Horse Racing: Previews of the 2014 Wood Memorial and 2014 Santa Anita Derby

Just a tremendous weekend scheduled in the sport of Horse Racing with some 22 major stakes races being run around the country. We will be focusing in on the 2014 Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park, which will feature the streaking California Chrome vs. Candy Boy, and the 2014 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in Queens, New York that will feature the unbeaten Samraat, his nemesis Uncle Sigh and recent track record setter Social Inclusion. Both races will be run for $1 million, at nine furlongs and on Saturday.

Of the other plethora of races this weekend, I just want to take a moment and touch on some of the major ones starting with the under-card of the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

Besides the Wood, Aqueduct will have three other graded stakes races including the Bay Shore, which is a seven furlong race for three year olds for $300,000 and drew very competitive. Of the eight entered, I see half of them with a solid chance to win.

Oliver Zip has won his last two by a combined 11 ½ lengths including the Fred Capposella in his last over this very track, Financial Mogul, after taking on Cairo Prince (twice) and Samraat in his last three races, will be taking a step down in company which may be exactly what he needs, Favorite Tale is very intriguing as he ships up from Philadelphia with an unbeaten record, enormous speed figures and coming off a 14 length trouncing of an allowance field in his last and west coast invader Kobe’s Back, who albeit didn’t bother showing up for the two turn Rebel Stakes last month, but looks to be a much different (better) horse in sprint/one turn races.

Also on the card is the $500,000 Carter Handicap for three year olds and up going seven furlongs. A field of seven will go post-ward for this one and the race marks the return to the east coast of Sahara Sky, who was on his way to a sprint division title last year before derailed by injury. The now six year old used a tremendous late kick to pass seven horses down the stretch to win his last race (the San Carlos at Santa Anita) on March 8.

It doesn’t look like it’ll be a walk in the park for Sahara Sky as the veteran Strapping Groom, who comes into this off back to back wins, the ultra consistent Clearly Now, Golden Ticket, who was beaten a few inches by top older horse Palace Malice in his last and the speedy Dads Caps, are among others in the field.

The third big race on Saturdays Aqueducts card is the $300,000 Gazelle Stakes for three year and up fillies and mares going nine furlongs. Got Lucky, who has never been worse that second in her career, Sweet Reason, who was a top filly last year including a close up fourth place finish in the Breeders Cup Filly Juvenile, My Miss Sophia who broke her maiden by 11 her last time out and Vero Amore, yet another who is laudably consistent, spearhead that race.

Moving over to Keeneland in Kentucky, this Saturday is the Ashland Stakes for three year old fillies going a 8 ½ furlongs for $500,000. A full field of 13 has been drawn with Tessa Rossi being clearly the one to beat should she take to the surface.

This filly, who shipped over from France last year, has been nothing short of brilliant while demonstrating a spectacular late run in all her races. She was last seen thoroughly dominating the field in Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs and before that she unleashed a powerful charge down the lane to finish second in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Filly race last November. She lays over this field, again, provided she takes to the synthetic surface (this will be her first start on any surface other than grass).

“We loved her turn of foot; we thought it was a classic, European turn of foot.” part owner James Covello said….me too Mr. Covello…that late run she possess is something to behold. 

Amongst those who could go well in that race include another filly who is trying the dirt for the first time in Room Service, who comes into this off an excellent come from behind win in the Grade: 2 Hercomesthebride Stakes, Candy Kitty, who had a two race win streak snapped by Room Service in her last but was close at the finish, Thank You Mary Lou, who has yet to run a bad race albeit she only run three times and Saturday Bliss, who although is 20-1 on the morning line, shows two races and two colossal margins of victory.

Over at Oaklawn, also Saturday, is the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes for three year old fillies going 8 1/2 furlongs. A field of eight has been entered and of those eight, once again, I see several with a good chance of winning.

Sugar Shock comes in riding a three race winning streak including her last which was a game neck win in the Grade:3 Honeybee Stakes, Euphrosyne, who has never been worse than second in now six career starts and finished right behind Sugar Shock in that Honeybee, Please Explain has a good late run and was coming to Sugar Shock and Euphrosyne at the end of the Honeybee and the 2-1 morning line favorite Stopchargingmaria, who won back to back graded stakes races in New York to end the year last year, but was a huge disappointment in her 2014 debut (the Davona Dale Stakes, Feb 22) at Gulfstream Park.

Last but not least out at Santa Anita on Saturday is the Santa Anita Oaks, which mirrors the Fantasy Stakes as it also is a $400,000 race for three year old fillies going 8 ½ furlongs. I like Fashion Plate who appears to have new found speed and has adapted well to the dirt surface (she had been running on synthetics) as she sped her way to back to back, wire to wire, impressive wins. Also entered is Ria Antonia, who won the Breeders Cup Juvenile via DQ in one of the worst calls I can remember. This filly still needs to prove that BC win was no fluke as she disappointed  in her 2014 debut as well (fourth, beaten 14 lengths in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, Feb 22) and still has only crossed the finished line first in her entire career.


Aqueduct Racetrack

Saturday April 5, 2014

Race: 10

Wood Memorial Stakes

Purse: $1,000,000

For Three Year Olds

One and one eighth miles











1 1 Kid Cruz 3/C L M Franco 123 L Rice


2 2 Wicked Strong 3/C L R Maragh 123 J A Jerkens


3 3 Noble Moon 3/C L I Ortiz, Jr. 123 L Gyarmati


4 4 Harpoon 3/C L J R Velazquez 123 T A Pletcher


5 5 Los Borrachos 3/C L C H Velasquez 123 W I Mott


6 6 Kristo 3/C L M Garcia 123 J W Sadler


7 7 Schivarelli 3/C L J Castellano 123 E Kenneally


8 8 Samraat 3/C L J L Ortiz 123 R A Violette, Jr.


9 9 Effinex 3/C   R Montanez 123 D J Smith


10 10 Uncle Sigh 3/C L C S Nakatani 123 G C Contessa


11 11 Social Inclusion 3/C L L Contreras 123 M J Azpurua




1) Samraat– is gorgeous, has a smooth stride (especially that jogging gait), is unbeaten and most importantly, battle tested.

This well bred colt (by Noble Causeway out of an Indian Charlie mare) is gunning for six straight wins to start his career. In 2013, he won his first three starts by a combined 25 lengths. This year, however, he’s shown another side to him. Not only has he carried over his ability/talent from last year, but he’s shown me great heart and determination while winning the Withers and Gotham with the third choice breathing down his neck every step of the way.

He continues those long, stamina building works at Palm Meadows in preparation for this race and I agree with trainer Richard Violette when asked about those works said “If it isn’t broken, why fix it?”

Regular rider, and the red hot, Jose Ortiz (last 23 starts 7 wins, 6 seconds and 3 thirds) climbs back aboard on Saturday where he should assume a stalking position early before moving at the quarter pole.

Tepid pick in a race where the top three are almost impossible to separate!!


2) Social Inclusion – this one may come back to bite me…

This son of Pioneerof the Nile has taken the three year old crop by storm thus far in his brief career.

He made his racing debut back on Feb 22 vs. maiden special weights where he went off at 9-1. He promptly blasted out of the gate and, after cutting sizzling early fractions, (:22, 44.4 and 56.3) he buried that field. …winning by 7 ½ while getting 6 furlongs in 1:09.2.

He then comes back less than three weeks later and, once again, blows out of the gate, quickly establishes the early lead and demolishes a field of allowances runners (including Kentucky Derby hopeful Honor Code) and sets a track record (1:40.4) for 8 ½ furlongs.

Go ahead and take a closer look at that race….he blows Honor Code out of the water (10 lengths), now take a look of how far back the third place finisher was behind Honor Code….17 lengths. This colt was 27 lengths in front of the third place finisher, while registering an eye popping 111 speed figure, the highest by a three year old in any prep race since 2009. ….all mind boggling stuff right there.

He owns the highest speed rating in the field and an enormous  :46.4 half mile work coming into this.

“Our plan was to come here for the Wood and then go directly to the Preakness, but last time he ran so good we started thinking about the Derby and the Triple Crown,” owner Ron Sanchez said. “This horse is really special. If you see the workouts he does, he’s floating. Last Saturday he went in :46 4/5 and galloped out in :59 3/5, so easy. He’s a classy horse, and you have to give him the chance. He’s a professional horse, and it’s hard to find a professional horse. We respect all the horses, but we’re not scared of anybody.”

So, if there is so much to like about him, why pick him second? The answer, in a word, is inexperience…inexperience in the horse and in his connections.

I took my usual “closer look” at those two wins….and yes, they were both impressive. But when looking at his maiden breaking win, he sped to the lead and although going fast, he was also unchallenged early….the same goes for that allowance win. He went 24 and change thru the first quarter and he was long gone after that. Lastly, how does he beat a nice colt like Honor Code by 10? That too is probably overblown a bit. Honor Code was a) making his first start in several months and b) coming off an injury…I knew he wouldn’t be 100% that day and it showed.

Now he has to leave the friendly confines of GulfstreamPark to come to Aqueduct where the weather is what? 20-30 degrees colder? To run over a strange surface? Against horses that are far and away the toughest field he’s faced so far?

The only way he wins this is if his ability level is so far above everyone else’s, he wins this on pure, unadulterated talent…which, of course, is a possibility.


3) Uncle Sigh- has been dead game in battling the top choice nip and tuck in his last two races (the Gotham and Withers) and now he has another foe to worry about in the second choice, Social Inclusion.

Interesting to see how this plays out as this colt by Indian Charlie is used to running on or very close to the lead, will that still be the case with the early gas Social Inclusion possesses?  Doesn’t sound that way if you listen to trainer Gary Contessa when asked about how this race will unfold.

“Obviously, just like the rest of the world, I’ve been blown away by Social Inclusion and now I’m going to have to run against him,” Contessa said. “There’s a horse that could be any kind of horse. His numbers suggest that he could be any kind of horse, but he’s extremely untested. So I look forward to Saturday.”

“The key is, somebody has to hook Social Inclusion,” said Contessa, “He’s had two front-running victories (including a 7 1/2-length six-furlong maiden win). I believe that horse has to be challenged or he’s going to be really tough to beat. It may turn out to be that he’s tough to beat no matter what, but I would like to see him get challenged. And I would be just as happy to be laying back third, fourth, fifth as I would be chasing Social Inclusion. I’d rather be working out a stalking trip if I can.”


Honorable Mentions:

Harpoon failed to threaten in his last (the Gotham vs. Samraat and Uncle Sigh) but his four prior races were all good including a game, late running, nose defeat in the Tampa Bay Derby…closes…and has an outside shot in this field, especially with what I anticipate to be a fast early pace. Ditto Kristo, who ships in from the west coast and was last seen futilely chasing California Chrome around the Santa Anita oval. Closes and also could benefit from a fast early pace. Noble Moon is an interesting horse…he shows two wire to wire wins sandwiched by a late hard charging third. Already a graded stakes winner, versatile, has been pumping out long, stamina building works and speed figures are on the rise. If you can get past the fact he’s running against the east coast’s top Kentucky Derby contenders coming off a three month lay-off, go ahead and play him…stranger things have happened




Saturday April 5, 2014

Santa Anita Park

Race: 8

Santa Anita Derby

Purse: $1 million

For Three Year Olds

One and one eighth miles









1 Rprettyboyfloyd 3/R L R Bejarano 122 D E Breuer
2 Friendswith K Mill 3/C L T Baze 122 D F O’Neill
3 Hoppertunity 3/C L M E Smith 122 B Baffert
4 Big Tire 3/C L E A Maldonado 122 M Glatt
5 California Chrome 3/C L V Espinoza 122 A Sherman
6 Candy Boy 3/C L G L Stevens 122 J W Sadler
7 Schoolofhardrocks 3/C L J Talamo 122 D E Hofmans
8 Dublin Up 3/C L K J Desormeaux 122 P Miller



1) California Chrome has been an absolute terror in his last three races, winning all three by a combined 19 lengths including waltzing home by over 7 in the San Felipe vs. some of the best three year old in California.

In fact, that San Felipe win is probably the best three year old prep race I’ve seen thus far.

In the San Felipe, this chestnut colt broke running and ripped off supersonic early fractions (:45.2, 1:09.2). When he turned into the stretch I expected him to slow up some….nope…instead he increased an already 3 length lead to 7 ¼ at the wire. He stopped the clock in a lightning 1:40.2 and registered a strong 107 speed figure. It was one of those races where I literally raised my eyebrows and said “wow”.

Colt by Lucky Pulpit seems to be retaining his form when worked a half-mile at his Los Alamitos base March 29 in :46 2/5,out six furlongs in 1:13 2/5.

“He looked sharp and he galloped out strong,” said trainer Al Sherman. “All systems are go. His work was super, I was very impressed”

“He’s doing everything right and we’re looking forward to running him in the Santa Anita Derby.” Sherman added.



2) Candy Boy– appears to be California Chrome main rival based on the visual replays I’ve watched, upward swing in speed figures, running style and latest work-out.

This good looking son of Candy Ride started coming into his own last fall when breaking his maiden by eight impressive lengths. He was then pitted against the awesome power of two year old champion Shared Belief in the CashCall Stakes on Dec 14 and, although beaten by a wide margin, he battled on well to hold the place spot.

He was then given almost two months off and came back to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in game fashion after taking the lead in deep stretch and holding sway late. All while recording a 97 speed figure (his highest yet).

You have to like the versatility as well as he can win from on or off the pace and being adaptable to any pace scenario is the key to the success of any racehorse, especially the top tier ones.

Lastly, I was a little concerned that it’ll be another two months between races but I see a steady and strong string of works. That last work, March 29-6F- 1:11.4, most certainly signals readiness.

3) Hopportunity– is a half brother to multiple stakes winner Executiveprivlegde and appears to be coming into his own at the right time.

Although this colt by the very handsome Any Given Saturday didn’t even make his debut until Jan 4, he has come to hand quickly for trainer Bob Baffert.

He broke his maiden his second time out on Jan 30, before Baffert shipped him to the Fair Grounds for the Risen Star Stakes where, after a horrendous (wide) trip, he did finish up strong to grab the fourth position.

He then comes back just three weeks later and showed the guts of a burglar in a very roughly run Rebel Stakes. In the Rebel, he and runner-up Tapiture, exchange several brushes and bumps from about the quarter pole to the wire and this colt was not intimidate at all (which is surprising for a horse who only had three lifetime starts going in.). He dug in and won by a half length while scoring a 100 speed figure. (His highest to date)


2014 Record: 6-18 = 33%

2013 Record: 20-59 = 34%

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Little Bets N’ Pieces


**** 2013 three-year-old champion Will Take Charge worked five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 on Monday at Oaklawn Park in preparation for his next start, the April 12 Oaklawn Handicap.

The son of Unbridled’s Song is still in search of his first win of the year after runner-up finishes in the Donn Handicap at GulfstreamPark and the Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita Park.

Will Take Charge’s stablemate, Strong Mandate, also worked five furlongs in 1:00.4 on Sunday in preparation for his start in the $1 million Arkansas Derby April 12.

“We were pleased with both works,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “It was time to get a little more serious now that we’re closing in on the main event. They both passed their test and they won’t have to do much more as they get closer to race day’.

Jockey Luis Saez will ride both Strong Mandate and Will Take Charge.

Will Take Charge is still hunting his first win in 2014

Will Take Charge is still hunting his first win in 2014


**** 2014 Southwest Stakes winner and Rebel runner-up Tapiture went five furlongs in a 1:00 4/5 on Sunday and is being pointed towards the Arkansas Derby.

The Tapit colt will have a new rider in Joel Rosario, who replaces Ricardo Santana Jr.

When asked what made him chose Rosario for Tapiture, trainer Steve Asmussen replied, “His win in the 2013 Kentucky Derby.” 


**** Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan was yet another who worked five furlongs, but at Keeneland Racecourse on Monday, getting the distance in 1:00 3 out in 1:13.4.

The good looking chestnut gelding is headed for the April 11 Maker’s 46 Mile

“If we have a hiccup or I don’t like what I see when we get back to the barn in the next couple days, we could always go to the (April 19) Ben Ali” trainer Charles LoPresti said.

“I’d like to run him (in the Maker’s 46), I hope this turf (course is good)… I don’t know… there’s not a lot of grass on it. It is greener (this week); last week it was still brown and there’s not even a lot of grass in the yard at my house. It does look greener. I think if we get the rain and we get the sunshine (expected in the forecast), we’ll be okay.”

“I think we’re a little bit behind the eight ball only because of the weather; we missed a week when they did maintenance on the track so I kind of had to squish his works together a little bit,” LoPresti said. “But he’s really starting to come into himself. The last three or four days he’s been really on it around the barn”



**** Keeneland Racecourse in Kentucky will remove its synthetic Polytrack surface at the end of the spring meet and return its main track to dirt before the fall meeting this October, the track announced on Wednesday.

The five-eighths of a mile training track will remain a Polytrack surface and will be open during the summer months.

According to Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason, Keeneland hoped Polytrack would have “gained greater acceptance among horsemen and other racing associations due to its reputation for being safer than conventional dirt tracks”.

But the Kentucky track has decided to end its eight-year use of the artificial surface as a way to lure back some horsemen who have left Keeneland to take different routes to the Kentucky Derby and, in some cases, the Breeders’ Cup.

“We think it achieved every objective that we wanted with the exception that we hoped it would become the most prevalent racing surface in the United States and that everybody would have it,” Thomason said of Polytrack. “For various reasons, that has not happened”.

Thomason did no want to put a price tag on the project, but said, “it’s a significant investment. When Keeneland is involved in doing something, we do it right and the financial side of things never trumps the end objective of achieving our mission—and that mission is quality racing and the safety or our athletes.”

The main track will close May 19, with the surface change to be completed by mid-August. 
The Polytrack did deliver in terms of safety. Last year there was only one catastrophic breakdown on the surface during racing for a rate of 0.43 per 1,000 starts. According to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, the average catastrophic breakdown rate on dirt tracks in North America last year was nearly five-times that rate at 2.11.


Keeneland Racetrack is getting a facelift

Keeneland Racetrack is getting a facelift


**** Princess of Sylmar, who won four grade I races during her 2013 season, will return to the track April 6 to make her 4-year-old debut in the $100,000 Cat Cay at Aqueduct on Sunday. 

Princess of Sylmar won the Kentucky Oaks in May at Churchill Downs before taking the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Alabama and then knocking off three time champion Royal Delta in the Beldame Invitational

Owner Ed Stanco then unnecessarily gambled and supplemented her for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but she stumbled at the start, ran abysmally and finished last of six, beaten 16 1/4 lengths Nov. 1 at Santa Anita. (The Distaff’s winner, Beholder, went on to win the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly)

 “We like the spacing from this race to the Ogden Phipps (June 7 at Belmont),” said trainer Todd Pletcher said. “It’s not so much the size of the purse, but rather because this is the right place to get her season started.”