Tag Archives: Aqueduct

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)

“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.

Transitioning from the Terrible Twos

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


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

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


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

Santa Anita:

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

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


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

Firmly in the Irons: Jockeys to Watch in 2014

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

Jose Ortiz on Strong Mandate
Jose Ortiz on Strong Mandate

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

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

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

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

Alex Canchari on Assembly Hall
Alex Canchari on Assembly Hall

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