Several key races being run around the country this weekend in the sport of Horse Racing, but we’ll be focusing in on the 2014 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, NY where leading Horse of the Year candidate Palace Malice will be in action while taking on eight others in the nine furlong, Grade: 1 classic.
Of the 40 some odd stakes races being run this weekend, I wanted to touch on some of the bigger ones before moving on to the Whitney.
I’ll starting with the Clement Hirsch at Del-Mar (on Saturday), which is a Grade:1 mile and sixteenth race for three year old and up fillies and mares with a purse of $300,000.
I studied the racing form long and hard for this race and the only thing I came up with was that the field is comprised of seven fairly inconsistent horses.
As far as betting it goes, I’ll be passing it myself but gun to my head, Fiftyshadesofhay, who won the Grade: 2 Ruffian Handicap at Belmont before disappointing in the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs looks to be the one to beat. Other contenders include Iotapa, who was a blow out winner in the Grade; 1 Vanity Handicap in her last race, but appears to have run a “freak” speed figure/race and is screaming “bounce candidate” in this race, Broken Sword seems to like the All Weather surface and since she bounced in her last race, she might go well in this race and Parranda, who is far and away the most consistent mare in the race while sporting 10 wins in 34 lifetime starts but none on the All Weather (all 10 were on the turf).
Next, let’s look at the $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia. This race is a 1 1/8th mile Grade: 2 event for three year olds only and drew a field of nine but appears, on paper, to be a three horse race.
I like 9/5 morning line favorite Candy Boy best of all. I mean, he had nothing short of a nightmare trip in the Kentucky Derby (taken up hard and sharp on the dreaded first turn and was basically out of the race from that point on) and then, after being given two months off, he comes back in the Los Alamitos Derby to face none other than Shared Belief, who is an absolute monster if you ask me. He’ll be getting somewhat of a class break and shouldn’t have any real traffic issues in this race, so I expect to see a better performance than what he showed in his last two.
The two other major contenders include Tapiture, whose form seemed to go slightly south right before the Derby and was yet another who had an awful trip in the Derby itself. However, after taking 4 ½ weeks off after the Derby this colt, by Tapit, bounced back very well and won the Matt Winn Stakes with relative ease. I expect a good performance from him come Saturday afternoon as well.
Last (but not least) in the WV Derby is Vicar’s in Trouble, who was 3 for 5 lifetime going into the Kentucky Derby and had valid excuses in his last two races. He could be a menace for sure.
After those three wins (all by open lengths) this colt by Into Mischief was still another who had just a terrible trip in the Derby (he was roughed and bumped hard several times throughout the race before he spit out the bit and stopped running down the lane) and deserves another chance.
Trainer Mike Maker also elected to give his charge a few weeks off and brought him back in the Iowa Derby some 6-7 weeks later. After prompting the pace for much of the way, he checked in third, beaten just three in lengths in what I thought could have been a sneaky good effort. I thought perhaps he may not have cared for the sloppy going over a strange (he’d never run at Prairie Meadows before) surface. Overall, I think he has a good chance to bounce back and run well in Saturday’s race.
The two other key races being run are both at Saratoga and both on the Whitney under-card.
Race eight is the Alfred G Vanderbilt, a Grade: 1 six furlong sprint for three year olds and up that carries a purse of $350,000. A field of eight has been drawn and several have a shot to win including Palace, who won the six furlong True North Handicap in June while finishing that distance is a screaming 1:08.1 and finished second to runway, track record setting Clearly Now in his last. (Belmont Sprint Championship July5), Lemon Drop Dream, who although disappointed in his last, if you draw a line thru his last (grass) race, you’ll find he’s having a good year while winning 4 of his last 6. This well bred colt (by Lemon Drop Kid-Dream Like by Storm Cat) will be taking a step up in class but might go well, Happy My Way has won four of his last five, (including his last two by a combined 11 ½ lengths) is loaded with early speed and has proven he can get six furlongs in sub 1:09, Vyjack, a one time Kentucky Derby contender, drops back to a sprint, which might be his best game and Bakken, who has run just four career races but has posted some large speed figures in all of them, was right behind Palace in the True North off a six month layoff…so you know he’ll improve.
Race nine on the Whitney card is the prestigious Test Stakes for three year old fillies going seven panels. A field of a dozen fillies was drawn with Princess Violet, who although was dusted by Untapable in her last race, had won her prior two (sprint) races both by daylight, Fiftyshadesofgold has won four of seven career races and is unbeaten at the Test distance (2 for 2), Sweet Whiskey is versatile and has been off the board once in seven career starts, the late running Southern Honey should not be ignored either. Even though this filly is stepping up in class in a big way, she won her last three races very impressively, Red Velvet has a ton of early speed and will have to be run down late, which might prove difficult, the cleverly named Miss Behavior shows a 8-4-2-1 career mark and an enormous work coming into this (July 18- 4F- :46.4), all looking like they have a solid chance to win.
Of all, I like Sweet Reason and let me tell you why…. I’m not sure if I’m lucky or it’s just a matter of having the same training time slot, but it seems whenever I’m at the track (Belmont) in the mornings watching my personal horses work out, I see this filly almost every time and she looks sensational. She is very professional in the mornings, has already won two Grade: 1 races (the Spinway and the Acorn), and she is 2 for 2 over the Saratoga surface while winning those two by a combined margin of a dozen lengths.
Saturday August 2, 2014
Saratoga Race Course
Distance: One and One Eighth Miles
For Three Year Old and Upward
|1||Will Take Charge
|2||Prayer for Relief
|E. Plesa, Jr.||–||L|
|A. Stall, Jr.||–||L|
1) Palace Malice– is clearly the leading older (dirt) horse in the country right now (and probably the leading candidate for Horse of the Year at this point as well) based off his 4 for 4 record this year.
This colt by Curlin has done nothing wrong to this point in winning the Gulfstream Park Handicap March 8 (getting a mile in 1:33.4 with a 103 speed figure), New Orleans Handicap March 29 (winning by almost 5 with a 114 speed figure), the Westchester at Belmont (by almost 10 lengths with a 113 speed figure) and the Met Mile June 7 (getting a mile in 1:33.2 with a 111 speed figure).
I’m not sure which impresses me more, the four wins in four graded stakes races or the fact that he’s scored a 111 speed figure or higher in the last three races he’s run?
I love the steady stream of works these last few weeks topped off by a five furlong breeze in :59.4 last week. Also, you got the Johnnie V/Pletcher angle which is always tough (together they are 7 for 17 the past two weeks).
“Right now I’d have to think he’s a strong candidate for Horse of the Year,” owner Cot Campbell said last Tuesday. “I think we circled (the Whitney) early on in the year, It’s in Saratoga and we race up here, and it’s logical (spot to run him). He’s very sharp and actually a little edgy, a little feisty right now. I think it’s right in his wheelhouse, His ideal distance is a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter. I think it’s great for him.”…agreed Mr. Campbell.
“(of all his races this year) We were worried about the Met Mile, drawing the 1 hole and carrying top weight, but he’s just gotten more professional (since last year)” trainer Todd Pletcher said yesterday. (Stat: Pletcher is 8-23 = 35% over the past two years in graded stakes dirt routes at Saratoga)
Clearly the one to beat on Saturday afternoon….
2) Will Take Charge– this well bred 2013 Champion Three Year Old has disappointed in his last two races after running no worse than second dating back to last year.
He came with his typical strong late run in the June 14 Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill but missed catching Moonshine Mullin by almost two lengths….that coming off a 6th place, 10 length defeat in the Alysheba Stakes on May 2 also at Churchill.
“I think we got back too far (in the Stephen Foster),” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “(jockey) Gary (Stevens) said he wasn’t getting a hold of the track until (Gary) took a hold of him, then he got his feet underneath him, then he started to run. But he finished up good… and he likes Saratoga”
“We were talking the other day; he might just be one of those horses who likes the fall. I’m optimistic; I think it’ll be a great race.” Lukas said and added how displeased he was with having to break from the #1 post.
“I never really have much luck on the rail in any big race, not really in (a race) of this magnitude,” Lukas said “(But) I think he has an affinity for this racetrack. I think he’s put on weight since we last ran him. He’s gotten stronger and better. I think that he needs that action. He was in a growth spurt last year. He’s matured. You’re going to love the look of him when you see him in here. He’s quite a horse, and I think he’s the best horse in the country right now”.
Not to fear Mr. Lukas, horses breaking from the #1 post at Saratoga this year are winning at an astronomical 24%. (Stat: Lukas is 1 for 29 in dirt routes at Saratoga over the past five years…his only winner? Will Take Charge in the Travers last year)
Lastly, Lukas said: “He’s doing super, I have no reservations about how he’s doing. I’m going to lead him over there in really good shape. I feel real comfortable about him.”
3) Itsmyluckyday– has done very little wrong since returning from a fractured hip that he suffered last year and looks to be in career form entering this race.
This good looking colt by the fleet Lawyer Ron actually finished fourth, beaten seven lengths behind Palace Malice in the aforementioned Gulfstream Park Handicap back in March but has reeled off three consecutive victories since, including a very impressive Salvador Mile win at Monmouth Park in his last (July 6).
When trainer Ed Plesa was asked how he intends on making up seven lengths to Palace Malice:
“We were starting from zero as far as fitness (in March),” Plesa said. “His fitness and his muscle were zero, he ran against arguably the best handicap horse we have right now, and he got beat seven lengths. He is much tighter for this race”…logical assumption right there.
When asked about his plans for this race, Plesa said: “If he (Moreno) takes the lead and we’re laying off him and we feel like we have to take first run, I hope it’s thelast run anybody makes”.
Departing, those of you who know me know I like this horse a lot and it pains me a little to put him so far down but remember you have to handicap with your head….not heart. That being said, this good looking gelding by War Front is 7 for 11 in his career and was just a neck behind Will Take Charge in the Stephen Foster his last time out. Oddly enough, albeit this horse trains up here, he’s never run a race at Saratoga but trainer Al Stall Jr. has no reservations.
“We think he’s a grade I type of horse,” Stall said. “The Stephen Foster was his second race in 8 1/2 months and his first race around two turns (this year). He went from just an allowance race into that race. I think he acquitted himself quite well. He had the lead between calls in the stretch, and he got a little heavy right there toward the end. It did knock him down, but I think it built him up a little bit. I think he’s ready for a big race in his third (start) off the layoff.”…agreed Mr. Stall, he could improve off his last and if he does he could easily better this rating. “He’s always an honest, forward horse,” Stall added. “He’s good anywhere. Up here, he just seems a little bit better.”
Last Gunfighter’s last race was way too bad to be true and deserves a mulligan in this spot. After compiling a career record of 16-9-3-2, he absolutely mailed it in (9th, beaten almost 10 lengths) in his last race (the Suburban Handicap, July 5). This now five year old by First Samurai will be making his third start off a layoff (trainer Chad Brown is hitting at a remarkable 30% clip with horses who are running third time off a layoff), gets the services of 21% winner Javier Castellano and shows a solid five furlong work (1:00 flat…2nd best of 21 that day) for this….I’m almost positive he’ll bounce back with a good performance come Saturday afternoon.
By: Gerard Apadula
Director of Equine Operations and Development
Knights of the Round Stable Thoroughbred Racing Team
2014 Record: 16-41 = 39%
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Little Bets N Pieces:
**** Leading three year old filly Untapable came out of Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park “Ok” and will now be pointed to the Cotillion Stakes at Parx Park on Sept 20.
Untapable, who had a five race win streak snapped in the Haskell, will go back to facing fillies for the immediate future according to trainer Steve Asmussen.
“It (The Haskell) wasn’t meant to be,” Asmussen said. “She was six or seven back after a sixteenth of a mile, trying to get a little position on a very speed-favoring racetrack. The filly was very hot and very tired when she came back. It was definitely not the day to not get away well with the bias.”
“She appears healthy and very sound,” Asmussen added and that 60 or so days between the Haskell and Cotillion “gives her plenty of time.”
Asmussen also said he’s really looking forward to seeing her race as a 4-year-old.
“Being around Untapable and the tremendous talent that she has and what she’s done, I think is just a glimpse of who we’ll see in the future,” Asmussen said. “As much as she’s grown, I still think the filly will fill out and be 75 to 100 pounds bigger when she grows up.”
**** Tonalist and Kid Cruz, the second and third place finishers respectively in last Saturday’s Jim Dandy Stakes, both came out of the race well and will be pointed for the prestigious Travers Stakes Aug 23.
Tonalist “came back in good order; a touch stiff, but not bad,” trainer Christophe Clement said the morning after the race and trainer Linda Rice reported that Kid Cruz was also “good”.
“The main thing is to focus on the future”. Clement added. “We’ve got four weeks. We’ve got two breezes, and we will do everything we can to have him at his best on Travers Day.”
“He came out of it good,” Rice said of Kid Cruz, who’s daddy won the Travers 15 years ago (Lemon Drop Kid). “It was kind of an odd trip for him. I was pretty worried on the backside; it looked like he was going the wrong way, but he regrouped and (jockey) Irad (Ortiz) got him running the right way. He made up a lot of ground and came out of the race well, so I think we can move on to the Travers and hopefully have a better trip and a better finish.”
**** On the subject of the Travers, Jim Dandy winner Wicked Strong, who scored a 98 speed figure for his victory, also came away from the race well and will also be pointed to the Travers for his next start.
“(It) looked like he was all business,” trainer Jimmy Jerkens said Sunday morning when asked about how the addition of blinkers helped his horse. “No stopping and starting, ducking and diving.”
“He’s got good stamina,” Jerkens said. “You’d like him as good as anybody else in there, I would think, with all he’s been through. He’s already been the distance – he’s been further. He’s shown speed. He’s versatile.”
**** Trainer Chad Brown said that Social Inclusion joined his stable at Saratoga on Wednesday. The enormously talented Pioneerof the Nile colt, owned by Ron Sanchez, had been in Manny Azpurua barn.
Sanchez said sending Social Inclusion to Brown was “a mutual decision” between himself and Azpurua.
“Manny is 85 years old and was getting too tired travelling around with the horse,” said Sanchez. “Social Inclusion needs to be in New York now because I’m thinking of maybe running him in the King’s Bishop next and then hopefully being able to go on to the Breeders’ Cup. Manny will still continue to train all my other horses in Florida. I admit we made some mistakes with this horse, rushing him up like we did earlier in the year, and I know he’s going to improve once he gets to New York with Chad.”
“They called me yesterday and asked me if I’d train the horse,” Brown said. “I really don’t have much to say until I get a chance to evaluate the horse. Obviously he has a ton of ability and has run some really good races for his current conditioner, and hopefully we can take it from there and do some good things with him moving forward.”
I’ve been saying for months now this colt, who was seventh in the Haskell last weekend, was being grossly mismanaged….hope it’s not too late and Chad can get him turned around.
**** Samantha Nicole, a full sister to 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, makes her second career start in today’s (Friday) third race at Saratoga, a maiden event at 1 1/8 miles.
Samantha Nicole, who is a 3-year-old, debuted in February at Fair Grounds where she finished second at a mile and 70 yards. Trained by Steve Asmussen then, she has since been switched to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin in May.
“She’s trained very well, nice mover, we’re excited to get her started,” McLaughlin said.
“She has been a bit of a handful,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve schooled her a couple of times and she’s been good. I think she should run well. It’s a tough race, for sure, we just hope she behaves and does everything right.”
Samantha Nicole will break from post 4 under Irad Ortiz Jr.