Horse Racing: An In-Depth Preview of the 2014 Florida Derby; 2014 Louisiana Derby

It’s a blockbuster weekend in the sport of Horse Racing and I’ve chosen six key races, out of the plethora of races, going on all over the country (and world). We will be taking an in depth look at the 2014 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, which will feature current co-Kentucky Derby favorite Cairo Prince and a closer look at the 2014 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds, which will feature 5/2 favorite Intense Holiday. Both races will be run on Saturday, for $1 million and at nine furlongs.

Before we dive into those, four other races that you should watch carefully include the New Orleans Handicap, which is on the under-card of the Louisiana Derby, for older horses going nine furlongs for $400,000. The NO ‘cap drew a strong field of eight including 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and Normandy Invasion, who set a track record at Gulfstream Park going a mile in a lighting 1:33 flat his last time out. Also entered are 2013 Kentucky Derby runner up Golden Soul as well as Bradester, who won the Mineshaft Handicap here on Feb. 22; and multiple stakes winner Prayer for Relief. This race, on paper, certainly looks like a barn burner to me.

Also on the that under-card is the Fair Grounds Oaks for three year old fillies, with Kentucky Oaks aspirations, going eight and half furlongs for $400,000. Untapable, who clearly looks like the one to beat, spearheads a short field of just five.

Untapable, who was eased in last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies and then came third in the 2013 Hollywood Starlet Stakes, has improved quite a bit since last year as she waltzed home an almost 10 length victor in her last race, the Feb 22 Rachel Alexandra Stakes.

Her main rivals appear to be Unbridled Forever, who won the Silverbulletday Stakes in January over this very track and is trained by Dallas Stewart.

“She’s trained very well for the race; her works have been pristine and right on,” said Stewart. “She looks like she’s doing well and I’m happy with the way she’s handled her training and the time off.”

Also Fiftyshadesofgold, who was once beaten in 2013 and came back to win her 2014 debut by 2 ½ lengths (the Two Altazano Stakes Feb. 15 at Sam Houston) looks  to be ready to run big on Saturday afternoon as well.

Back at Gulfstream, and on the Florida Derby under-card, is another three year old filly race for $400,000 going nine furlongs in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. The race features In Tune, a Todd Pletcher trained gray Unbridled’s Song filly who is not only unbeaten, but has never been behind at any point of the races thus far in her brief (two race) career.

Set to challenge In Tune, in some cases again, are Camille Claudel, who ran second to In Tune last time at 47-1 odds and is trained by Francis “Tres” Abbott III.

“I was a little surprised that she was such a big price last time, even though I realize that she had not run great in New York, (sixth in the Busanda Stakes) but she had some excuses up there,” Abbott said. “I thought she ran really well the other day—I knew Todd’s filly would be tough to beat and I think she’ll still be tough to beat on Saturday. She’s been doing really well.”

Whomping Willow, who was second to In Tune in a January maiden race and will try a route of ground for the first time, is back to take another shot at In Tune.

I do expect In Tune’s stiffest test to come from the aptly named for this time of year, Joint Return, who is coming off a 4 1/4-length romp in the Busher Stakes Feb. 1 at Aqueduct for trainer John Servis.

“Right after the Busher, we decided to send her down (to Florida) and point for this race,” Servis said. “I gave her a few days to recuperate from that and then we put her on a van. She’s great, she’s really doing well and she’s enjoying the weather very much.”

Last but not least, and on the other side of the world, is the richest race on the planet, the 2014 version of the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

This is always a wild race to try to figure out. I mean try to handicap a race that’s  run on the other side of the world, at 8am on a Saturday morning, over a strange surface, with horses coming from all over the world, who for the most part, we’ve never seen run before?…good luck with that, but I’ll do my best here.

Ron The Greek, formally based in the US before being sold to overseas interests, drew the horrible #16 post in the field of 16 and will certainly receive some support at the betting windows…but buyer beware, that is an extremely tough post to start from.

Prince Bishop, who won his two most recent starts (over the track) and also will bring money at the betting windows, but drew #1 post. So far, horses at this meet (at Meydan) are just 1 for 21 when breaking from the inside post.

The two horses from Hong Kong, Akeed Mofeed in post 4 and Military Attack in post 8, appear to have a chance on paper with this race being so wide open this year.

The very well named Ruler of The World, who won the 2013 Epsom Derby and is the favorite in England’s World Cup betting parlors, looks like he should be among the vanguard at the end.

Red Cadeaux, who was second to Animal Kingdom in last year’s World Cup and winner of the 2012 Sheema Classic, also merits a look in this race.

As for me, I’ll be sitting on the couch watching this race with just my favorite snack in the world in my hands…. a peanut butter, jelly and American cheese sandwich (hey, don’t knock it until you try it) instead of a betting ticket…no way I play this race.

 

GulfstreamPark

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Race: 14

6:48pm EST

The Florida Derby

Purse $1,000,000.

For Three Year Olds

1 1/8 miles

 

P#

PP

Horse

A/S

Med

Jockey

Wgt

Trainer

M/L

1 1 Wildcat Red 3/C L J R Velazquez 122 J Garoffalo

3/1

2 2 Matador 3/C L J R Leparoux 122 M E Casse

15/1

3 3 Cairo Prince 3/C L L Saez 122 K P McLaughlin

9/5

4 4 Constitution 3/C L J Castellano 122 T A Pletcher

4/1

5 5 East Hall 3/G L J C Leyva 122 W A Kaplan

20/1

6 6 General a Rod 3/C L J Rosari 122 M J Maker

7/2

7 7 Allstar 3/C L O Bocachica 122 M J Vitali

30/1

8 8 Spot 3/G L C J Lanerie 122 N P Zito

8/1

 

Analysis (In Post Position Order…selections below)

 

PP#1 Wildcat Red- has now crossed the finish line first five times in six career starts and the one defeat, he lost by a head.

This D’ Wildcat colt shows great versatility as he can win by almost 5 while coming off the pace (Hutcheson Stakes Feb 1) or he can win a knock down, drag out head and head battle on the lead (Fountain of Youth, Feb 22.)…talent and sheer determination is a lethal combination in a racehorse and this guy obviously has both.

Couple of other items of note include a rider upgrade (from Saez to Velasquez), a bullet work of :34.2 last Saturday and recorded the highest speed figure of anyone in the field in that tenacious FOY win.

“He did his job. He did what he usually does,” said trainer Jose Garoffalo after his last work. “We were happy with the workout and he came back full of himself. Everything seems good”.

When asked what he thought of the inside post position, Garoffalo shook his head yes and said: “He’s going to be the speed of the race, so the post position is going to favor him. He can go on the lead and the post position will be in favor of him. He likes the inside. He likes to go inside horses. His previous two races, he was on the inside and got beat (a head) and the other one he won. It’s going to be OK. He’s got the ability and the versatility to rate. I’m not worried about the post position.”

A lot….and I mean a lot… to like in this horse, and I expect a good performance come Saturday evening.

 

PP#2- Matador- ran his first four races on either synthetic or grass, so I’m going to draw a line thru those and focus on his last two races because he does seem to like the traditional dirt surface better

Dating back to the Sam F Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb 1, he was taken back off the early pace, made a run of the far turn and loomed boldly turning into the stretch, split horses late but hung slightly and came home fourth, beaten just a length for all the money.

He then came back in the Tampa Bay Derby (March 8) and after falling too far behind early, he did rally well late but could do no better than fifth.

In order to improve and be more successful, this well named colt by Malibu Moon can not afford to drop so far behind early. It looks as though trainer Mark Casse sees that too as this colt will run with blinkers on Saturday.

“He loves the dirt. He’s really trained well at Palm Meadows,” Casse said. “(Jockey) Julien (Leparoux) said he couldn’t get him motivated last time, so we’re going to give blinkers a try.”

“He worked well. We put a little sharper breeze into him leading up to the race (five furlongs in 1:01 flat last Saturday). We’re hoping to keep him a little closer to the pace,” said Casse. “We’re just trying to give our horse another chance, We thought his last race wasn’t a true indication of his ability, but we’ll find out on Saturday.”

Leparoux, who is red hot lately, (last 10 starts 3 wins, 2 seconds and a third) stays aboard.

All in all, I’m going to pass on him as he hasn’t proven to me he’s capable of beating this field and his speed figures lack slightly.

 

PP#3-Cairo Prince- at this point, he shares 2014 Kentucky Derby favoritism with California Chrome based off his Jan 25 annihilation of the Holy Bull field.

In the Holy Bull, he was taken back to fourth early on but took command of the race turning for home and opened up nicely under very little encouragement from Luis Saez down the lane and won by almost six lengths.

He is another who is a nose short of being unbeaten and he has a very fluid stride with little wasted motion from what I can see.

I’m a little concerned that this is his first race since the Holy Bull (2 months) and his last before the Derby, which begs the question; will he be ready on the first Saturday in May?

“The negative is that we skipped a race and we’re going to have 60 days in between and that’s not always easily done in horse racing,” McLaughlin said earlier this week. “But the positives are that we have a fresh, happy, healthy horse. He ran so fast on figures in the Holy Bull that we were afraid of regression coming back in the Fountain of Youth. We said we were just going to give up a race.”

“We hope that he finishes one, two, three, or four so that we do get into the Kentucky Derby,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “That’s the most important thing, but considering the way he’s training and with how he’s doing, we expect him to run very well. If we finish second or third and don’t win, it’s not the end of the world because we’re pointing for the Derby…I could see us finishing second or third here because the track is really still speed-favoring.

“But we’re trying to win, for sure. It’s an important race…We feel like it’s a plus to let the other horses run more frequently and beat each other up a bit.”

As for this race, he appears to be coming into it fresh and, judging by his works, ready.

This handsome colt by Pioneerof the Nile breezed an easy half-mile in :50.4 last Saturday at Palm Meadows.

“He went great. We were looking for a :49ish, but it doesn’t matter. It was just a maintenance work, his last work. He did it great,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who is firing at a 24% win clip at the GulfstreamPark meet, said of the work. “We’re all set.”…clearly the one to beat in this race.

 

PP#4- Constitiution- is a good looking, $400,000 Fasig Tipon yearling sale purchase by one of the finest sires in the land, Tapit.

He is unbeaten in two lifetime starts and showed great versatility thus far for being so inexperienced.

In his debut race (Jan 11) he broke a tad slow and was taken back to fifth early on, but moved up to second after a blistering half mile (:44.4), seized command thru six furlongs in a hot 1:09.2 and carried on well to win by a length. He came home in 13.4 and finished seven furlongs in 1:23.1.

His next race ( Feb 22, vs. high priced optional claimer), he busted out of the gate, quickly assumed command and steadily drew away from the field to win by almost 4 getting 1 1/16th’s miles in a solid 1:42 flat.

Yet another who had his final work for this race last Saturday, getting a half mile in :49.1. “I think we’re in pretty good shape,” trainer Todd Pletcher said, who is also having a tremendous GulfstreamPark meet (29%). “He went a half in 49 and galloped out great. He seemed to do it well and was very relaxed.”

“He’s done all the things you hope all of them will do,” Pletcher said. “Now you get the class test to see where you are. He’s giving up seasoning to what appears to be some of, if not the best group of, 3-year-olds on the East Coast, but I’m confident this horse will give a good showing. I think we have a legitimate shot.”

“He’s doing very well,” Pletcher said. “We’re very pleased with the way he’s coming into the race. I’m happy with post 4. We’re outside of Wildcat Red and inside of General a Rod, so we’re looking for a forwardly placed position. We’ll play it off the break and let Javier make that decision as things unfold.”

Javier Castellano, who climbs aboard again just as he did in the colts first two races, is riding lights out right now. (Last 18 starts, 6 wins, 1 second and 5 thirds). This is an enormous step up for this colt…one that might be a little too big at this point in his career?

 

PP#5- East Hall- at first look it looked as though this colt form was going the wrong way…but possibly not.

Going back to his Nov 24 race, he registered a solid second vs. an allowance field, then finished a close third to General a Rod and Wildcat Red in the Gulfstream Park Derby (Jan 1), was a late running third Ocala Breeders Sales Championship (Jan 22), a very good late running fourth in the Fountain of Youth (once again behind General a Rod and Wildcat Red), before “showing little” while finishing 8th, beaten a dozen lengths in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 8.

“He had a major excuse in Tampa,” said East Hall’s trainer, Bill Kaplan. “He got knocked absolutely sideways and suffered a puncture wound in his left front in that, and we weren’t planning on running him in the Florida Derby. But he healed quickly, he worked very nicely on Monday, and looked great on the track this morning, so he’s telling me he’s okay to go, and I want to give him a little shot. There’s a lot of pace in this race, so we’ll try to lay back and come on late, just like we did in the Fountain of Youth.”

Regardless of the mishap in the Tampa Bay Derby, I have to throw him out based solely on the facts he’s been beaten fair and square twice by General a Rod and Wildcat Red and his 2 for 12 lifetime record….next.

  

PP#6- General a Rod- if you like Wildcat Red (like I do), then you have to like this colt by Roman Ruler as well.

He exchanged decisions with that horse in his last two races and battled him ferociously in doing so. Take a close look at those last two races, he beat Wildcat Red in the Gulfstream Park Derby by a head and then lost a head decision to him in the Fountain of Youth…..I mean who do Wildcat Red and this colt think they are? Affirmed and Alydar?

Trainer Mike Maker, who is also killing it in the stats department lately (30%), was pleased with his draw for General a Rod.

“I’m very pleased to be able to sit outside Wildcat Red again,” Maker said. “I’ll leave it up to Joel [Rosario], but if Constitution pushes Wildcat Red early, we’ll be able to sit behind him this time.”

Big work March 15 (5F- :59.2) and I expect this horse to be up and on (or near) the early lead and might prove a handful to run down late.

 

PP#7- All Star- was impressive blowing away a first level allowance field in his last, but looks to be way over his head here……pass

 

PP#8- Spot- is an intriguing gray colt by Pulpit from the Nick Zito stable

He did very little last year (4 starts, a maiden win and a maiden second) and even in his first start this year (He was beaten handily in the Hutcheson Stakes by Wildcat Red).

 But things get interesting after that.

He was moved to Zito’s barn and responded with a monster come from behind score in the Swale Stakes on March 1. After lagging behind early he swung into action at about the 3/8’ths pole, had the lead at the head of the stretch and blew away the highly touted and absolutely gorgeous No Nay Never to draw off and win by 2 1/2 “going away” lengths.

Zito said a few weeks ago he was “on the fence” about entering the horse in this race, but was convinced to run him after the horse worked a :47.3 bullet (best of 74)  half mile last Saturday.

“His work the other day was one of the best workouts I’ve seen in my whole life,” Zito said. “My whole life! It tells me he’s going into the race at his very best and that I have Spot in the right spot on Saturday.”

Selections

1) Cairo Prince

2) Wildcat Red

3) General a Rod

Honorable Mentions: Spot and Constitution

 

 

 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fair Grounds

Race: 11

The LouisianaDerby

Purse $1,000,000

For Three Year Olds

1 1/8 miles

 

P#

PP

Horse

A/S

Med

Jockey

Wgt

Trainer

M/L

1 1 Intense Holiday 3/C L M E Smith 122 T A Pletcher

2/1

2 2 King Cyrus 3/C L J Graham 122 T A Pletcher

15/1

3 3 Louies Flower 3/C L M Mena 122 W B Calhoun

20/1

4 4 Flat Gone 3/C L K J Desormeaux 122 J K Desormeaux

50/1

5 5 Gold Hawk 3/C L S Bridgmohan 122 S M Asmussen

12/1

6 6 Vicar’s in Trouble 3/C L R Napravnik 122 M J Maker

4/1

7 7 Commanding Curve 3/R L R Albarado 122 D Stewart

20/1

8 8 Rise Up 3/C L G Melancon 122 T M Amoss

10/1

9 9 In Trouble 3/C L J Rocco, Jr. 122 A W Dutrow

4/1

10 10 Albano 3/C L K D Clark 122 J L Jones

9/2

 

Analysis:

1) Intense Holiday- is a poster child for an improving horse.

Take a look at those last 4-5 races starting with the Champagne Stakes. In the Champagne, he was 5th, beaten 8+ lengths but his improvement begins right after that. He then was a much better 4th in the Nashua (to Cairo Prince), then an even better (closer) 4th in the Remsen Stakes.

This Harlan Holiday colt then took 2 months off and came back with another good performance in the Holy Bull. Albeit, he was third once again to Cairo Prince, he circled half the field and turned into the stretch with a ton of momentum before galloping out very strong.

Then, in his last race, he put it all together and, although he had a very wide trip, he wore down the early leaders to win the Risen Star Stakes (over this very track) to get up by a nose.

“We felt like, going back to the Nashua, and the Remsen, and the Holy Bull, that he had done better than perhaps perceived by the general public,” trainer Todd Pletcher. “He had different trips and such. We felt like he was improving in his training, and we felt like a bigger effort was in him. He had always trained well. That’s why we kept running him in those races”.

“It was comparable to Palace Malice last year,” Pletcher added referring to the 2013 Belmont Stakes winner.

Moreover, this horse comes into this race with a couple of good half mile works and registered the highest speed figure of anyone in the field off the Risen Star.

But most importantly, with several speedsters entered (assuring a fast early pace) this race, on paper, sets up almost perfectly for his late running style.

 

2) Vicar’s in Trouble- looked sensational decimating maidens by 13 lengths on Dec 14, then look even better while winning the Jan. 18 Lecomte Stakes. In the Lecomte, he came roaring off the final turn and buried that field by almost 7.

I thought he was going to do something similar in his last race (Feb 22 Risen Star), when he was once again taken off the early pace but began to close the gap at about the 3/8’s pole and loomed boldly at the top of the stretch. But from there he inexplicably “weakened” to finish third.

I’m going to chalk up that loss as a rough trip (he was 3 wide on both turns) and take him to bounce back and run big again on Saturday.

 

3) In Trouble- is clearly a talented individual as he’s come a long way in his career in a short period of time (three races).

He broke his maiden at Saratoga in August, came back and won a grade: 2 race at Belmont in Sept and then takes 6 months off and runs astonishingly well as he was battling the unbeaten Samraat and the speedy Uncle Sigh every step of the way down the stretch in the Gotham mile at Aqueduct on March 1. Dont underestimate that readers….that’s a remarkable feat.

More…trainer Anthony Dutrow is obviously a “here for a reason, not the season” type trainer as he’s hitting at a 30% clip when shipping horses out of his home base.

Big work (5f- 1:00.1) last Saturday, has the ability to rate off the early pace if need be and I won’t be that surprise if he betters this rating.

 

Honorable Mentions

Albano this speedster has never been off the board in now 5 careers starts and gave Intense Holiday fits in the Risen Star as he proved to be a stubborn foe to outrun in that race. He led every step of the way until the last one when Intense Holiday won the head bobbing finish. He is sitting on back to back huge works coning into this (March 17- 5f- :59.3 and March 22- 5F- :59.1), has an excellent trainer in his corner , a red hot rider and improving speed figures….no shock if he outruns this rating. Rise Up is another speedster whose last race was too bad to be true. After he dominated the Delta Downs Jackpot Million (and a $200,000 stakes race prior to that), he was inexplicably rank in the early stages of the Risen Star Stakes in his last and was cooked at the quarter pole, staggering home a well beaten 7th , more than a dozen lengths behind. Threat if he bounces back to either of those two prior races.

 

 2014 Record: 6-16 = 38%

2013 Record: 20-59 = 34%

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Little Bets N Pieces

**** 2014 Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Candy Boy  and dominant 2014 San Felipe winner California Chrome had their respective final works before next weeks collision course meeting this past week.

California Chrome went a half-mile at his Los Alamitos headquarters and Candy Boy worked six furlongs at Santa Anita.

Candy Boy, with Gary Stephens aboard, went six furlongs in 1:12.4.

While Stephens called the work “solid”, trainer John Sadler said: “Very nice. He’ll have one more work before the Santa Anita Derby and we’ll be all set”

The works comes off a five furlong move on March 15 in :59.2.

California Chrome went a half :47 2/5, out in 1:00 2/5 and I’ll go ahead and tell you, he looked brilliant in doing so. He looked like a cheetah barreling off the far turn and leveling out beautifully down the lane

“Very good” trainer Art Sherman said. “I got him galloping out (five furlongs) in 1:00 2/5. He was not wearing blinkers, because I didn’t want him to work too fast, but he’ll wear them in the Santa Anita Derby.

“He’ll have one more half-mile work Saturday (March 29) and ship to Santa Anita five days before the race.”

 

****Unbeaten Samraat breezed a mile in 1:45 flat at Palm Meadows training center this past Sunday in preparations for the April 5 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

“It was just what we wanted,” trainer Rick Violette said. “He’ll have his next breeze on either Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, and then there’s a plane to New York on Tuesday.”

Samraat went a mile in his final breezes prior to his wins in Aqueduct’s Withers Stakes Feb. 1 and Gotham Stakes March 1. He followed both one-mile moves with four-furlong workouts.

“It works for him, and there’s been no reason to change,” said Violette.

 

***** Uncle Sigh breezed a mile in 1:42.1 this past Wednesday as he, too, is being point to the Wood Memorial.

The son of Indian Charlie went splits of 38.1, 50.3, 1:15 and a last quarter in 24.2.

 

**** Congratulations to jockey John Velasquez when, after guiding We Miss Artie to victory in the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes last weekend at Turfway Park, became the first rider in history to reach $300 million in North American purse earnings.

 

 **** Unbeaten Social Inclusion worked for the first time since his track record-setting allowance victory over Honor Code at Gulfstream March 12. He went a half-mile in :49.1.

“He looked perfect, wonderful,” trainer Manny Azpurua said. “He was spectacular. He went so easily and he came back like he didn’t even want a drink of water. The rider was so pleased about the way he went. The main thing is he’s a very sound horse and he feels good. He’s just doing everything right.”

Owner Ron Sanchez said Social Inclusion will stay at Gulfstream and work three-eighths before leaving March 30 for his next start in the Wood Memorial.

“It was our original plan and we won’t change the plan. We have to give him some time. We think he can win anywhere,” Sanchez said. “He had a very easy workout, very relaxed. He doesn’t need much. The jockey doesn’t even ask him to run. He came back with no sign of being tired at all and full of energy.”

Thanks for Reading…