Horse Racing: Closer Looks at the 2014 Fountain of Youth Stakes & 2014 Risen Star Stakes

Gulfstream Park in Florida and The Fair Grounds in Louisiana are both running tremendous cards this weekend but, in sticking with the three year old theme because the 2014 Kentucky Derby is only about 10 weeks away, we will be taking closer looks at both the 2014 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds, where Vicar’s in Trouble has been installed as the 5/2 morning line favorite, and the 2014 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park with Top Billing spearheading the field, for our Horse Racing Race(s) of the Week. Both races will be run on Saturday afternoon and each drew tremendous fields

The Risen Star, which is run at 8 1/2 furlongs for $400,000, drew a field of 16 and is used as a prep race for the $1 million Louisiana Derby which, in turn, is a prep race for the Kentucky Derby

The Fountain of Youth, which is also run at 8 1/2 furlongs and also for $400,000, drew 13 runners and has an impressive list of past winners including the popular Tim Tam (1958), the great Spectacular Bid (1979), the speedy Star Gallant of whom yours truly was hands on with (1982), Forty Niner (1988), Dehere, who possessed a devastating late run (1994) and eventually Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch (1995).

More recently, the last four winners of the FOY has produced the wickedly fast Quality Road (2009), Eskenderaya, who was injured shortly before the Kentucky Derby and left me wondering “what if” (2010), eventually Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags (2012) and, of course, 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb last year.

Other key races being run at those facilities include the Grade: 3 Mineshaft Handicap at the Fair Grounds. The Mineshaft is for four years old and up, run at 8 1/2 furlongs and carries a purse of $150,000. The race drew a field of nine with Micromanage, Prayer for Relief and Fordubai looking like the standouts.

Also on the Saturday’s Fair Grounds car is the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, which is a $200,000, 8 1/2 furlong race for three year old fillies. 2013 Breeders Cup (via disqualification) winner Ria Antonia will make her 2014 debut in this race. However, I do like the immensely talent Streaming to win it. The Bob Baffert trained filly suffered her first career defeat her last time out but I do expect her to bounce back in this one.

On the under-card of the Fountain of Youth Stakes is the Grade: 3 Davona Dale Stakes which, like the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, is a $200,000 race for three year old fillies going 8 1/2 furlongs. I like Stopchargingmaria, who finished 2013 win back to back stakes wins, to win that one.

 

Fair Grounds

Race 11

Risen Star Stakes (Grade:2)

Purse $400,000.

For Three Year Olds

One And One Sixteenth Miles

 

P#

PP

Horse

A/S

Med

Jockey

Wgt

Trainer

M/L

1 1 Albano 3/C L K D Clark 116 J L Jones

12/1

2 2 Rise Up 3/C L G Melancon 120 T M Amoss

4/1

3 3 Flat Gone 3/C L C Landeros 116 J K Desormeaux

30/1

4 4 Vigorish 3/C L M Pedroza 116 D W Lukas

50/1

5 5 Bond Holder 3/C L M Gutierrez 122 D F O’Neill

6/1

6 6 Gold Hawk 3/C L C S Nakatani 116 S M Asmussen

8/1

7 7 Interchange 3/C L E T Baird 116 T A Clark

30/1

8 8 Hoppertunity 3/C L M Garcia 116 B Baffert

8/1

9 9 Intense Holiday 3/C L M E Smith 116 T A Pletcher

8/1

10 10 Son of a Preacher 3/C L M Mena 116 W B Calhoun

20/1

11 11 Quick Indian 3/C L B J Hernandez, Jr. 116 M R Scherer

20/1

12 12 Xtra Luck 3/C L R E Eramia 116 D Pish

50/1

13 13 Commanding Curve 3/R L R Albarado 116 D Stewart

20/1

14 14 Vicar’s in Trouble 3/C L R Napravnik 120 M J Maker

5/2

15 15 Emmett Park 3/G L J Graham 116 R J Pincins

20/1

16 16 Teniente Coronel 3/C L S Bridgmohan 116 P J McGee

30/1

 

Analysis:

 

1) Vicar’s in Trouble- ran an even third in his debut at Keeneland (Oct. 11) but came back a little over 2 months later in a restricted maiden race over this very track and won by a colossal margin while being pulled up late.

From there, he (albeit raced greenly) destroyed the field in the LeComte when he took command at the half mile pole and roared home an almost 7 length winner.

The 5/2 morning line favorite and rightfully so because if he runs back to either of his last two races, he’ll be long gone.

 

2) Rise Up- I’m not sure what happened in that Churchill Downs race back on Sept 7, but aside from that race, this colt by Rockport Harbor sped his way to four monster wins with three of them coming in stakes races including a conclusive 6 length win in the Delta Downs Jackpot Million in his last (Nov. 23).

What really grabbed my attention was that this guy was on, or very close, to the early pace in each of those four wins and in every one of them he cut sub :23 second first quarters and sub :47 half miles….that’s some hot early speed….and yet he was still drawing away in the end of those races.

But keep in mind, he’ll be making his first start in about 2 1/2 months, so if he’s not going to be as dominant as he normally is, this would be the race.

 

3) Gold Hawk- was fractious at the gate and had a wide trip while being beaten over 7 lengths (to the top pick) in Lecomte Stakes in his last. I’m willing to excuse that race because his prior two races (which were the first two of his career) were dominant, come from behind, won by daylight wins.

You have to like the trainer and has remarkably good breeding (by Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker out of graded stakes winner Caressing by Honour N Glory). He should be coming late in this race too.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Hoppertunity is a half brother to two year old multiple stakes winner Executivepriviledge from the Bob Baffert barn who didn’t show all that much in his debut (Jan 4), but came back some 3 1/2 weeks later (and at a longer distance) to beat maidens “going away”. It appears the longer the distance the better this colt will be and he’ll be stretching out again come Saturday. He shows a couple of good works and could run well in this race, but it’s the jump from maidens to a grade: 2 race and shipping across the country to run over a strange surface that deters me somewhat. Intense Holiday is a late running son of Harlan’s Holiday from the powerhouse Todd Pletcher barn that has been within shouting distance several times to the likes of Cairo Prince, Honor Code and Havana in his last few races…if he improves a little more and get a fast pace, he could be heard from in deep stretch. Albano broke his maiden his second time out, won a $60,000 stakes race his third time out before being manhandled, albeit finishing second, by the top pick in the LeComte Stakes in his last. Please note, he did finish in front of the third pick in that race as well. He’s 3-2-1-0 over this surface and 4 for 4 on the board overall in his career…may go well on Saturday. Quick Indian is another late runner who broke thru big time to beat mid-level optional claimers in his last. Long-shot possibility? Lastly, if Emmett Park draws in off the AE’s you should take a close look at him. He’s been visually, and on paper, very impressive in his first two races (note the titanic middle move in the Jan 17 race)….I won’t be the least bit surprised that if he does run, he’ll run big.

 

 

GulfstreamPark

Race: 11

Fountain of Youth Stakes

Purse $400,000.

For Three Year Olds

One And One Sixteenth Miles

P#

PP

Horse

A/S

Med

Jockey

Wgt

Trainer

M/L

1 1 Commissioner 3/C L J R Velazquez 116 T A Pletcher

3/1

2 2 We Miss Artie 3/C L J Bravo 122 T A Pletcher

8/1

3 3 Medal Count 3/C L J Rocco, Jr. 116 D L Romans

15/1

4 4 Wildcat Red 3/C L L Saez 120 J Garoffalo

6/1

5 5 General a Rod 3/C L J Castellano 120 M J Maker

5/1

6 6 Casiguapo 3/C L J Lezcano 116 M Morales

30/1

7 7 C. Zee 3/C L E J Zayas 116 S I Gold

12/1

8 8 Almost Famous 3/C L C H Borel 116 P B Byrne

10/1

9 9 Best Plan Yet 3/C L P Lopez 120 S I Gold

20/1

10 10 Our Caravan 3/C L C J Lanerie 116 M Dilger

30/1

11 11 Hesinfront 3/C L A Jaen 116 D L Romans

20/1

12 12 Top Billing 3/C L J Rosario 116 C R McGaughey

7/2

13 13 East Hall 3/C L J C Lewa 116 W A Kaplan       20-1

 

Analysis:

1) Top Billing- is getting an enormous amount of attention as a possible Derby horse even though he’s never even won a stakes race (yet).

This beautifully bred colt (Curlin-Parade Queen by A.P. Indy) out of the Shug McGaughey barn came from out of nowhere (14 lengths back) to win going away (by 5 1/4 lengths) in his debut on yours truly’s birthday.

He came with the same menacing late rush in his second race only fall a neck short to Commissioner in a high priced optional claimer race on Jan 3rd and then on Jan 25, and once again, against high priced claimers, he was last, some 8 lengths behind before he uncoiled a tremendous four wide run while circling the entire field to win going away by almost three lengths.

“He’s not flashy,” McGaughey said of Top Billing. “By this time a year ago, Orb had started to get a little flashy. But even though Orb ran more as a 2-year-old, both are coming into the Fountain of Youth off a win in a one-other-than”.

“It’s been difficult for me to get a bead on Top Billing because he’s not flashy. He’s extremely sound. He’s got an unbelievable mind. They told me when he was first training in Ocala last year that he was half nuts, that he’d come back without a rider once a week, but I’ve never seen any of that.”

McGaughey said Top Billing “is a lot easier to be around than Honor Code, but I think he is going in the right direction. I think he’s doing good, he looks good, and everything’s in order.”…it better be Mr. McGaughey, your horse will have to break from the extreme outside post against a tough field.

Although the outside spot in a big field is a notoriously bad place to be, McGaughney doesn’t sound all that concerned about. “It’s not like he’s going to be on the lead,” McGaughey said. “(Jockey) Joel’s (Rosario) just going to have to get him over a bit going to the first turn. He had him a little wide to keep him out of the dirt when he won his last race. We overcame post 1 to win this race last year with Orb. Now, we’ll have to overcome post 12 to do it again this time.”

 

2) Wildcat Red- is a head short of finishing first in now all five lifetime starts and has the speed figures to be very competitive in this spot.

He figures be on or close to the early lead…Which is good thing of course.

It troubles me a bit that his lone defeat came when he was trying a little more distance (the one mile Gulfstream Park Derby, where he got beat a head to General a Rod) while he is unbeaten in sprint races.

So, is he just a good sprinter or can he get a distance of ground? Either way, we should have the answer come Saturday evening.

 

3) General A Rod- was engaged in a pitched battle with Wildcat Red in the aforementioned Gulfstream Park Derby on New Years Day and prevailed under heavy pressure from jockey Joel Rosario (who, by the way, jumps off this horse to ride Top Billing…does that make a statement or what?) by a head.

I wonder how much such a taxing effort took out of this colt by Roman Ruler? And is he a “bounce” candidate?

 Possibly not a lot  judging by a pair of recent five furlongs works (Feb 2- :59 flat and Feb 15- 1:00 flat).

“We decided to skip the Holy Bull because I thought it would be asking too much of him to run in all these big races,” trainer Mike Maker said. “But he’s doing well, and Saturday will certainly be the acid test for him, to see if he fits with these types of horses.”

I like the quickly rising speed figures as well (three career races he posted 65, 81 and 92). He should be among the vanguard when they hit the wire.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Commissioner- is a well bred (A.P Indy- Flaming Heart) stretch runner from the Todd Pletcher barn that shows three career starts, including passing 4 or 5 horses down the stretch in his debut, then broke his maiden at Saratoga before taking 5 months off. In his comeback race he was “all out” to beat a field of high priced optional claimers that included Top Billing. “After he broke his maiden, Elliott (Walden) and I looked at the schedule and said there’s basically nowhere to run a horse like this around two turns until the Remsen, so we made a decision at that point to give him a little break,” Pletcher said. “We sent him back to WinStar with a 3-year-old campaign in mind.I think he’s progressed a lot from the summer,” Pletcher added. “He’s an A.P. Indy, and you don’t necessarily anticipate those horses being July 2-year-olds. He was able to break his maiden at Saratoga, and he’s a horse that we’ve always felt would improve at longer distances. He’s breezed really well and I think we’re ready to go,” said Pletcher. East Hall is already making his 11th career start and shows a 2-1-4 record thru his first 10 races. You have to like the consistency and durability in this colt by Graeme Hall and although he looks slightly outclassed on paper, he might run a good race. C. Zee shows a win and three second place finishes in four careers outings with two of those seconds coming in the Spectacular Bid Stakes and the Hutcheson Stakes. Once again, you have to like the consistency but all four of those races were sprint races and he’ll try a route distance for the first time in this race. It appears he’ll handle it just fine but you never know until they try.

 2014 Record: 4-10 = 40%

2013 Record: 20-59 = 34%

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Little Bets N’ Pieces:

**** Samantha Nicole a full sister to 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra finished second in her career debut last Sunday in a maiden special weight at Fair Grounds.

It didn’t exactly go smoothly for the three year old filly as she whacked her head on the outside stall door leaving the gate, got bumped shortly thereafter and quickly found herself last in the five-horse field.

Her problems were compounded by a painfully slow early pace ( :25.1, :51, and 1:16.) made it even tougher for her to make the ground the lost early.

Samantha Nicole responded to urging to advance into second inside the eighth pole and secured that spot while finishing 6 1/2 lengths behind 5-2 second choice Handmade. The final time was 1:45 flat.

 

 

**** Princess of Sylmar, a four time Grade: 1 stakes winner last, had her first work in preparation for her 2014 campaign. The Todd Pletcher trainee went three-furlongs at Palm Meadows in :38.1.

“She just went nice and easy,” Pletcher said. “It was her first little work back, and we’re just getting her back into a routine. Everything has gone according to plan. As you would expect, everything’s come pretty easily to her. She’s pretty push-button.”

Pletcher said he will keep Princess of Sylmar breezing leading up to her still-to-be-determined 2014 debut.

“We’ll just go on a weekly work schedule from here,” he said. “We don’t have a specific race picked out for her yet. We’ll just kind of let it fall into place.”

Princess of Sylmar is beginning to get cranked up for her 2014 campaign

Princess of Sylmar is beginning to get cranked up for her 2014 campaign

 

**** Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas informed upper management of Santa Anita that he will be sending 2013 three year old champion Will Take Charge to the Santa Anita Handicap on March 8. The news will make the Santa Anita Handicap the biggest race of the young year as 2013 Breeder Cup winner Mucho Macho Man and multiple Grade: 1 stakes winner Game On Dude are also scheduled to run in the classic race.

“We’re coming,” Lukas told officials at perhaps the most beautiful racetracks in the country.

Will Take Charge started his 4-year-old campaign with a good, late running second in the Donn Handicap on Feb. 9

 

2013 three yeat old colt champion Will Take Charge is heading west

2013 three yeat old colt champion Will Take Charge is heading west

 

**** Del Mar plans to replace its $40 million Polytrack surface with conventional dirt, track president and chief executive officer Joe Harper said this past Tuesday.

Harper told the San Diego Union-Tribune the plan has been in the works for a while. The return to dirt would require California Coastal Commission approval, but Harper told the newspaper he “doesn’t expect any problems with that”.

The Del Mar Polytrack was installed in 2007 as part of a California Horse Racing Board mandate. But Harper told the Union-Tribune the asphalt base for the surface is “falling apart.”

“They said the life of the Polytrack was seven years, and guess what, we’re seeing it,” Harper told the Union-Tribune. “The asphalt is disintegrating because of the petroleum base in the wax. We had no other choice. This is the safest decision we could make.”

There have been no public indications that other Polytrack surfaces installed before or at about the same time as the one at Del Mar have similar issues.”

 

Del Mar Racetrack is getting a pretty serious facelift

Del Mar Racetrack is getting a pretty serious facelift

 

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