I’m going to do something a little different this week in our Horse Racing Races of the Week. We will be looking at a total of four (but really six) races this weekend, highlighted by the 2017 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in California for three year olds.
I have to be honest though, I’m not a big fan of Derby prep races being run over a synthetic surface. I mean, as you probably already know, a horse can be a star over the synthetics but can’t run a lick over traditional dirt surfaces …and vice versa. So I don’t put a lot of credence into races like this when it comes to Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Since the race started in 1982 at (the now defunct) Bay Meadows Racetrack, no El Camino Real winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Because there aren’t many three-year-old Derby prep races this weekend, we will be looking at three other races, all for older horses.
They including the Royal Delta (who we sadly lost this past week) Stakes for four-year-old and up fillies and mares going 8 ½ furlongs down at Gulfstream Park, and a pair of sprints at Laurel in the $300,000 Barbara Fritchie Stakes for four year olds and up fillies and mares, and the General George Stakes for four-year-old and up males. Both races are at seven furlongs and both look very competitive.
So those are your four races for the weekend, but as a little bonus coverage I am also going to be doing two races at Oaklawn Park on Monday (President’s Day) as there are literally a million and one reasons why.
The two races will consist of the $500,000 Razorback Handicap, an 8 ½ contest for four years olds and up, and another $500,000 race in the Southwest Stakes, another 8 ½ furlong contest except this one is three-year-olds only and is used as a stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby.
Between two $500,000 races, there is your one million reasons to breakdown these two races. But what about the one million and first reason?
That reason, readers, would be that you get the absolute pleasure of hearing the best race caller in the game today in Vic Stauffer call the races.
I’m sure if you ask 100 people who they thought the best races caller in the country is, you would probably get 99 different answers. But, with the retirement of the great Tom Durkin, in my mind, NO-ONE calls a race like Stauffer. I always said (when Durkin was still active) that he was clearly second to Durkin…but not anymore…he has officially taken over the #1 slot in my book.
The 6’ 6” Stauffer, who’s twitter name is a hilarious “goofontheroof”, has a booming voice, is original, describes a race perfectly and with big time emotion.
I mean no disrespect to any of the other callers out there today and there are several good ones including (in no particular order) Frank Mirahmadi, Larry Callmus, Trevor Denman and Michael Wrona (I even like the Sam McKee, who calls the trotters at the Meadowlands). But again, Stauffer is far and away the best in the business right now. If you haven’t heard him yet, you are in for a treat.
Lastly, I will return either late Saturday or Sunday with a look at Monday’s races from Oaklawn.
Saturday February 18, 2017
Race: 4 (1:30 PM EST Post)
Royal Delta Stakes:
Eskenformoney – gets the call here even though she will be making her first start in two months. There were several things that stood out to me about this now 5-year-old mare by Eskendraya from the Todd Pletcher barn. First off, she is 3 for 5 (with a second and a third place finish) over this racetrack yet just 1 for 15 everywhere else. Second, she beat her main competition in this race, Curlin’s Approval, at one mile; the extra sixteenth of a mile they both have to run on Saturday plays to her advantage. Third, she is versatile and can adapt to any pace scenario. Fourth, she ran against much better last year (I’m a Chatterbox, Lewis Bay) and held her own. “She likes Gulfstream and she generally has run well here,” Pletcher said. “She’s always been sort of a thin filly and the older she has gotten, the stronger she has gotten, and (she) is holding her weight much better than she ever has before. She’s training well. I think she is versatile enough that she doesn’t need a setup,” Pletcher added. “She can take advantage of a slow pace or sit off of a fast pace. She’s pretty professional that way.” I would liked to have seen faster works leading into this but keep in mind that Palm Beach Downs training center is a bit deep………Curlin’s Approval – is clearly the top choice’s main problem as this filly by Curlin looked great in winning her last, improving her record to 4 for 6 over this track and running a speed figure higher than Eskenformoney as well. She has worked very well since that effort plus you get the third start off a layoff angle with her. “I feel she’s ready. She’s developing nicely,” owner and breeder Happy Alter said. “Pace makes the race, but she’s worked well for the race and is getting better all the time.” ……………although it took Verve’s Tale eight starts to break her maiden, it looks to me as though she finally has it figured out. Filly by Tale of Ekati had a tough trip back in October but closed well late to finally break her maiden, then came back 40 days later to pulled off a big upset (21-1) in the Grade: 3 Comely at Aqueduct, so she comes into this gunning for three in a row….her speed figure in the Comely (93) says she is a contender in this spot also……..Honorable Mentions: although stepping up in class, Mo’ Green is giving all kinds of signals that she is sitting on a titanic race here. But the question is, is her “best” race good enough to beat these? That’s the part I’m 50-50 about. Note that 2 of her 3 career wins came on this surface and at this distance……………….Venom Girl – is an interesting daughter of Stevie Wonderboy. She had a busy year last year (16 starts) and comes into this riding a four race winning streak, including winning her last by a colossal margin, against far lesser caliber horses. In fact, she is going from nearly the bottom rung ($6,250 claimers) to almost the top rung (Grade: 2 race) in this sport…I’m curious to see how she fairs. (There is rain expected in the area on Saturday but I’m leaving this analysis the same on a wet track.)
Race: 9 (4:30 PM EST Post)
Barbara Fritchie Stakes
High Ridge Road – absolutely, positively loves this (Laurel) surface as she has clearly run three of the best races in her life over it, including winning her last after making a four wide move on the turn, completing a mile in 1:35.2 and scoring a 99 speed figure. Good looking mare by Quality Road draws the #1 post which doesn’t bode well for her “stalker” running style but they will have to have their “running shoes” on Saturday to beat her for my friend Linda Rice………………Clothes Fall Off – ended 2015 and started 2016 very strongly (4-2-2-0, including finishing a close second in this very race) then suffered a minor injury (in April) and took the rest of the year off. In her first race since, (the Interborough Stakes) she didn’t show much but she, no doubt, needed that race and should be much tighter in this spot. What I’m trying to say here is, if you disregard her last two races and look back at her previous four races, you’ll see she is not only had ability, but was improving with each race. “She just had some bruising of the cannon bone. We were pointing for this race with the (Interborough), so it worked out well. I wish she would have run better last time,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “She broke and was kind of chasing, and I don’t think she wanted to be chasing. She just flattened out down the lane. She’ll improve a lot from the run. She had been off a long time and she’s come back and worked well since. She’s doing well, so we think she’ll run well. She liked the track last year.”…………..By the Moon – has been facing some tough horses throughout her career including two champions in Take Charge Brandi & Finest City, also the likes of Curalina, Cavorting, Paulassilverlining, etc., and has still managed to be on the board in 10 of 14 starts. I really, really liked her last outing where she set a fast early pace yet was “slugging it out” late vs. the top choice, getting beat just a half a length in the end. Mare by Indian Charlie can be among the vanguard at the end of this race, but what’s with her races being spaced so far apart? A signal there are some physical issues perhaps……….Honorable Mentions: Takrees – should not be taken lightly. This 5 year old Daaher mare possesses an enormous late run. In fact, her race last November (over this surface) was an amazing performance even though she finished second (made up 11 lengths in last half mile of a seven furlong race). 8 of 11 starts on the board and I expect her to be rolling down the lane once again in this spot…..could be a menace in deep stretch…………..Wonder Gal – is a nice mare who if she wins on Saturday, would become a “millionaire”. By Tiz Wonderful, she pops a huge race now and again but has a bad habit of “bouncing” as high as the sky in the race following. She has the ability to win this race, but coming off a catastrophic win her last time out, I just don’t “trust” her 100%.
General George Stakes
Stallwalkin’ Dude – is an ageless wonder who will be making his 50th career start on Saturday while winning an astounding 17 times. The now 7 year old is a multiple stakes winner for “DJ” and has been no worse than third in seven starts dating back to last summer including stakes wins in the Bold Ruler (a Grade: 3 race), Tale of the Cat Stakes and Gravesend Handicap. This late running gelding has also posted five “trips” in his last seven races where, other than my second pick, no one has come close to doing. Lastly, don’t worry about the fact that Heaven’s Runway beat him last November, that race was the Fall Highweight Handicap where he was giving that rival 13 lbs and even then he only lost by a neck… they will both carry the same weight on Saturday…………Page McKinney – is another ageless wonder at 7 years old with 45 starts while also winning 17 and almost $1.5 million….not bad for a former claimer, you know? Anyway, if he starts here (he is cross entered in the John B. Campbell) he is clearly the horse to beat as he’s won 5 of his last 6, with a big break in between while being on the sidelines with a minor hip issue that caused him to develop swelling in a tendon last May. “He’s going to run in one of them,” trainer Mary Eppler said. “He can do both. Either one is good for him. I feel more confident because he came back great. He was back to his old self the next day, just walking around looking for his mints. He’s very laid back. I think he’s going to be even better this time. He’s been training great. He’s stronger and fitter, and he looks great.”………………Heaven’s Runway – as I just said, he was the recipient of a 13 lb weight advantage in winning the Fall Highweight but came back and won the Dave’s Friend Stakes (over this very racetrack) in his last, so evidently Fall Highweight was not an aberration. “With some horses, sometimes when you win one race it kind of builds their confidence a little bit and I think that’s what happened with him,” trainer Rudy Rodriguez said. “I know they were giving us a lot of weight in the Fall Highweight and the last time he ran a pretty good race at Laurel. He was a little bit closer than he usually is and he finished up pretty good, and it looked like he was drawing away.” ………..Honorable Mentions: Imperial Hint – looked sensational in his last two while beating optional claimers and winning a minor stakes race, both by wide margins. Colt by Imperialist registered quick final times and “trips” in both those races as well….I’m just wondering how much the wet surfaces he ran on (in both) had to do with it?…….Classy Class – was a one time Kentucky Derby contender but was taken off the Triple Crown trail and cut back in distance. He then took 13 months off and has been slowly rounding back into top form as his last three races would indicate. I thought he ran very well in his last (6th, but only beaten 1 ½ lengths) and could be sitting on a big performance. “He broke and he dropped way back because another horse came out and he clipped heels with him about five jumps out of the gate. He just took himself right out of the race,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “We were worried he was so far back, and then he came flying. It’s not too often when you run sixth beaten a length and a quarter on the dirt. On the turf, sometimes. We think it’ll set up well. The distance is perfect for him, seven-eighths. We’re excited to run him.”…could better this rating…………Afleet Willy – is in career best form right now after winning three straight by wide margins over lesser foes. But if he duplicates the speed figure (94) of his last race, he could surprise a few people in this spot.
Golden Gate Fields
Race: 7 (6:45 PM EST Post)
El Camino Real Derby
|1||Zakaroff (KY)||3/G||L||K Frey||122||S Specht||20/1|
|2||More Power to Him (CA)||3/C||L||A Gomez||122||F Taylor||6/1|
|3||Ann Arbor Eddie (CA)||3/G||L||M Gutierrez||122||D F O’Neill||2/1|
|4||Tribal Storm (CA)||3/R||L||A Cedillo||122||E Moger, Jr.||8/1|
|5||Sheer Flattery (KY)||3/C||L||F T Alvarado||122||J Hollendorfer||7/5|
|6||Colonel Samsen (KY)||3/G||L||R Gonzalez||122||E G Harty||10/1|
|7||Kona Dreams (KY)||3/G||L||I Ocampo||122||G Papaprodromou||8/1|
1) Sheer Flattery– has gotten better as the distances have gotten longer, topped off by running a close up third (beaten less than 4 lengths) in the Grade: 3 Robert B. Lewis behind Kentucky Derby hopeful Royal Mo in his last.
Interesting to note that he ran 8 ½ furlongs 3/5ths of a second faster in the RB Lewis than the second choice did in a race just a week before at the same distance. That, readers, equals about a 3 length difference. Although he will be trying the synthetics for the first time in his career, (and his one and only work over it did not impress me) he looks best here.
2) Ann Arbor Eddie– is among the elite, albeit watered down, west coast three years olds this year as he’s won 3 of his first 4 starts with all three wins coming vs Cal-Breds.
I though he ran very well in his lone try in open company (third behind Mastery). He, too, will be trying synthetics for the first time but his sire has a reputation of “throwing” horses that can run on any surface. “We’ve got some nice 3-year-olds and Ann Arbor Eddie is one of them,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “He’s been extremely honest, but now we’ll add some extra distance and try synthetic. It’s a big (purse) and that makes it really intriguing, but it’s also an easy ship from Southern California.”
3) More Power to Him– ran his best race to date when he came with a 5 wide move on the turn to take command of the California Derby in his last only to be gunned down in deep stretch.
Colt by Slew’s Tiznow (a $2500 stallion) has been on the improve and a duplicate effort of that last race this Saturday makes him a contender
Tribal Storm– won his first two races before finishing a good third behind the second pick in his last. Still another who has never run over the synthetics but he does show a string of works over that surface, with the last (5F- 1:00.3) being a sharp one….…no surprise if he runs big in this spot…………………..Colonel Samsen– finished right behind More Power to Him in his last and has never been off the board in three tries over the synthetic surface.
By: Gerard Apadula
Director of Equine Operations and Development
Knights of the Round Stable Thoroughbred Racing Team
2017- Record: 17-33 = 52%
2016- Record: 91-229 = 40%
2015- Record: 67-180 = 37%
2014- Record: 29-73 = 40%
2013 -Record: 20-59= 34%
2012: Record: 24-73= 33%
2011- Record: N/A
2010- Record: 24-74= 33%
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Little Bets N’ Pieces
**** Lucky Pulpit, the sire of two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome, died this past Tuesday of an apparent heart attack while covering the first mare of the breeding season, according to Harris Farms, who owned the stallion.
“He was the picture of health all day,” said Dave McGlothlin, farm manager at Harris Farms. “He had a perfectly normal day. He and the teaser were talking smack to one another like they always did. We’re all stunned.” Both McGlothlin and stallion manager Raul Rosa were in the breeding shed with Lucky Pulpit when he collapsed coming off the mare.
Lucky Pulpit entered stud at Harris Farms near Coalinga, Calif., for a $2,500 fee. He stood this year for $7,500. From seven crops of racing age, Lucky Pulpit is the sire of 148 winners and earnings of $24 million.
A big shout out to Rockingham Farms in California who, after learning of Lucky Pulpit’s death, offered up a free season to their stallion, multiple graded stakes (turf) winner Finnegan’s Wake, to the owners of the mares that were booked to Lucky Pulpit for the 2017 breeding season.
Finnegan’s Wake, who normally stands for $3,500, won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes, San Marcos Stakes, San Gabriel Stakes, Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes, and the Arlington Handicap through his career.
“Lucky Pulpit has been synonymous with ‘California stallion’ for years,” said Gary Hartunian, owner of Rockingham Ranch. “He has done so much for Cal-bred racing, I wanted to do something to help pay his legacy forward. It makes me feel good that I could offer some relief to my fellow Cal-bred owners who have been affected by this tragedy,” Hartunian added.
**** Congratulations to Jockey Mario Gutierrez who won his 1,000th career race Feb. 9 at Santa Anita Park with a neck victory aboard Hot Paris Night in a maiden claiming race.
Best known for winning two Kentucky Derbies (I’ll Have Another and Nyquist), the 30-year-old Gutierrez has earned more than $38 million in purse earnings.
“The 1,000 wins mean a lot to me,” Gutierrez said. “It’s been a hell of a run. Two Kentucky Derby wins, two Breeders’ Cups, the Preakness … It’s been amazing. I never thought I’d be at this level, so I’m very happy.”
**** If there is one thing I love doing other than figuring out races, it’s spotting talent at its beginning stages. I get a lot of joy watching horse like Songbird, American Pharoah and Unique Bella blossom into superstars as their careers unfold. As with Elate last week, watch for a filly named Our Majesty in the upcoming weeks.
By the way, don’t give up on Elate just yet even though she went down in flames as the heavy 1/5 favorite on Saturday. By the way she ran, she was clearly not fully “cranked up” for this race, a typical Bill Mott move.
In fact, she had just 3 –half mile works in 3 months, was running over a notoriously deep Tampa Bay Downs surface and the winner was completely left alone on the lead and had things all her own way early; she has plenty left down the lane to fend off a late run by Elate.
As far as Our Majesty, who is by Majesticperfection, the good looking bay stalked the early pace (in her racing debut last week) through an opening quarter in :21.4.
With rider Ricardo Santana, Jr. not doing a thing, she took command after a half mile in :45.2 and came screaming down the lane to win by five lengths, getting six furlongs in 1:10.1 while “under wraps” (meaning the rider never asked). …she also looks to have a bright future.
**** While on the subject of potential stars, I saw MALAGACY, by Shackleford, who won his debut race by 15-lengths at Gulfstream Jan. 4, came back with a seven-length drubbing in his first start facing winners last Sunday.
The chestnut stalked a quick early pace before taking command of the race at the top of the stretch and “cruised” under the wire…. We need to keep track on him too.
**** I thought this was a good story:
Hannah Schlenk registered her first win as a Thoroughbred racehorse owner last Friday when her 6-year-old gelding, Rous, won a head bobbing, photo finish in Turfway Park’s third race.
What’s so special about that? Well, Hannah Schlenk is just 12 years old.
Hannah inherited Rous from her mother, Jayme Tewell, who passed away Sept. 1.
Hannah, a sixth grader at Grigsby Intermediate School in Granite City, Ill., is growing up around Thoroughbreds as her father, Damon Schlenk, is a groom for Rous’s trainer, Vernon Obermeier.
Hannah took out her owner’s license in December, and the horse’s start on Friday was his fourth in her name.
Rous has four wins, three seconds and two thirds in 33 career starts.
**** Gary Stevens, who remains one of the best riders I’ve ever seen in all my years of doing this, has been cleared to resume riding next month after undergoing surgery for replacement of his right hip on Dec. 21.
“The doctor is very happy; I don’t have to see him again for a year,” the 53-year-old said Saturday morning at Santa Anita. “He released me to start getting on horses the first of March and I’ll start riding races early March. I’ll be here until the late spring or early summer and then I’m not sure. I might go to Keeneland at that point. I’ll go wherever I’m needed”