I saw 17 stakes race being run around the country this weekend in the sport of Horse Racing but I’m going to zero in on about 4 or 5 while taking a closer look at two of them. Those two are the 2014 San Felipe, which will feature three legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders in California Chrome, who is coming off back to back dominant wins, Kristo, who has never been worse than second in his career, and the late running Grade:3 winner Midnight Hawk. The race will be sans heavy favorite and possible juggernaut Bayern, who suffered a bruised hoof on a routine gallop yesterday (Thursday) morning. We will also be looking at the 2014 Santa Anita Handicap, which will feature a three headed monster in 2013 Breeders Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, 2013 three year old colt champion Will Take Charge and the speedy Game on Dude. Both races will be held at Santa Anita Racetrack in California and both on Saturday as well.
Bayern, who won his racing debut by three easy lengths then came back five weeks later to obliterate an allowance field by 15 lengths, might still have a chance to make it to Kentucky for the Derby according to trainer Bob Baffert.
“The timing’s pretty frustrating,” Baffert said. “You’ve got to look up and say, ‘Not this week.’ He’s going to be all right. He’s still in the picture.”
Before I dive into the two featured races this weekend, there are three other key/can’t miss races that I’d like to touch on briefly.
Other the other side of the country, and in the state of Florida, there are two races that you should pay attention to. The Gulfstream Park Handicap, which drew incredibly strong this year and, a little further north at Tampa Bay Downs, The Tampa Bay Derby.
The Gulfstream Park Handicap, which carries a purse of $250,000 and run at a flat mile, drew a field of eight that will be led by 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, 2013 Preakness runner-up Itsmyluckyday, 2013 Breeders Cup Dirt Mile runner up Golden Ticket, 14-1 upset winner of the Gulfstream Park Sprint Falling Sky (which also happens to be a good TV show) and Uncaptured, who albeit has dropped his last five races, could be lying in the weeds here. The first three mentioned will all be making their respective 2014 debuts.
“It’s a mile race which may not be our cup of tea,” Dogwood president and owner of Palace Malice, who had his final tune-up for this race last Sunday, posting a :48.4 half mile work, Cot Campbell posted on the stable’s website. “We hope it is because it would open up the possibility of the Metropolitan Mile on Belmont Day. In any case, it’s an excellent place to get started after a four month break.”
Itsmyluckyday was a stand out in Florida last year while capturing the Holy Bull and finishing second behind eventual Kentucky Derby winner Orb in the $1 million Florida Derby. But after finishing 15th in the Kentucky Derby, due to an obvious dislike for the sloppy track, his year (2103) came to an end quickly at MonmouthPark on June 16 in the Pegasus Stakes, in which he was pulled up and recorded a DNF. It was later discovered that the colt sustained a pelvic fracture.
“It’s been a long road back. We decided to take our time with him, and it looks like he approved of it,” trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said. “I will tell you, when he goes to the gate, no matter where he finishes, he’ll be 110% ready to run.”
Itsmyluckyday, by the fleet but now deceased, Lawyer Ron, has also been working steadily for returned including a five-furlong bullet workout in :59.3 last week at Palm Meadows. “I couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s been training,” Plesa said. “He’s just about ready to get started.”
Golden Ticket, who came from 10th with a powerhouse late run in the 2013 BC Mile to finish second, “His race in the Breeders’ Cup was a really good race,” trainer Kenneth McPeek said. “I really think he can be really effective at a mile, but this race is a good starting off point for the year.”
“I don’t know if I can tell you he’s 110% fit, but I can tell you he’s not far off,” McPeek added. “He’s ready to run.”
The Tampa Bay Derby, which is a Grade:2 race run at 8 ½ furlongs for $350,000, also drew a strong field (of 10).
The field will be led by a pair of Todd Pletcher horses in Vinceremos, who was a heart-pounding nose winner of the Sam F. Davis over stable-mate Harpoon in his last, and Surfing U S A, who was second to top Kentucky Derby contender Top Billing in his last. Don’t, under any circumstances, underestimate Surfing U S A, he might very well be a sleeper horse.
Trainer Mark Casse will also be running a pair in this race with Conquest Titan, who launched a titanic stretch run in the Holy Bull (came from dead last) to finish second to the streaking Cairo Prince, and Matador, who also displayed a strong stretch run only to fall about a length short to Vinceremos in the aforementioned Sam Davis Stakes.
Interesting note here….Matador was struck over the nose with the whip of a rival jockey in the Sam F. Davis Stakes prompting Casse to say: “I think that stopped his momentum, he came back to the barn with a swollen nose. That was his first start in almost three months and his first time on dirt, and he ran 20-30 feet farther than the winner, according to Trakus, so I think he ran a heck of a race. Hopefully with a better trip and the experience over dirt, he’ll improve.”
One more race you may want to see is the $250,000 San Carlos Stakes, also at Santa Anita Park and also on Saturday, where Sahara Sky, winner of the 2013 Metropolitan Handicap, faces nine opponents in the seven-furlong event.
The 6-year-old son of Pleasant Tap was in line for a possible Eclipse Award as top sprinter last year but was injured following the Met Mile.
His main competition should come from Shakin it Up, winner of the Malibu and Strub Stakes in his last two starts, Wild Dude, who has won three races in a row, Zeewat, winner of the Lost in the Fog Stakes at Golden Gate Fields in his last start and Clubhouse Ride, who chased Game On Dude last time out. Also watch Big Macher, a winner of three of his past five starts, with a second and a third, including winning the six-furlong California Cup Sprint in 1:08 3/5 in his last start.
San Felipe Stakes
One And One Sixteenth Miles
|1||Home Run Kitten||3/C||L||A Quinonez||118||D E Hofmans|
|2||Unstoppable Colby||3/C||L||L Saez||118||D W Lukas|
|3||Rprettyboyfloyd||3/R||L||C S Nakatani||118||D E Breuer|
|4||California Chrome||3/C||L||V Espinoza||118||A Sherman|
|5||Sawyer’s Hill||3/C||L||M Garcia||118||K Mulhall|
|7||Kristo||3/C||L||J Rosario||118||J W Sadler|
|8||Schoolofhardrocks||3/C||L1||J Talamo||118||D E Hofmans|
|9||Midnight Hawk||3/C||L||M E Smith||120||B Baffert|
|10||Recanted||3/C||L||M Gutierrez||118||D F O’Neill|
1) California Chrome– takes over as the horse to beat with the withdrawal of Bayern based off his last two dominant wins.
This chestnut colt by Lucky Pulpit really seemed to turn the corner in his career two starts ago. The Dec 22 King Glorious Stakes (a race restricted to California breds only) and with new jockey Victor Espinosa aboard, this horse rated kindly in fourth position early before being force four wide on the turn for home…no matter…he leveled out beautifully and won by 6 ¼ ridden out lengths.
In his next start, about a month later and in the California Cup Derby (again for Cal-breds only), is where he made me sit up and take notice. Once again, he assumed a stalking position early before having to go wide on the turn for home but kicked hard down the lane and won by 5 ½ conclusive lengths.
Monster work on Feb. 22 (6F- 1:11.4), followed up by a solid 5F work on March 2 (1:00.2) on a wet track, should set him up well for this race. That being said, he’s going to have to step up his game trying open company for only the third time (in eight races) and far and away the toughest field he’s run in to date.
2) Midnight Hawk– won his debut impressively, albeit greenly, on Dec 13, then came back about a month later (in just his second career start) and won the Grade: 3 Sham Stakes but drifted in down the stretch.
He then ran into a buzz-saw when he finished third to Candy Boy in Robert B. Lewis Stakes in his last on Feb 8.
So, three races with two wins and a third but the behavior problems are a bit of a concern for this gray colt by the strapping Midnight Lute
“He’s coming into the race really well,” trainer Bob Baffert said, after he witnessed a :49.2 half mile work for this race this past Tuesday. “This is his last chance to show me something. He backed off a step off his win in Sham, but he’s still a pretty good horse. We’ve been working with him to get him to be more manageable. He got rank last time and didn’t have a lot of kick turning for home. When he learns to settle, he will be more effective.”
Another with good works coming into this race including an enormous work (5F- :58.4) on Feb 22.
3) Kristo– this $500,000 Keeneland yearling purchase by Distorted Humor started his career with strong back to back second place finishes last summer/fall before finally breaking his maiden by 6+ lengths last October.
In his 2014 debut race, which was against (eventual winner) Midnight Hawk in the Sham Stakes, he ran step for step with the winner before yielding late and losing by about 1 ½ lengths. That race obviously proved belongs here and I expect another good effort come Saturday afternoon.
This bay colt also should be fit enough to run to Antarctica based off those last three six furlong works in a two week period, including one in a smoking 1:10.4….looks best of the rest.
Rprettyboyfloyd is a stretch runner by Bluegrass Cat and shows good closing runs in all three prior races (all sprints). He’ll be trying the route distance for the first time but his running style says he should take to it like a duck to water….could be a menace to my triple. Schoolofhardrocks this colt by perhaps one of the largest horses I’ve seen in a while (Rock Hard Ten) could not have been any more impressive breaking his maiden in his first time out …but that was back on Aug 31 and we haven’t seen him since. This is an awfully tough spot for a) his first start in seven months and b) just his second lifetime start overall…mild threat if, and only if, he runs back to his debut race.
For Four-Year-Olds and Upward
One and One Quarter Miles
|1||Will Take Charge||4/C||L Saez||123||D W Lukas|
|2||Mucho Macho Man||6/H||L||G L Stevens||124||K Ritvo|
|3||Blingo||5/G||L||A T Gryder||117||J A Shirreffs|
|4||Imperative||4/G||L||K J Desormeaux||114||G Papaprodromou|
|5||Rousing Sermon||5/H||L||R Bejarano||114||J Hollendorfer|
|6||American Blend||6/G||L||J Talamo||114||C Gaines|
|7||Game On Dude||7/G||L||M E Smith||122||B Baffert|
|8||Hear the Ghost||4/G||L||J Rosario||114||J Hollendorfer|
1) Will Take Charge– had a tremendous second half of 2013 and walked away with the Eclipse Award for champion three year old colt and rightfully so.
He appears to have picked up where he left off last year as in his 2014 debut race; he was sixth early on but, like normal, turned on the afterburners down the stretch to finish a fast closing second to Lea in the Donn Handicap back on Feb 9….but keep in mind, it was this colt’s first race in some 10 weeks and Lea set a track record that day. To only get beat 1 ½ lengths under those circumstances, I thought it was a remarkable effort for this beautifully bred horse (Unbridled’s Song out of stakes winner Take Charge Lady by Dehere).
“We were right there behind the front horses, (in the Donn) owner Willis Horton said. ”We never could get through. We had to take the horse back and get in the open in order to make the move he always makes. ..And he made up a tremendous amount of ground.”
Horton added that Will Take Charge has “gotten bigger and is maturing all the time,” adding that he’s “excited” to see him run Saturday. Horton then finished up with saying “This could be the race of a lifetime.”
Deceptively fast work on March 2 for this (4F- :47.4) and I’m taking him to atone for the bitter nose defeat he suffered at the hands of Mucho Macho Man in the 2013 Breeders Cup Classic
2) Mucho Macho Man– the 2013 Breeders Cup winner, by the slightest of noses, is obviously Will Take Charge’s main foe in this race.
Big, good looking
chestnut bay horse by Macho Uno comes into this race with an obvious affection for this surface (3 starts, 2 wins and a second over it) and off a 14 length calk walk win in his last at GulfstreamPark…hence the reason he totes top weight of 124 lbs.
Last Sunday afternoon, Mucho Macho Man had his final tuned up for this race, going five furlongs on 1:01.2
In that workout, Mucho Macho Man and under exercise rider Nick Petro, “M3” started at the half-mile pole, going the first quarter-mile in 24.1 seconds, a half-mile in 48.4 seconds and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.3.
“We got in a work,” trainer Kathy Ritvo said after rain hit the area the day before. “We tried to keep him on a schedule of working on the Saturday or Sunday before a race. He stayed off the rail to find the best part of the track. He looked very comfortable.”
“Everybody rants and raves about how much he loves this racetrack,” said his jockey, Gary Stevens on Tuesday. “I’m not taking anything lightly. I know what the horse is capable of; I’m going to ride him with a lot confidence, like he’s the best horse in the world.”
Agreed Mr. Stevens, that’s exactly what you should do….this is obviously a good horse, but don’t read too much in to the aforementioned 14 length runway victory at Gulfstream last time out….he was facing a bunch of nobodies and the margin of victory was inflated.
3) Game On Dude– has been the beaten favorite in now three straight races, starting with the 2013 Breeders Cup Classic and ending with the San Antonio Handicap on Feb 8….is it possible that this now seven year old gelding is finally starting to (literally) slow down?
“I think he might have been a little too fresh, (before the San Antonio Handicap)” trainer Bob Baffert said earlier this week. “Both jockeys were trying to make the lead and turned it into a runaway. It took its toll”.
“I think he probably needed a race like that. Mike Smith said he took care of him when he knew he wouldn’t hit the board. He wasn’t too hard on him.”
“He’s got a certain running style and things have to go well for him or he’s not effective,” Baffert said. “He likes to go fast, but not too fast. He has to be in the fight early. It will be a reasonable pace. It has to unfold the right way for him.”
Game On Dude, who worked five furlongs in 1:00.3 on Monday, is seven for 10 over this very surface and looks to be the only true speed horse in the race…the combination of those two facts make him a threat regardless of his current form.
Imperative has been very consistent of late, including a very game effort in the San Antonio Handicap where he finished in front of Game On Dude. Hear The Ghost has never been off the board in seven career starts, but takes a big class hike.
2014 Record: 5-13 = 38%
2013 Record: 20-59 = 34%
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Little Bets N’ Pieces
**** The powerhouse Darley Stable announced last Friday that it has purchased a majority interest in Cairo Prince, a leading contender for this year’s Kentucky Derby, for an undisclosed amount. The colt will remain with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and race in the blue colors of Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stable from here on out.
The dominant Holy Bull Stakes winner is being pointed toward the March 29 FloridaDerby at GulfstreamPark.
“We are excited to be involved with such a promising 3-year-old at this time of year, and it is also special that our longtime trainer is handling the horse and we have the opportunity to share this excitement with the colt’s current owners,” said Jimmy Bell, president of Darley America.
“We’ve observed Cairo Prince all along and he’s a colt that really hasn’t done anything wrong and has done everything right,” Bell added. “Given his past performances he makes us excited about could be. But obviously we’ll take it one step at a time. We are delighted to have the colt with Kiaran, which is significant to us. He’s a horse we hope still has more good things to come.
“Kiaran has positive about this horse from early on. The really good horses get a hold of your attention pretty early, so I don’t think this is an overnight feeling that he’s having. He’s felt this way for quite some time. Outside a nose defeat in the Remsen, he’s got an intact record, which is not easy to do at any age and any distance. Kiaran feels he that he is legitimate, and as such, it makes everybody cautiously, but optimistically, look forward.”
**** Retired Grade: 1 winning millionaire The Usual Q. T. was euthanized the first week of February due to complications from an illness, trainer Jim Cassidy said last Thursday. The gelded son of Unusual Heat was 8.
According to Cassidy, The Usual Q. T. had suffered from a condition called peritonitis, which is an inflammation in the stomach lining.
“He got colic about a year ago and we got him through that and he was fine,” Cassidy said. “Then, about three or four months ago, he got peritonitis. They worked on him for days at the hospital, then we brought him to the racetrack and worked on him there. He seemed to be fine for a couple weeks, but then he got really bad.”
Cassidy said The Usual Q. T. underwent several treatments at West CoastEquineHospital in Somis, Calif., but eventually the decision was made to euthanize him when his condition worsened.
A three-time California champion, The Usual Q. T. won four graded stakes, including the 2009 Hollywood Derby and 2010 Eddie Read Stakes while compling a record of 8-6-5 from 23 starts, for earnings of $1,531,240.
“He showed his stuff on the racetrack; he was as good of a horse as I’ve seen,” said Cassidy, who had kept The Usual Q. T. at his farm near Duarte, Calif., since his retirement in 2012. “He was really a pet the last few years. He’d mess around and play. He was really kind. There were no complaints about him. We tried everything (to save him)…it’s a shame, because he was just 8 years old.”
***** Trainer Jeremiah Englehart and owner Ron Paolucci have parted ways over Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia, both parties said last Thursday.
The 3-year-old daughter of RockportHarbor was moved from Englehart’s assistant, Elizabeth Dobles, into the barn of Jonas Gibson, who is Paolucci’s main trainer at Fair Grounds Race Course. Gibson will oversee the filly until arrangements can be made to ship her to the West Coast base of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Ria Antonia, who finished fourth in the Feb. 22 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds in her season debut, is being pointed for the April 5 Santa Anita Oaks at Santa Anita Park.
Paolucci said the decision to move Ria Antonia came from wanting Englehart to travel to California with the filly three weeks out from her next target. Englehart said he could not “leave around 50 horses in training in New York for that long of a period”.
“Do you think I wanted to move my horse from the guy who won the Breeders’ Cup with her? No,” Paolucci said. “This is the part of the business I hate, but I want her trainer to be with her out there leading up to the race.”
Englehart said he regretted the loss but stands by the commitment to his larger string.
“You develop a relationship with the animal, and so do the people who work for you who show up there every morning at 4:30 a.m. and basically give their lives to what they’re doing for the horse,” Englehart said. “For us, it’s losing the relationship with her that’s tough. It’s the reason you do what you do.”
Thanks for Reading…