Horse Racing: Closer Looks at the 2014 Bluegrass Stakes; 2014 Arkansas Derby

Yet another huge weekend in the sport of Horse Racing this weekend highlighted by our features races the 2014 Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland Racetrack in Kentucky, which will feature Bobby’s Kitten, and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas which will feature Tapiture and west coast juggernaut Bayern. Like last weekend both of these races will be run at nine furlongs and on Saturday.

The entire weekend is filled with blockbuster races starting with today’s (Friday) card at both Oaklawn and Keeneland.

On today’s card at Keeneland is the Maker ‘s 46 Mile on the turf. This race will feature the return of back to back Horse of the Year award winner Wise Dan. The good looking chestnut gelding will take on six other foes including grade I winner Lochte,  Za Approval, who came a strong second in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile and Reload, who is two for two on the grass.

“If he is going to be vulnerable, this is it because the others that are in there have been running,” Wise Dan’s trainer Charlie LoPresti said. “You have to get started somewhere and you can’t worry about getting beat, in a perfect world, I’d like to have another five-eighths work, but with the weather that we had, that was the hand I was dealt.”

Wise Dan has recorded seven published works for this race and I witnessed the last one….it certainly appears he’s ready.

Also on Friday, except back over at Oaklawn Park is the $600,000 Apple Blossom for four year olds and up fillies and mares going 8 ½ furlongs. The talented and good looking Close Hatches, trained by Bill Mott, is clearly the horse to beat and if case you don’t believe me, her 3/5 morning line odds should convince you.

Close Hatches, who is a winner of 6 of 9 career races (including a pair of second place finishes), will be making her second start of 2014 as she won the $200,000 Azeri Stakes over this very track on March 15.

“She passed the first test (the Azeri) and she’s doing well, so we decided to send her back,” Mott said. “I have no complaints about the weights. (She is spotting between 4 and 9 pounds to her rivals) I hope she travels well and settles in well, and if she does that, I’m sure she’ll run her race.”

Moving on to Saturday, Oaklawn will also run the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap, a 1 1/8th miles races for four year olds and up that drew an incredibly strong field.

The probable post-time favorite will be 2013 three year old colt champion Will Take Charge, who was second in the Donn Handicap and the Santa Anita Handicap and will be enjoying a “home field advantage”, will be hunting his first win in 2014.

 “It’s (The Oaklawn Handicap) been on my radar all the time,” said owner Willis Horton. “It’s here in my home state and it’s a big race, too, and that’s the reason. He’s got a lot of fans here.”

“The track at Santa Anita has such a short stretch, and if it had a longer stretch like Oaklawn or Churchill, he probably would have won the race,” Horton added when discussing Will Take Charge’s year so far. “Down in Miami, we just ran into a buzzsaw down there. Lea set a new track record and all that; we were right there with him, but I’d say we just got a little unlucky.”

He will be opposed by six others including the talented Revolutionary, who won an allowance race in his 2014 debut before having a tough trip (6 wide on the turn for home) in the aforementioned Donn Handicap, the speedy Moreno, who ran nose to nose with Will Take Charge in last year’s Travers Stakes before running abysmally in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but sustained an injury during that race.

“Actually, in the race itself, he fractured a splint bone,” trainer Eric Guillot said. “He had five months off and spent three out of training. He’s been training great now, and here in California there was really nowhere for him to run. I feel like he’s a good, quality horse, he tries as hard in a graded stakes race as he would in a ’2 other than,’ so we might as well go and see how he comes back as a 4-year-old at this point.”

“He really has the pedigree to be better at 4 than 3, and he had 13 races last year which was a long campaign,” Guillot added. “Will Take Charge came back and flattered him the rest of the year. I’m hoping to run a big race and come to the summer with a fresh horse for the big money in New York, then give him a breather and come back for the Breeders’ Cup again.”

Others threats to Will Take Charge include Golden Lad, who walloped the field in the March 15 Razorback Handicap and has now won four races in a row, and multiple graded stakes winner Prayer for Relief.

 

Saturday April 12, 2014

Oaklawn Park

Race: 11

Arkansas Derby (Grade: 1)

Purse: $1 million

1 1/8th miles

For three year olds

P#

PP

Horse

A/S

Med

Jockey

Wgt

Trainer

M/L

1 1 Danza 3/C L J Bravo 118 T A Pletcher

15/1

2 2 Knock Em Flat 3/C L L S Quinonez 118 D K Von Hemel

20/1

3 3 Tapiture 3/C L J Rosario 122 S M Asmussen

9/5

4 4 Ride On Curlin 3/C L J K Court 118 W G Gowan

12/1

5 5 Thundergram 3/C L N Arroyo, Jr. 118 M E Casse

30/1

6 6 Commissioner 3/C L M E Smith 118 T A Pletcher

8/1

7 7 Conquest Titan 3/C L C H Borel 122 M E Casse

10/1

8 8 Bayern 3/C L G L Stevens 118 B Baffert

2/1

9 9 Strong Mandat 3/C L L Saez 122 D W Lukas

9/2

 

 

Analysis:

1) Tapiture- has never run a bad race, even when he gets bounced around like a pinball over a wet track (that he may not have cared for) like he did in his last race when a solid second to Hoppertunity in the Rebel Stakes last time out.

This chestnut colt by super-sire Tapit won the Kentucky Jockey Cup Stakes back in Novemebr by 4 ¼ lengths, then duplicated that margin of victory in the Feb 17 Southwest Stakes.

 

His next race was the aforementioned Rebel where after laying as far back as fourth early on, he bulled his way between horses, got bounced around, but yet took the lead in mid-stretch before being gunned down in deep stretch by an improving Hoppertunity.

“He’s run two good races here and he seems to like it here. Hopefully, he’ll get a little smoother trip this time,” said Darren Fleming, trainer Steve Asmussen’s assistant.

In the Southwest and Rebel, this horse has been flirting with triple digit speed figures (98 and 99 respectively) and shows a March 31 five furlong work of 1:00.3, signaling he’s hold form just fine.

Slightest of margins based on experience and having two races over the track in a race I study for quite some time at 35,000 feet over Virginia.

 

2) Bayern- exactly how good is this colt? Are we seeing another Bodemeister here? If we are, this field is in trouble as Bodemeister demolished his Arkansas Derby field by 9 ¼ lengths.

This colt by Offlee Wild made a splash in the three year old division in his racing debut which was just over three months ago when he (basically) wired a field of maiden special weights by 3 ¼ lengths getting the seven furlong distance in a hot 1:22.1.

He came back just over 5 weeks later and was visually impressive in wiring a solid field of allowances runners in 1:35.3 while drawing off to an eye popping 15 length win.

From there, he sustained a minor hoof injury that knocked him out of a showdown with what looks to be the 2014 Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome in the San Felipe but came back last week and recorded perhaps the best Derby contender work out I’ve seen all year when he ripped seven furlongs in 1:23.4 (handily from the gate).

Now, after taking my usual “closer look”, I noticed several things that made me think twice about putting him on top in this race. 1) This will be his first start in 2 months, 2) he’ll have to travel some 1800 miles 3) he’ll have to run over a surface he’s never seen before 4) in that 15 length win, he was able to get off with a soft first quarter and the half wasn’t exactly flying either, so he should have had plenty of gas left in the tank down the stretch and 5) was that sensational work last week maybe a little too good???

I’m putting him in the same category as I did Social Inclusion in the Wood Memorial last week which is basically…In order to win this race, he’ll have to be a very special horse. That being said, this horse being very special is indeed a distinct possibility. (Note: I was in the paddock for the Wood last week, and Social Inclusion, with the exception of whinnying at one of the out riders horses every time they passed each other, was a perfect gentleman and looked like a million bucks. However, he broke slowly and his rider was forced to use him hard early and didn’t attain the lead under they reached the backside. In turn, he wilted slightly in the final yards but still ran a huge race for just his third lifetime start.)

 

3) Titan’s Conquest- seems to be a much improved horse with the change in racing tactics (they taught him to harness that early speed and be more of a late runner) based on his outstanding performance in the Holy Bull (circled the entire field and passed everyone but runaway winner Cairo Prince).

In fact, while looking thru his past performances I noticed he had finished in front of some elite three year olds (Vinceremos, Intense Holiday and General a Rod)

But what happened in his last race (March 8 Tampa Bay Derby) where he was sixth down the backside, came with a run at the quarter pole but seemed to flatten out a bit in deep stretch? He certainly had a fast enough pace to close into but could do no better that fourth, beaten almost five lengths. I’m not sure, perhaps he just didn’t fired and will bounce back with a better race on Saturday.

Honorable Mentions:

Commissioner is well bred (A.P Indy-Flaming Heart by Touch Gold) late runner who, albeit didn’t show much in the Fountain of Youth and blew the start of his last race (the Tampa Bay derby), can bring a good late run. The race sets up well for him as it appears the early pace will be a quick one. Trainer Tod Pletcher is hitting at 20% with ship-ins and shows a big work on April 7 (4F- :47.2)…longshot possibility for sure. Ride On Curlin, if you draw a line thru that ridiculous Southwest (where he went 7-8 at the top of the stretch) and look at his other two 2014 starts you’ll see an allowance win and a very strong third, beaten just one length and a 98 speed figure. …figures bang up again in here but the two starts he ran well in this year were both over wet tracks. Did that move him up or is he an improving horse? Your move from there and he could wind up outrunning this rating. Strong Mandate is this close (my thumb and forefinger are a centimeter apart) from me dropping him from consideration for the Kentucky Derby as he continues to disappoint and run greenly at the same time. He was all over the place in the Southwest (switching leads unnecessarily and bearing out down the lane…a trick he’s done several times before) and still hasn’t won since the (muddy) Sept 2 Hopeful at Saratoga. To me, this race is almost a do or die situation for him….I’ll keep him on the list for now based solely on the fact the trainer is very wise.

 

 

Saturday April12, 2014

Keeneland Racetrack

Race:  11

Bluegrass Stakes (Grade: 1)

Purse: $750,000

1 1/8th miles

For three year olds

P#

PP

Horse

A/S

Med

Jockey

Wgt

Trainer

M/L

1 1 Asserting Bear 3/C L E Wilson 123 R Baker

15/1

2 2 Extrasexyhippzster 3/C L J Pimentel 123 M J Trombetta

15/1

3 3 Pablo Del Monte 3/C L V Espinoza 123 W A Ward

12/1

4 4 Harry’s Holiday 3/C L R Napravnik 123 M J Maker

10/1

5 5 Bobby’s Kitten 3/C L J Castellano 123 C C Brown

3/1

6 6 Coltimus Prime 3/C L A Garcia 123 J J Nixon

20/1

7 7 Casiguapo 3/C L R Maragh 123 M Morales

30/1

8 8 Dance With Fate 3/C L C S Nakatani 123 P Eurton

12/1

9 9 Big Bazinga 3/G L B J Hernandez, Jr. 123 K Vassilieva

20/1

10 10 So Lonesome 3/G L J Rocco, Jr. 123 T M Bush

50/1

11 11 Coastline 3/C L S Elliott 123 M E Casse

8/1

12 12 Vinceremos 3/C L E S Prado 123 T A Pletcher

8/1

13 13 Medal Count 3/C L R Albarado 123 D L Romans

9/2

14 14 Gala Award 3/C L J R Velazquez 123 T A Pletcher

5/1

15 15 Divine Oath 3/C L J R Leparoux 123 T A Pletcher

12/1

 

 

Analysis:

1) Bobby’s Kitten- finished 2013 with a pair of dominant wins before setting a sizzling pace (:45.3, 1:09.1) in the Breeders’ Cup (turf) Juvenile and held extremely well (beaten less than 2 lengths)  to finish third in 1:33.1.

Good looking colt by Kitten’s Joy then started his 2014 campaign with an allowance win at Tampa Bay Downs where he was gearing down in the final yards and now sports a career record of 5-3-0-2.

Trainer Chad Brown is hitting at a 25% clip when he ships in and he gets the services of Javier Castellano again.

Of course, the elephant in the room is this is the horse’s first start on any surface other than the grass, but judging by that last work (April-5- 5f- 1:00.1) over this very surface, it doesn’t appear he’ll have any problem adjusting.

 

2) Vinceremos- appears to be Bobby’s Kitten’s main rival based off his last two races.

Colt by the up and coming stallion Pioneerof the Nile ran one of the gamest Derby preps of the year in the Feb 1 Sam F Davis Stakes when he turned for home with a 1 ½ length lead, got caught, but dug in, battled back and won by a nose over a hard charging Harpoon.

He then came back and finishes a good closing second in the Grade:2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8.

He, too, will be trying the synthetics for the first time but evidently he likes the surface:

“We bought the horse after training here at Keeneland, and he’s trained at WinStar on synthetic and always handled it very well,” said co-owner Randy Gullatt. “It’s always a gamble running a horse on a track he hasn’t run on yet, but I think he’ll be fine. The horse always breaks well and puts himself in the race really well, so I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.”

 

3) Pablo Del Monte- won his both his synthetic starts by a combined margin of 12 ½ lengths and has trained lights out over the surface for the past 3 weeks.

This colt by Giant’s Causeway shows a big work on April 5 (6F- 1:13 flat) and an even bigger work (5F- :58.3) 2 weeks earlier over this very track.

Lastly, he shows a pair of fairly close up finishes in the Gulfstream Park Derby (4th to General a Rod) and the Hutcheson (3rd to Wildcat Red) where he didn’t embarrass himself in either race.

Always respect a horse who loves the surface he’s running on and this horse certainly relishes this track….he appears to be an excellent value at 12-1 on the morning line and might outrun those odds.

Honorable Mentions:

Harry’s Holiday is 2 for 3 over the synthetics including being beaten a nose in the Spiral Stakes at 15-1 in his last race…outside shot but I just don’t like the “one good race, one bad race” pattern he’s set throughout his career. Dance With Fate shows 3 good races out of 4 over the synthetic surface including that last race where he took command of the El Camino Real Derby before being overhauled in deep stretch by top Derby contender Tamarando…threat if he runs back to that race.  Gala Award is a $1, 550,000 yearling purchase from the Todd Pletcher barn and is three quarters of a length away from being unbeaten in three life-time starts. This colt by the awesome Bernardini comes in of a grade: 3 (turf) win and could go well on Saturday.

2014 Record: 7-20 = 35%

2013 Record: 20-59 = 34%

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Little Bets N’ Pieces

**** Just a personal side note, Mister Woolman, our four year old colt, will be making his turf debut at Aqueduct in the first race on Friday. He is listed as an outsider at 12-1 on the morning line and we tapped Luis Saez to pilot him. I don’t know…12-1 seems a bit generous to me (us). This colt is a fighter and not only loves to win, but loves to compete

  • Scores.fm

    This year’s Arkansas Derby is a true Cinderella story.