take it for at least some trifecta money.

Picks: 7, 5, 11

Race 4: $60,000 Glitter Star Distaff Classic Championship – 1 1/16 furlongs

Blue’s Edge is a 5-2 favorite and draws the rail with Dean Butler in the saddle. This is the first beatable favorite of the day. She’s coming off two races at 7 ½ furlongs and she didn’t even hit the board in either. She also didn’t hit the board in the Princess Elaine Stakes which was at this distance. There are better horses in this race.

Dear Fay and Sioux Appeal are the two Mac Robertson runners that can beat a favorite. Sioux Appeal can win at 1 mile 70 and at 6 furlongs and is the Minnesota Oaks winner at 1 mile 70 in her last race. She retains the guidance of leading jockey Leandro Goncalves and at 6-1 is the best bet of the day.

Dear Fay has been a little inconsistent with her 2015 campaign but gets the help of Alex Canchari. Canchari is Mac’s go-to rider at Canterbury and for good reason: he wins a lot of stakes races. Dear Fay may have an issue with the distance at 1 1/16 and I think she does better in sprints.

Jockey Denny Velazquez has emerged as a skilled rider this summer. He had his choice in this one between Silver Magna, a horse he’s piloted all year and won 2 out of the last 3, and Talkin Bout. In the last race, at at 1 mile 70, Silver Magna finished just behind Sioux Appeal. Velazquez goes with the 6 horse Talkin Bout and hands the reigns to Giovanni Franco.

Talkin Bout is a sentimental favorite, but unfortunately you can’t bet on sentiment in horse racing. She is 8-5 morning line, and Velazquez will take her around. Unfortunately, she hasn’t had the best year since winning the Distaff last year.

Picks: 3, 6, 4

Race 5: $60,000 Bella Notte Distaff Sprint Championship – 6 furlongs

Velazquez gets another sentimental favorite in Polar Plunge. This is a gutsy horse and she races to win. Polar Plunge finished second in the Hoist Her Flag and won the Lady Slipper stakes. Six furlongs is her preferred distance and Velazquez knows how to ride her perfectly.

Last year’s little darling Sky and Sea is the 7-2 defending champ in this race. She’s only hit the tote board once this year, so not exactly sure why she’s so low on the morning line. She can’t get passed Polar Plunge, Gypsy Melody or Somerset Swinger and they’re all in this race. Lucky for Sky and Sea, Dean Butler tends to shine on this day.

The Robertson runner, Gypsy Melody, had a little trouble the last time out and didn’t like the 1 1/16 before that, but putting Canchari in the saddle should make a difference in how this horse takes to the track.

Picks: 5, 7, 2

Race 6: $80,000 Northern Lights Debutante – 6 furlongs

This could be the most exciting race of the day. Six of the 10 entries are coming off wins. The 2 horse, Pecos, is the class of the bunch. She is undefeated in her young career and is coming back to Canterbury after two stakes wins in Canada.

The Sampsons enter Ellie Mae Win and she’s had a very good start to her racing career as well. She had no trouble with the 5 furlongs last out, but the switch from Hugo Sanchez to Dean Butler is curious. Sanchez has been the Rengstorf barn’s go-to jock all year.

Sanchez, however, finds himself on another Sampson horse, a playable long shot in the 5, La Petite Cheri. This little filly broke her maiden first time out and has been resting for two months. Fresh legs may benefit Sanchez.

The rail horse, Honey’s Sox Appeal, also broke her maiden on her first try at 5 ½ furlongs. Goncalves gets the call from the Robertson barn.

Butler goes with the Sampson horse rather than the Francisco Bravo connection, Stella’s Princess. She won her last race breaking her maiden at 5 furlongs, but she has tougher competition today.

Picks: 2, 10, 1 but will play both Stella’s Princess and La Petite Cheri in my Pick 4.

Race 7: $80,000 Northern Lights Futurity – 6 furlongs

Trainer Francisco Bravo could sweep the Northern Lights Futurity with Pensador, Cupid’s Delight and Smooth Chiraz. Unfortunately from a betting standpoint, they are the top 3 favorites. Smooth Chiraz can beat Pensador at this distance, and Cupid’s Delight had no problem breaking his maiden first time out, in fact it was too easy and will face tougher in this stakes race.

My next best long shot play of the day comes in this race. The 1 horse, The Great Casby at 10-1, with the aforementioned multiple stakes winning jock Alex Canchari. In his last race at 5 ½ this horse was closing fast. An extra furlong and he might have beat Cupid’s Delight. The Great Casby is going to get that extra ground here.

Picks: 9, 5, 6 and 1 in the Pick 4

Race 8: $60,000 Crockrock Sprint Championship – 6 furlongs

Bourbon County is the favorite in this race at even odds, 1-1 morning line. Yes, he wins at 6 furlongs. He tried the 1 1/16 and put in an impressive effort to finish second. Then went back to 7 ½ and didn’t hit the tote board. He hasn’t raced since July 18 and is coming back to his favorite distance after a brief lay off. As much as I dislike even money favorites, you have to put Bourbon County on the ticket.

If there’s an upset to happen, it will come for the 4 horse, Evert, with Canchari in the saddle for Gary Scherer. Evert is coming off a win at 6 ½ furlongs, and Canchari may get the upset of the day here.

Let Da Cowboy Rock finished second behind Evert two races back and even though the jockey lost the whip, the horse continued on with little urging. The owners show confidence by sticking with the same jock, Ron Richard.

Picks: 1, 4, 5

Race 9: $60,000 Wally’s Choice Classic Championship – 1 1/16 furlongs

Jockey Dean Butler will most likely pick up a double in Race 8 and 9. Bourbon County in the 8th and what will be Minnesota’s Horse of the Year, Hold for More, in this one. Hold For More has won 6 of his last 7 starts, and four of those wins were stakes races. Dean Butler has been the pilot throughout. Hold For More is sired by Hold Me Back out of Giant’s Causeway.

A P Is Loose doesn’t really mind the change in distance and likes to lay back and come into the scene late. Canchari knows this and will bring him up for minor awards.

Vanderbilt Beach has won at this distance and will be chasing Hold For More, whom he finished behind at 6 furlongs back in June.

To note, A P Is Loose won the Blair’s Gove at this distance, Ragged Edge (if he stays in this race) and Vanderbilt Beach have also won at this distance and are at a good price here.

Picks: 1, 6, 8

Race 10: $38,500 Allowance — 1 mile 70

Captain’s Glory is on the rail for the Liftin barn with Scott Stevens in the irons. This horse is a sprinter and her last time out at 1 mile 70, she finished third behind Sioux Appeal and Silver Magna. Not bad, but she prefers a shorter distance. She’s 12-1.

P J’s Angel was in that same race and didn’t hit the board, but did win against softer company the first time out at this distance. She’s also 12-1.

Fiona Cat was taken up at 1 1/16 two races back on July 3 and then came back at 7 ½ and didn’t hit the board. Somehow, she warrants 4-1.

Even more curious is Thunder and Honey at 3-1. Thunder and Honey would be making a huge stretch from 5 ½ to the 1 mile 70 and has only raced on turf once. A head scratcher for sure.

Unbridled’s Celtic is the horse I like in this race. She’s actually won and finished second at this distance in her last 3 races with Giovanni Franco in the irons. Last out they took her to 7 ½ and she didn’t seem all that engaged. This race, she gets back to her preferred distance and her preferred jockey Franco.

Picks: 9, 3, 1 and 8 in the Pick 4

Race 11: $38,500 Allowance — 1 mile 70 on turf

I don’t know what is happening to the odds maker this week? You Be Gator Bait is 2-1. I can’t tell why. He won his last time out at 1 1/16, and that’s about it.

Steviefromstanley is comfortable at this distance and has finished in the money his last four starts.

Dean Butler gets on Street Fighting who is at 9-5 and can hit the board no matter what distance he’s running. He’s also a turf horse. He’s been running very well in the last half of the meet.

The last of my long shot plays of the day is Demi Blue. He draws the post position with Hugo Sanchez, who is one of the best young turf riders we’ve seen this summer. This is the only distance Demi Blue has raced this year. Sanchez put him in third behind Steviefromstanley and Street Fighting three races back. Butler took over and beat both of them the next time out. Demi Blue had a poor effort in his most-recent start, but has been on a month’s layoff. I’m hoping for Sanchez to get back aboard and get this horse up for some good Pick 4, supers and trifecta payouts.

Picks: 6, 3, 1

Long Shot Plays of the Day:

Race 2: 6, Crashed on Corona

Race 7: 1, The Great Casby

Race 11: 1, Demi Blue

Best play of the day:

Race 4: 3, Sioux Appeal

Best Betting Race: Race 10

Run for the Roses: Thunder and Lightning

On Saturday, the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby will take place, and this handicapper agrees with the masses.  There are two horses that have legitimate shots to win the Kentucky Derby and there are reasons to jump on the bandwagon for both of them.  One thing is clear:  It’s good to be Bob Baffert on this first Saturday in May 2015.  He trains the two favorites, Dortmund and American Pharaoh.

Last year at this time, there was a clear favorite for the Kentucky Derby: a big chestnut named California Chrome.  There was little discussion as to which horse would win the Kentucky Derby, but that left most handicappers searching for a horse to beat California Chrome.  This year, the debate seems to be not on how to beat the favorite, but which favorite will win — Dortmund or American Pharaoh.

The slightly more favored of the two is the California speedster, American Pharaoh.  This son of Pioneerof the Nile was sidelined early on the road to Kentucky, but has emerged with a lightning quick speed for Zayat Stables and Baffert.  American Pharaoh has speed to spare.  He puts in bullet works nearly every training session.  He beats his competition showing no mercy.  His impressive win in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn led veteran tack announcer Frank Mirahmadi to exclaim during his race call, “that is one special horse.”

American Pharaoh.  Photo by Coady Photography
American Pharaoh. Photo by Coady Photography

The other favorite on Saturday will be the big, chestnut colt from California, Dortmund, who has proved himself as a frontrunner for the Derby in all of his prep races.  He is undefeated in six starts.  Dortmund is the son of one of my favorite horses, Big Brown.  Dortmund has a Cali Chrome style of running.  He is big, and strong, and if you find yourself in front, be prepared to feel the thunder because Dortmund will be coming for you.  He uses his strength to carve up the track with each powerful stride.  His huge size is his advantage and his detriment.  Dortmund has trouble on the turns and in a group of 20 he might be annoyed with the all the traffic.  With a horse this big in a field this size, his jockey, Martin Garcia, certainly won’t be looking for a seam. He’ll be looking for a way out. Fortunately for Garcia, Dortmund has a way of picking up momentum on the last turn in the mile and 1/16th.

Dortmund and Martin Garcia
Dortmund and Martin Garcia

The Kentucky Derby is obviously no ordinary race.  It is the best of the best.  This race has the best field of 3-year old colts this country has to offer (and one from the UAE Derby), the best jockeys, the best trainers, and the mile and 1/16th is not an issue for any of these runners.  For me, it becomes a matter of congestion.  The Derby field is 20 entries.  All these young colts have run this distance before, but never in a field this large.  American Pharaoh is used to being close to the front and if he gets there, I don’t believe anyone will catch him, not even the thundering Dortmund.  He’s fast, very fast.  But, he needs daylight.  His jockey is Victor Espinoza, California Chrome’s jockey.  Victor is an experienced Derby jockey and knows this horse well.  If American Pharaoh shakes loose, he’s gone.  American Pharoah has won four of his last five races, all Grade 1 (with the exception of the Rebel) and all with Victor Espinoza to guide him.  He has won all his graded stakes races by more than three lengths.  His debut was the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity where he beat Calculator by over 4 lengths; he beat Calculator in the Frontrunner by more than 3; he came to Oaklawn for the Rebel and beat Madefromlucky by 6, and then stuck around in Arkansas to win the Arkansas Derby over Far Right by 8 lengths.

Beyond the two favorites, there will be two horses coming quickly down the stretch, International Star and Carpe Diem.  International Star has been unflappable in his Derby campaign.  Maneuvering the size of the Derby field will not be a problem for his jockey, Miguel Mena, since International Star has raced mostly in Florida, where they boast large fields in nearly every race.  Mena is a talented jockey with a bright future and is familiar with International Star’s running style.  Since Mena got in the saddle for Mike Maker and Ken and Sarah Ramsey, International Star won the Louisiana Derby, the Risen Star and the LeComte.  International Star is a rare non-Kitten for Ken and Sarah Ramsey.  He is sired by Fusaichi Pegasus.  His successful campaign has landed him at the top of the Derby points list.

El Kabier has been somewhat inconsistent and has never been around horses like Dortmund and American Pharaoh.  And the jockey switch from C C Lopez to Calvin Borel is the biggest reason for me to back off this horse.

Frosted had a lot of trouble with Upstart in previous races, but Joel Rosario gets in the saddle and he wins the Wood Memorial.  Frosted has been on a grueling Derby Campaign, but has gained much-needed experience along the way.  This ghostly gray son of Tapit has been moving through the Derby preps like an apparition finishing behind the leaders in Holy Bull and the Remsen.  Rosario may take the competition by surprise when all the attention is on the freakish speed horse American Pharaoh and the freight train Dortmund.

Todd Pletcher trainee Carpe Diem is a horse that I won’t overlook.  He is a contender. In 2015, he won the Bluegrass Stakes and the Tampa Bay Derby to stamp his spot in the gate at Churchill Downs on Saturday.  Carpe Diem has five starts and four wins.  His only loss was a second place finish to Texas Red in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  John Velazquez has been aboard for all five starts and will get in the irons again on Saturday for WinStar Farms and Pletcher.

Looking deeper down the list of the Top 20.

Keen Ice will have a lot of work to do if he wants the roses on Saturday. Keen Ice has only hit the board in 3 of his 7 starts.  He barely got into the Derby by collecting his points on a third place finish in the Risen Star.  And speaking of stars, all Keen Ice has ever done is follow International Star around at Fair Grounds.  Keen Ice has raced with International Star, Stanford, War Story, Upstart, Frosted, Mr. Z and Carpe Diem and has never passed any of them.

Bolo is another California shipper.  Bolo was doing great until Dortmund hit the California dirt and then, well, Bolo could only settle for third in his last two races.  Ocho Ocho Ocho (another California shipper) had a faltering campaign, and then it got even worse when along came Dortmund, and Ocho x3’s Derby trail got dusty.

Mr. Z is the third Zayat Stables’ horse in the Top 20.  He got his Derby points by finishing third in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, but American Pharaoh beat the field by 8 lengths that day.  Mr. Z has had 9 different jockeys in 12 starts.  Maybe it’s not the jockey.

Tencendur and Stanford got their Derby points by finishing second in Derby prep races.  Tencendur finished second to Frosted in the Wood Memorial and Stanford finished second to International Star in the Louisiana Derby.  I really don’t have much to say about either one of these horses.

Poor War Story and Tom Amoss.  War Story has only raced at Fair Grounds and just cannot get passed International Star.  I don’t see that he can get passed him in this field of 20 either.

Danzig Moon, on the other hand, can’t get passed Carpe Diem, and got his points by finishing second to Carpe Diem in the Bluegrass Stakes.  If he can’t get passed Carpe Diem, he certainly can’t get passed American Pharaoh.

Firing Line is my sneaky longshot play.  Firing Line is coming off a win in the Sunland Derby (yes, yes, I know), but Firing Line has finished second to Dortmund … twice, and both of those losses were by a minimal margin, and both at a mile and 1/16th.  Firing Line is yet another California shipper coming out of races at Del Mar, Santa Anita and Los Alamitos.  I see Firing Line having two major problems (1) shipping to Kentucky and (2) Dortmund.  Basically, the other California horses are just better, but at least Firing Line has been in races with Dortmund and finished second.

Itsaknockout is another Pletcher horse, he won the Fountain of Youth, and those are the only points this horse received towards the Derby.  He achieved those points because he and Upstart got too close right at the wire, and Upstart was disqualified in the Fountain of Youth. Itsaknockout came back in the Florida Derby, but he couldn’t best Upstart this time.

Far Right was doing just fine at Oaklawn until the traveling freak show American Pharaoh rolled into town and cleared the field by 8 lengths in the Arkansas Derby.  Far Right is a good horse, no complaints.  But he has the same problem that Firing Line does, except his problem is named American Pharaoh. But similar to Firing Line, at least Far Right has been on the same dirt with one of the favorites.

Upstart is kind of a wild card.  I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with this colt. Once Texas Red was sidelined, Upstart seemed to prevail, winning the Holy Bull, and being disqualified in the Fountain of Youth (even though he won) and finished second to Materiality in the Florida Derby. I think he had a bad day in the Florida Derby and won’t hold that against him, but there’s just nothing here that says he can win the 141th Kentucky Derby.

Materiality has a better chance of hitting the board at a price (another Pletcher trainee).  Materiality got his Derby points by besting Upstart in the Florida Derby.  Materiality is also unbeaten, but unfortunately only has three starts in his young career.

The dark horse is the UAE Derby winner, Mubtaahij. He has only raced at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.  His past performances are hard to decipher but he appears to be a stalker and a good closer … using words like “moved to the lead,” “gained to lead comfortably,” and “ran on well” are all good words to describe a horse’s performance!  But the green grass of Kentucky is a long way from the dirt in Dubai.

Basically, this race will come down to thunder (Dortmund) and lightning (American Pharaoh).  Money will be made with the exotic wagers as these two will be bet too low to make a profit.  Go deep in your bets and play several exactas using Dortmund and American Pharaoh on top.  I will be playing a West Coast Tri to start:  American Pharaoh, Firing Line, Dortmund.  After that, a multiple of combinations using Dortmund and American Pharaoh with Firing Line, International Star, Carpe Diem, and Upstart.

By the numbers:

Trainer Todd Pletcher has 4 horses in the Derby: Carpe Diem, Itsaknockout, Materiality, and Stanford (scratched).

Trainer Bob Baffert has 2:  Dortmund and American Pharaoh.

Zayat Stables has 3: American Pharoah, El Kabeir and Mr. Z.

Number of West Coast invaders:  5

The Run for the Roses: Derby Points at Stake

Playing it Cool in the Coolmore

Keeneland hosts the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington on Saturday with Kentucky Derby points up for grabs. A gate full of relatively less-talked about contenders will try to secure a spot on the first Saturday in May. For me, this is that kind of race where a “Cinderella” horse may emerge. There’s no “it” horse in this race; there’s no Dortmund, Carpe Diem, Upstart, International Star, just a field of seven trying to give the juggernauts a little something to think about.

Bob Baffert ships in Fame and Power, who is coming off a win at 7 furlongs at Santa Anita. The Lexington is a mile and 1/16th, although this horse has been putting in very good works at Santa Anita, it’s a long way to the Keeneland dirt, yet somehow this horse managed to be the morning line favorite. He does get the hot jock Jose Ortiz, but let’s face it, Jose has another horse to ride in the Derby, and it won’t be for Mr. Baffert.

Henry Jones is an interesting horse. I want to support him but his past performances make him an unlikely winner at the mile and 1/16th of the Lexington. The two races Henry has won were at 6 and 7 furlongs. The last time he tried a mile and 1/16th was at Keeneland in October, but he was chugging to the finish line. Jockey Paco Lopez gets the mount again but he’s going to have a hard time getting past the other runners in this race who have graded stakes experience.

Tiznow R J being one of those graded stakes runners. This horse certainly has the graded chops and deserves a look in this race. He’s been covering this distance at Fair Grounds running with International Star and War Story.

The horse on the rail is the deserving favorite. Divining Rod has covered this distance in his last three starts, and two of them were graded experience, including finishing third behind Carpe Diem and Ami’s Flatter in the Tampa Bay Derby. A clean trip on the rail and Divining Rod collects the Derby points. However, my only concern with Divining Rod is Julien Leparoux. I’ll take Leparoux on turf, but I’ll take Javier Castellano on any surface on any given day, which leads me to my pick to win the Coolmore Lexington.

Todd Pletcher trains the horse in the second position, Comfort. There’s so much to like about this horse: Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano, Eclipse Thoroughbreds and Indian Charlie for a daddy. Those types of connections make you feel comfortable approaching the betting window. Even though this horse has no graded experience and is coming off a win at Fair Grounds, the Pletcher barn has enough confidence in him to put him this race. I’m going to take comfort in the connections of Comfort and bet him to win.

The Arkansas Derby

Not all that surprising last Saturday when Dortmund won the Santa Anita Derby and Carpe Diem took the Florida Derby. Really, the competition wasn’t all that great, and they are both Derby Darlings already. But, Zayat Stables’ El Kabier had a really rough go of it in the Wood Memorial, where he got frosted by Frosted. Zayat Stables will make another run at the roses on Saturday in the Arkansas Derby with American Pharaoh. The son of Pioneerof the Nile will have some familiar faces to his right and left in the gates at Oaklawn Park, Far Right and Bold Conquest. American Pharaoh and Bold Conquest last met on March 14 in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, which American Pharaoh stumbled at the start and still managed to clear the field. He was followed by Madefromlucky and Bold Conquest. Madefromlucky retains the veteran guidance of John Velazquez in the saddle who guided the Lookin At Lucky colt in his last two races. I have often went with the theory that jockey Mike Smith does not ship well and seems to ride with more zest in California than he does anywhere else. Of course, he proved me so wrong with Far Right. He took this young colt to the winner’s circle twice at Oaklawn. Far Right won the Southwest Stakes and the Smarty Jones.

Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. and trainer Steve Asmussen are Oaklawn’s version of Bob Baffert and Martin Garcia at Santa Anita. These particular connections have impeccable winning percentages. Santana is Asmussen’s “go-to” jock for just about everything, especially in big races, and especially with Derby points on the line. Bold Conquest has put in an impressive campaign running in previous graded stakes races with American Pharaoh, Madefromlucky, Carpe Diem, Far Right, and The Truth Or Else and Mr. Z which are both in this race as well.

American Pharaoh will once again have to kick clear of Madefromlucky and Bold Conquest, but it’s Far Right that might give him trouble this time around. American Pharaoh needs some points and he’s going to get them in the Arkansas Derby.

Oaklawn has a great day of racing for Saturday. I’m going to take a couple long shots to try to make some points in the R2K contest. Minnesota jockey Alex Canchari picked up right where he left off at Oaklawn, getting mounts for Mac Robertson. Alex recently posted that he would be heading to the East Coast to ride after the Oaklawn meet. I like Alex’s riding style better when he’s on a mild-level long shot. The best chance for Alex to claim one of these long shot victories is in Race 3 on Man of Quality (12-1). Man of Quality is coming off a win at Oaklawn at a mile distance, even though Alex lost the whip in the process on the sloppy track. Man of Quality finished second in his previous race at a mile with Alex in the saddle. He’s worth a long look in a field with only one clear favorite. These types of races provide big payouts.

Apprentice Eclipse nominee, Angel Cruz, makes the trip from Aqueduct to Arkansas to ride Bridget’s Big Luvy, at 20-1 in the Arkansas Derby. This may not be the race he wins, but Angel Cruz can ride, and he has playable mounts all day at Oaklawn. I’m actually going to take a shot with him on Union River in Race 9. Union River is trained by the legendary D. Wayne Lukas who has a knack for winning at Oaklawn and is a hometown hero. Union River has a shot in this race if he can get past the favorite Hottap. Union River finished third last time out at Oaklawn behind Battlecreek John, the other playable long shot in this race. Battlecreek John is 12-1 and got caught at the wire in his last race at this distance.

Saturday is the last day of the meet at Oaklawn Park, and Saturday’s card is a handicapper’s dream card with lucrative pay out possibilities in nearly every race. Don’t be afraid to go deep in your Pick 4’s and there are many opportunities on the 12-race card for a superfecta wager to pay out big.

There’s a New Chestnut in Town

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Dortmund. Believe the hype. This big, husky son of Big Brown is the real deal. Dortmund has the same physical appearance and chestnut coat as last year’s 3-year old phenom, California Chrome. They two may appear to be the same in physicality and color, but the running styles are very different. In Cali Chrome’s 3-year old season, he hit the front and kept going and never had any real challengers until Bayern and Shared Belief were healthy. Dortmund, on the other hand, is a speed horse and a grinder. He has battled a worthy foe, Firing Line, in Los Alamitos Futurity. This will be a nice rivalry going forward. Dortmund was a perfect 3 for 3 going into the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, after besting Firing Line by a head in the Los Alamitos Futurity. We can now make it a perfect 4 for 4, as Dortmund fought back and showed real grit to come back and beat Firing Line by a head (again) to gather up Derby points.

Dortmund handled the mile and sixteenth like a pro. He still seems to be growing into his legs, which is unnerving because he is already a really big 3-year old. When he was pinned on the rail, and Firing Line was rallying up his side, Dortmund gamely fought back. Firing Line, with the veteran Gary Stevens aboard, could easily have pinched Dortmund on the rail, but jockey Martin Garcia kept Dortmund straight and steady and this big horse re-rallied on the rail and caught Firing Line just before the wire by a bob. It was the best race of the day. Bob Baffert and Martin Garcia are a magical due in Southern California.

Dortmund and Martin Garcia
Dortmund and Martin Garcia

I still believe that the stable to watch in 2015 is Zayat Stables, and I feel even though El Kabeir was defeated in the Withers, he is still a valid Derby contender. Zayat has the “it” stable, and the Ramseys have the most thoroughbreds racing in the U.S., but owner Kaleem Shah, not only has two of the best horses in the West, but quite possibly two of the best in the country right now, Bayern and Dortmund.

With Dortmund’s impressive four wins, he has to be sitting at the top of the Derby contender list. California is producing Triple Crown potentials and the rest of the country is taking notice. During The Jockey Club Tour on Fox Sports 1 on Saturday, analyst Simon Bray posted his projected top Derby contenders and I agree with his list for the most part: American Pharaoh and Dortmund are the top two. I am anxious to see the return of American Pharaoh in March. I hope that all the contenders stay healthy. It’s a long road to Kentucky but in the next six weeks we should start to see the contender list take shape.

Santa Anita’s Saturday line-up showcased three stakes races, capping off the stakes races with the much-anticipated rematch of Shared Belief and California Chrome. With the start of a relatively uneventful race in Race 6, Victor Espinoza was about to have a very good day, much to the dismay of Mike Smith. In Race 6, Smith was on the heavy-favorite Logan’s Moon when literally from the back of the pack, Espinoza came flying on a 65-1 named Solid Wager (which apparently was a solid wager if you had him on your ticket), and caught Logan’s Moon at the wire. Apparently, the cut back in distance was definitely the advantage for Solid Wager.

Espinoza wasn’t finished there. In a “controversial” San Marcos Stakes, Diamond Bachelor was DQ’d from second to fourth, and rightfully so. Espinoza was on the post-time favorite Finnegans Wake, a horse that is familiar to the Santa Anita regulars. Finnigans Wake passed a pack of horses down the stretch that included the gate-to-wire frontrunner, Diamond Bachelor. As Finnegans came in the picture, a tiring Diamond Bachelor veered in and took the path of Power Foot, leading to the rightful DQ. I had the very disappointing Majestic Harbor on my ticket. This horse has raced against much better company than this field, and with Mike Smith aboard I was hoping for a better result than absolutely trotting across the finish line in last place.

I’m sure by the time the next race started, the $500,000 San Antonio Invitational, Mike Smith was a little tired of walking by Victor Espinoza in the Winner’s Circle. Shared Belief is a tested champion, make no mistake. I’m sure there’s nothing sweeter to start the campaign for 2015 Horse of the Year than by snatching the crown from the head of the newly-crowned 2014 Horse of Year in your first re-match. Shared Belief looked very good on the racetrack. This not the most powerful-looking horse, but he’s a speedy little guy. California Chrome was sticking to his usual style of running, sitting second or third out of the gate and then exploding towards home. Cali wanted to run, and you could see Victor pulling him back. At the time I was unsettled by this move and the placement of Cali Chrome in the field, but as the stretch run played out, it was a wise decision. The top three came around the turn with California Chrome ahead, followed closely by Shared Belief and Hoppertunity. As Trevor Denman said, “this is the race we’ve been waiting for.” I’ve watched Mike Smith race enough to recognize when he’s at ease on a horse and when he finds a horse he just loves to ride. He has found that horse in Shared Belief. Mike Smith was a steady, determined pilot on Shared Belief as he caught Cali Chrome and passed him late in the stretch, winning the San Antonio by more than a length. Hopportunity finished third, but was a long way back. Mike Smith is a master at this game. The stretch run was like poetry in motion. Mike Smith, belly-down and comfortable with the horse underneath him, and Shared Belief with his head down, each extended stride bringing him closer to the wire. Mike Smith is also a master of this game off the track. In his post-race interview, he said he was “in awe” of this horse and “without words.” He knew exactly what the game plan was and executed it brilliantly. He knew when California Chrome was on the lead coming out of the turn that he was going to grind him down to the finish line. Shared Belief overtook the big, chestnut title-holder with ease, and the hearts of thousands of Chromies sank.

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Next up on the Road to Kentucky, is the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate, then the Southwest at Oaklawn Park. After that, the points total increase significantly in the Fountain of Youth and the Risen Star. With the Derby points jumping from 10 to 50 for the winner, be sure that the big-time contenders will emerge. Dortmund will need more than the 10 points earned in the Robert B. Lewis to get into the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. I’m hoping to see Dortmund, Firing Line, and American Pharaoh in the San Anita Derby on April 4, but we have to get through the month of March yet where the points jump from 50 to 100. It’s a game of strategy we are about to be witnesses to, and it’s so enticing.

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!