Tag Archives: Santa Anita

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.

It’s a Sham!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

“And away they go …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arbitrary Thoughts from the Miz: Breeders’ Cup Edition

Well it has been 10 days since the Breeders’ Cup and now that the proverbial dust has settled, I thought I would digest the debates and the “IMOs” in social media and put in my thoughts.

I will start by saying that I absolutely love my home track, Canterbury Park. It has such a familiar feel to it, it’s like walking in the front door of my house. I know exactly where to go, exactly where the “regulars” will be and exactly where the Chalk Pub is!

I saw the Boss himself, Mr. Randy Sampson, picking up empty drink cups left behind by some less-than appreciative bettor. Mr. Sampson does this frequently. He takes care of Canterbury as if it was his own house, and technically it is. He always greets me with a firm handshake and a “nice to see you.” There’s always a table for me at Canterbury when major simulcast events are being played, which I also greatly appreciate. For the Breeders’ Cup, I was at the table with my friend Tom, whom I met at Arlington during the Arlington Million. We were both standing at the TV screen watching the Canterbury live stream during the races at Arlington. Birds of a feather flock together, as the saying goes.

I am 100% “Team TVG” so before I left for the track on November 1, I watched the preview show and the first two races at Santa Anita. Rich Perloff was on fire that day. I even wrote down Perloff’s picks next to my own before I walked out the door. Both he and I hit the winner in Race 1 and the exacta in Race 2, but it wasn’t that hard to hit, I have to admit. Joe Talamo on the turf is almost a sure-thing. He was on Ocho Ocho Ocho in Race 1 and the favorite, War Alert, was nowhere to be found. Talamo is too tough on turf. Period. If you didn’t see the trifecta coming in the second race, you don’t know Santa Anita. Acceptance, Wake Up Nick and Mischief Clem, all favorites.

There were eight scratches in Race 3, and Mr. Perloff wisely hit the “All button” in this one, as some horse named Amaranth won this race – that should have been a hint for the rest of the day actually! Where were On The Backstreets (Paco Lopez) and Velvet Mesquite (Mike Smith)? At least Velvet Mesquite managed to come in behind Amaranth and of course Talamo picked up the trifecta (on the turf) on Fanticola.

The BC Juvenile Fillies was a very cool race. That’s really all I can say. I love it when the hype falls flat. Nowhere on the board was Conquest Eclipse, Angela Renee or Puca. But a D. Wayne Lukas horse took ‘em gate to wire at 60-1 with the talented Victor Espinoza in the irons. Espinoza seems to find himself on the most-unlikely champions. Take Charge Brandi beat this field by 6 lengths coming into the stretch. Espinoza took a peek back as he crossed the wire to see where everyone else was! The horse that finished second was Top Decile, which Perloff had on top, kudos Mr. Perloff – had Brandi not freaked, Top Decile had this won.

Oh, the BC Filly and Mare Turf! I played two exactas in this race and had Dank on top with Stephanie’s Kitten and Dayatthespa underneath! Oh Dank it! And Castellano, I should have known. It’s funny how the “woulda, shoulda” effect takes place and messes with your focus.

Thank goodness for Judy the Beauty who righted the ship in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint. I hit the exacta in this with Better Lucky. It was good to see Judy and Mike Smith in the Winner’s Circle. She’s a good horse and a fearless competitor. Unfortunately for Money Mike, this would be his first and only victory of the day.

Large fields on the turf are difficult to handicap, and the Turf Sprint was no exception. As most of you know, if you follow me, I keep my eye on Joel Rosario – for a number of reasons. Specifically, he has a patented move of launching from the back of the pack. The “slingshot” move, I call it. I don’t know why I bet against him in any race, but with the turf races at Santa Anita and Rosario being on the East Coast now, I went with the wrong Kitten in this race. From out of the pack emerged Rosario wearing the Ramsey silks and urged Bobby’s Kitten to victory over No Nay Never, literally at the wire, giving trainer Chad Brown his second win of three on the day. Wes Welker’s Undrafted rounded out the trifecta.

Ah, Race 8, the BC Juvenile … the baby boys …and stars of the future. Such pressure for young colts on a major stage. Enter Mr. Perloff and his discussion of Texas Red on the TVG preshow. I wrote down and underlined “Texas Red” on my sheet, but Carpe Diem was all I could think about. I thought, “Pfffft. Perloff.” I stand severely humbled and corrected, Mr. Perloff. Immediately after Texas Red embarrassed this field of would-be-stars, the broadcasters and social media erupted with Derby talk. Yes, yes, we all fell in love with the campaign of California Chrome last year, but let’s just relax for a minute and take a deeper look at this race, if that is all people are basing Texas Red’s Derby-worthy talk on. Carpe Diem finished second, a distance second, I give you that. But he also had a bad trip. Upstart was third. I did not expect Daredevil to live up to his billing to be honest. He wasn’t even on my radar. Also, consider the scratches in this race: Calculator and American Pharaoh. Would the speed have been different upfront with either or both of them in the race? Definitely. Would American Pharaoh and, if Carpe Diem had gotten loose, been the speed upfront and be too much for Texas Red to catch? Unfortunately, we will never know. Maybe the dueling speedsters would have opened up the opportunity for Calculator and Upstart to steal the glory from the favorites. Again, woulda, shoulda, but that’s not how it went down. Texas Red exploded in the stretch, but Carpe Diem was buried and Texas Red came flying – a joy ride for Kent Desormeaux. As the 2-year old campaign plays out in the next six months, I will be keeping an eye as to where these three horses are placed before I start getting all giddy-up about the 2015 Kentucky Derby.

Thank you, Main Sequence, for righting the ship again. There is just no better horse racing right now at this distance on turf than Main Sequence. I am sad that Rajiv Maragh did not get his opportunity on Main Sequence but no one could pilot a horse better on turf than John Velazquez. Johnny V has had some success on the turf with another beast of a turf horse — Wise Dan of course. Main Sequence was just simply in a class by himself in this race. Main Sequence could possibly get Horse of the Year votes to stack up as we progress toward the nomination deadline. For me, when voting, you have to look at the horse’s complete resume, not just the Breeders’ Cup results. Obviously, Grade 1 wins against Grade 1 company is the top tier on a horse’s resume, and Main Sequence has four of them. All four starts in 2014 were in Grade 1 races. Four Grade 1 starts and four Grade 1 wins. That’s an impressive resume folks and one that deserves this industry’s top award.

When the Xpressbet BC Sprint came up as Race 10, I turned to my friend Tom and said, “You know which horse we have to take, right?” Roger Brueggemann and Midwest Thoroughbreds raced horses at Canterbury Park for many years. Tom and I watched Work All Week run at Arlington and other tracks, and I met jockey Florent Geroux at Arlington. We have a common friend in Alex Canchari so Florent stopped to talk to me and was very nice and normal. You always wish for good things to happen to the most deserving people. I am so happy for Florent’s success on The Pizza Man and Work All Week. He has spent many years in the Midwest circuit riding horses in the cold and snow of Chicago. It’s about time the Midwest circuit got a little respect on the biggest stage in racing, and I can’t think of a better set of connections than these. I had Work All Week on my ticket. I also had a set of exactas with Secret Circle because you just don’t mess with the mighty connections of Martin Garcia and Bob Baffert in California. For personal reasons, I also had Salutos Amigos to win, but for personal reasons only, not handicapping reasons. The ticket that paid me was the Work All Week/Secret Circle exacta. This was a very proud moment.

However, my least proud moment as a handicapper came in the next race, the BC Turf Mile. After the elation of seeing Work All Week in the Winner’s Circle, Tom said to me, “I’m not even gonna look at the next race. I’m going with the horse from Japan.” And then …. It happened. I have learned a great deal from some of the most brilliant handicappers in the biz. I have heard many of the “bigs” (Lee Davis, Jonathan Stettin to name drop) say, “as a handicapper, you never talk someone off a horse” you simply make suggestions based on your education and research, and occasionally a gut-feeling. We are more like “horseracing consultants.” I was about to open my mouth and make an extremely regrettable flippant comment. After Tom’s bold and confident announcement, I looked at him and said, “Really?” I even uttered something to the effect, “I’ll die if that horse wins.” And, well … we all know how this ended. Karakontie came out of the pack and took no mercy on the rest of the field. I literally wanted to find a hole and crawl into it. I was on the verge of tears. I don’t know who Tom placed his bet on, but it wasn’t the 14. I tried to soften the sting by saying the field was full of Euros and no one could have known, to which Tom responded, “I did.” Ah, daggers. Surprisingly, we are still friends.

Does the Classic ever really disappoint?! Last year the threesome of Mucho Macho Man, Declaration of War and Will Take Charge brought us all to the edge of our seats and this year was no different. However, I felt the anticipated build-up was more enticing than last year… after all the 2014 Triple Crown hopeful California Crown was in this race, as well as the “it” horse Shared Belief and the horse that broke a track record in the Pennsylvania Derby, the speed figures’ darling, Bayern. It was one of the best finishes I have seen in a long time. Last year, it was Declaration of War splitting horses between MMM and WTC. This year, it was California Chrome charging up the outside of Toast of New York. I love this game.

But, let’s back up to the start. The bumper car effect out of the gate by Bayern could never have been predicted by the best psychic, telepath or horse whisperer. Well I suppose it’s possible that Bob Baffert and Martin Garcia knew, but I can’t even entertain that notion. Bayern may have done the bumping, but at the risk of injuring himself, one of the BC Classic favorites in the process? I doubt it. I really doubt it. That horse is worth too much money for anyone to put him at risk. It was a crazy break. It effected all the speed to the left of Bayern, which was helpful, but was Moreno or V.E. Day really ever gonna win this race? No. Shared Belief on the other hand was surely thrown off by Bayern’s hard left. The same unfortunate event happened to California Chrome in the Belmont. The debate of disqualification for me was pointless. The stewards at Santa Anita DQ horses for the strangest things. They rarely do it during the Breeders Cup, however. I mean let’s look back again to last year, where Ria Antonia ended up in the Winner’s Circle for the most miniscule infraction by She’s a Tiger. That “bump” was not even in the same category as the mess that Bayern caused out of the gate. But remember, the stewards took so much heat from last year’s DQ, I knew they would not take down Bayern.

In my opinion, he deserved to be taken down, and Martin Garcia fined for reckless riding. The amount of money, quality of horses and the safety of the best jockeys in the world should have come into consideration when the stewards made this decision. For the record, I had Bayern, California Chrome and Toast of New York on my tickets, but I would certainly have tossed that away to protect the safety of the equine athletes and the integrity of this sport.

I had California Chrome across the board. I believe in this horse, and have believed in him and Victor Espinoza since Day 1 at Los Alamitos. I thought he ran a beautiful race and all the connections should hold their heads high. As far as Bayern, this horse is a warrior. He can run, he can race and there is no better fit than Martin Garcia for this horse. It was a remarkable finish to this race, and we have to remember that for all the trouble out of the gate, Bayern was involved in that as well and yet he won the race. So basically, the bumper cars did nothing but put the other horses in a bad position to win the race. However, Bayern went to the front after the very poor start and won. That’s a warrior my friends. He was going to win no matter what the adversity. I can also openly admit that the poor placement by V.E. Day, Shared Belief, Moreno and Tonalist certainly helped Toast of New York. I watched the Dubai World Cup that Toast won, and I’ve been keeping tabs on his works and progress since he shipped to the U.S., so Toast was on the ticket as a hopeful, and there was no way I was putting Shared Belief on a ticket at the price he went off at. I was hoping for Rosario to engage the slingshot with Tonalist, but again he simply did not run a good race and was not even a factor. The way the race finished with the top four horses is probably exactly the way most people thought it would go, with the exception of Toast getting the place honors. Shared Belief, even after the rough beginning, finished fourth, and a few strides more in distance and California Chrome would be our Breeders’ Cup Classic champion.

This has been thoughts on the Breeders’ Cup from the mind of the Miz.

A hunka hunka Burning Fuhry

 

Erick Lopez on Burning Fuhry
Erick Lopez on Burning Fuhry

Erick Lopez is not a name that is familiar to most Minnesota racing fans. He’s not the leading rider at Canterbury Park, nor is he a regular Canterbury rider. But on July 5, 2014, Erick Lopez forever cemented his name into the Canterbury history books when he brought home a 75-1 long shot named Burning Fuhry (trained by Troy Bethke) and provide the largest win payout in the history of Minnesota thoroughbred racing. Burning Fuhry’s win paid $153 on a $2 win bet. Not since 1990, when Money Trap paid out $152.40 for a single win bet, have race fans witnessed such a windfall.

Order of Finish:

Burning Fuhry (75-1)       $153.00                $59.40                   $15.40

Tundra Leap (56-1)                                          $36.60                   $12.20

Fair Trade (14-1)                                                                               $8.20

The $1 Exacta paid $1,260.40

Unfortunately for this lil ‘capper, I did not have Burning Fuhry on my ticket. However, I did have the second place finisher Tundra Leap at 56-1 as part of a superfecta for this race. When the scratches came in, and Miguel Silva’s horse drew in from the also eligible list, I took out Tizn’t Over and put in the Silva horse.  I followed Silva at Turf Paradise and is a go-to trainer for me here at Canterbury. I also met Silva’s jockey, Cesar A. Ordaz, during Leg Up Day on June 29 and wanted to see what the young rider could do on the long shot. The shy Ordaz had a patient, well-time ride on Tundra Leap. Lopez, on the other hand, didn’t have as smooth a ride on the maiden Burning Fuhry. About 9 back in the field of 12 around the first turn, Lopez had to steady the horse several times before seeing daylight down the stretch. Tundra Leap, Fair Trade and Burning Fuhry were thundering toward the wire when Burning Fuhry lunged ahead beating Tundra Leap by almost a half a length. It was one of the most exciting races I’ve seen at Canterbury, not just because it was a close finish but because the race showcased the grit of two horses disregarded by the experts, handicappers and the betting public. The two long shots engaged in a speed duel to the wire, and two relatively unknown jockeys also showed grit, riding the horses as if they were riding famous rivals Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge instead of the longest shots on the board that day.   It would have been very easy to lay back in the pack and let the favorites go on. Neither horse nor pilot would settle for simply finishing the race. When the favorites began backing up and there was nothing but grass in front of them, the true heart and determination of these amazing athletes shown through. This is why I love this sport.

http://replays.robertsstream.com/racereplays/playf_llnw.php?customer=CanterburyPark&t=1404786380&h=0485de58a4223478d741a7866622c98f&url=201407051717CBD8

(Link to replay of Race 8 at CBY on July 5, 2014)

One of my handicapping tools is looking at the pedigree of the horse. Some jockeys also have pedigree. For instance, Erick Lopez was meant to be a jockey. In fact, he is a third generation jockey. His grandfather is Carlos Lopez, Sr., who retired from riding at age 57. Erick’s father is legendary jockey C.C. Lopez. He has three uncles who are jockeys, as well as his younger brother, David. Erick, a New Jersey native, has been literally riding for trainers across the country since 2006, getting his first mount at Monmouth and eventually moving his tack to Santa Anita and Turf Paradise, which eventually led to his first meet at Canterbury Park, following the path of trainer Robertino Diodoro. His years of riding experience certainly came into play on Saturday with the troubled trip from Burning Fuhry on the Canterbury turf. His showed expertise in guiding the previously winless horse out of trouble, keeping him steady and focused and eventually unleashing his potential burning speed when the opportunity presented itself in the last 200 yards of the race.

Lopez has been riding at Turf Paradise in Phoenix where he finished the meet with 31 wins, well-behind riding title winner Jorge Carreno, who is also riding at Canterbury for the first time this summer. Lopez has only 3 wins at Canterbury this meet, but he has several mounts for leading trainer Diodoro. Many Turf Paradise riders followed Diodoro to Canterbury, including Carreno who is making the most of his Minnesota debut. Cesar Ordaz also rode at Turf Paradise for Silva. We are happy to have them here at Canterbury this summer.

 

Santa Anita and Arlington Stakes Saturday: Quick Read

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Santa Anita Grade II Charles Whittingham

It’s a Pedigree Parade in the Charles Whittingham which makes this lil ‘capper very happy!  A field of nine will go the 1 ¼ miles on the turf. With leading rider Rafael Bejarano still on the mend, Joe Talamo takes over and when it comes to turf riding, Talamo is too tough.  He’s on Quick Casablanca.

When Gary Stevens and Hollendorfer team up magical things usually happen.  Segway has the impressive pedigree of Giant’s Causeway – Slow Down by Seattle Slew, and he has been able thus far to live up to those lofty bloodlines.

The spoiler in this race could be Bright Thought ridden by Victor Espinoza.  If you don’t recognize the pedigree of this horse you must live under a rock, or never watch TVG.  (Hat Trick – Smart Thought by Smart Strike.)

Fire with Fire is 6-year old colt of Distorted Humor – Cosmic Fire by Capote.  I like this horse, but Talamo on the turf and Tyler Baze on Fire with Fire … I gotta go with Smoking Joe Talamo.

I have not seen morning lines for this race but would presume the favorite would be Segway.  The M/L’s don’t mean much to me as a handicapper, they just provide a place for the general betting public to start.  So for me it’s Quick Casablanca, Segway, Fire with Fire.

Arlington-Park-Logo

I’m all about stirring up controversy this week, so here’s my take on the Arlington stakes races on Saturday:

Arlington Matron

Why not upset Awesome Flower and Moment in Dixie?  It seems Frivolous, but I’m going to do it regardless: (2) Frivolous, (4) Awesome Flower, (1) Ambusher

 Hanshin Cup

Oh, I can’t bet against Hogy and why should I?  He runs crazy good at Arlington and hasn’t really had a bad race since the Shadwell. He’ll probably be bet even by post time, but again, I don’t really care, I’m going four deep here anyway: (4) Hogy, (1) Havelock, (5) Nikki’s  Sandcastle, (7) Mister Marti Gras

Arlington Classic

Finally a race I can sink my teeth into! Catalano has a good one in Solitary Ranger which draws the rail.   New Dad Channing Hill gets the mount. The speed and experience will come from Istanford fresh off a second in the Edgewood Stakes at Churchill Downs. Bill Mott ships in Long on Value with experienced rider Brian Hernandez, Jr. aboard. But here I go upsetting the apple cart, again. Ry’s the Man with Florent (“Flo”) Geroux in the irons and trained by Pressin.   The Fair Grounds shipper (via Keeneland) has four starts and hit the board four times. Ry’s the Man for the upset in the Classic. (5) Ry’s the Man, (1) Solitary Ranger, (7) Istanford, (4) Long on Value.

 

 

 

 

Transitioning from the Terrible Twos

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

Aqueduct:

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

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

Gulfstream:

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

Santa Anita:

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

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

Oaklawn

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

A Super and Surreal Saturday

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

Cairo Prince
Cairo Prince

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

Joel Rosario on Top Billing
Joel Rosario on Top Billing

But the Super Saturday didn’t end there ….

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

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

Kent Desormeaux
Kent Desormeaux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kent Desormeaux

What’s the Saturday Special? Stakes.

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Gulfstream is Serving Surf and Turf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Santa Anita is Serving Black and Blue

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

Oaklawn is Serving Razorback Ribeye

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

Fair Grounds is Serving Cajun 5 Ways

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

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

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

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

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

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Turf Paradise is Serving Potatoes on the Side

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

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.