In this weekend’s “Races of the Week”, we will be focusing on the Fair Grounds in Louisiana. There will be several big races being run highlighted by the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes for three year olds, going a mile and a sixteenth. This Grade: 2 contest drew a full field of 14, led by Kentucky Derby hopefuls Mo Town and Guest Suite.
While at the Fair Grounds, we will be looking at three other races including the Rachel Alexandra, another mile and a sixteenth race for three-year-old fillies only, the Mineshaft Handicap for four-year-olds and up and the Fair Grounds Handicap, (about) a nine-furlong turf race for four years olds and up.
Saturday February 25, 2017
Race: 8 (3:39 PM EST Post)
Eagle – will be making his first start in almost eight months but his last three works signal to me he might be (rested and) ready. This now 5-year-old by Candy Ride chased the speedy Bradster (a fast closing second, beaten a half-length) and top older horse Effinex (fourth) in his last two races both after ridiculously wide trips. (I like Brian Hernandez as a rider but it might be time for trainer Neil Howard to pull the plug on him so to speak). Anyway, this horse is laudably consistent (13 of 16 on the board with 6 wins) and this is definitely his best distance…..slight edge in wide open horse race……….. Honorable Duty – should not be taken lightly in this spot. Yes, he will be making his first start in two months, but he ran the best race of his life in a minor stakes race in his last (which was also his Fair Grounds debut) on Dec 17. Well bred gelding (by Distorted Humor out of an A.P Indy mare) registered a 97 speed figure that day and didn’t miss the track record by all that much. Lastly, note the 3 for 3 at this distance………… Mo Tom – is a very unlucky stretch running son of Uncle Mo who really has only run two poor races (out of 10) in his career with one being that rodeo they call the Kentucky Derby. Another horse coming in off a long layoff but his works also say he might come back running…..looks next best……………Honorable Mentions: International Star – is a very handsome “little” horse who loves this track (4 for 6 over it). This son of Fusaichi Pegasus is still another who will be making his first start in a while (eight months) but he too has been training well. His stats indicate this track and distance are both his favorites……………….December Seven – has improved leaps and bounds of late as this son of Street Sense has won three of his last four. He will be taking a sizable step up in class but he improves again off his last race, and I suspect he just might surprise a few people in this spot. That, and since yours truly has a birthday on December six, he qualifies for the “hunch play” angle………..Rise Up – is the “in form” speed and draws the rail…which is always a dangerous combination…………Dalmore – chased Midnight Storm, Hoppertunity and Mor Spirit in his last two races, so this spot should feel like a class drop for him. Colt by Colonel John shows three career wins (out of 16 races) and all three wins are at this distance. It’s just that last race, where he showed little, that bugs me.
Race: 9 (4:06 PM EST Post)
Rachel Alexandra Stakes
Valadorna – is a daughter of Curlin who possesses an explosive late run. She passed seven horses in the final 4 ½ furlongs in none other than the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies race last November and got 2017 off on the right foot when she came from last, circling the field, to beat mid-level optional’s on Jan 27. Working well, never worse than second in four career starts and 1 for 1 over this surface……looks best………Farrell – is one of two major threats to the top choice based of her three “by daylight” wins out of her last four races. Good looking filly by Malibu Moon waltzed home 6 lengths in front (wire to wire) to close out 2016 in the Nov 26. Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill and came back about two months later to win the Silverbulletday Stakes over this racetrack on Jan 21. Lots to like with this filly, including her versatility, rising speed figures and big work last week (5F- :59.4)…….the other big threat to the top choice is Shane’s Girlfriend, who won her first two starts by a combined 19 lengths including the Grade: 3 Delta Princess Stakes at Delta Downs by a colossal margin. She, however, did NOT get 2017 off to a good start as her connections made the mistake of taking her out west to face that freak of nature they call Unique Bella. After battling for the lead through a half mile in :44.2 she was understandably tired and was a well beaten third. She probably got a lot, both physically and mentally, out of that last race, she has been working extremely well since and boy, that 95 speed figure in the Delta Princess sure does look imposing……….Honorable Mentions: Untapped – is a full sister to champion Untapable who may not have cared for the muddy surface in her last (while finishing behind Farrell). Her two previous races were improving, first class wins. In fact if she runs back to either of those races, and I suspect she might on fast track, she will be dangerous………..Wicked Lick – was making up ground late in her last two races vs. Untapped and Farrell. Chestnut filly will get a little more ground to work with in this spot and it’s very possible she can hit the board here if any of the other “stub their toe” in this race.
Race: 10 (4:33 PM EST Post)
Fair Grounds Handicap
One of the major keys to this race will be the condition of the turf course. I looked at this race on Wednesday and Thursday and, at the time of this writing, they are calling for sunny skies and a nice day overall at the Fair Grounds for Saturday. Therefore, I am going to assume this race will be run over a firm turf course. That said, Western Reserve, although just 4 for 16 life-time, figures to benefit the most over the firm ground. I thought he ran a remarkable race in his last (Colonel Bradley) as he set rapid early fractions (for a course labeled “soft”) yet was “hanging and banging” in deep stretch only to lose by a neck and scored a 97 speed figure in the process. If you look at the race previous to that, he won a gut wrenching, three-way photo over whom I believe will be his main adversaries here. On the board in 9 of 10 turf starts and speed figures are as consistent as the day is long…..slight edge in wide open horse race………………..Greengrassofyoming – is another who clearly needs a firm turf course to run his best. If you go back as far as June of last year (or his last seven races) he’s run bang up in everyone run over a firm course yet, performed poorly when the turf was anything but firm. Speed figures are close to the top ones and I expect him to be “coming late” in this race…………………Granny’s Kitten – is the complete opposite of the top two picks as this son of Kitten’s Joy prefers some “give” in the turf course. That’s said, he can run over a firm turf course too but I just think he is more effective on an off course. From the Mike Maker barn he has been laudably consistent in his 8 of his 9 starts…………….Honorable Mentions: Oscar Performance – can run well on a firm or soft course and his last four races, dating back to September, are all good. I especially liked his last two races (second in both) and with this being his third start off a layoff, he could be sitting on a big race in this spot……..Enterprising – will be taking a class hike but is in good form…..surprise package??…………One Mean Man – is still another than needs a firm turf course, is 2 for 4 over this course and 1 for 1 at this distance. I’m not quite sure he is fast enough to win this but this son of Mizzen Mast is not an easy throw out either…….. Blame Angel – looks outclassed here but is 2 for 4 over this turf course and boy, that last race (even though on the dirt) was really good…..
Race: 11 (5:00 PM EST Post)
Risen Star Stakes
(The top two in this race are pretty much inseparable)
1) Guest Suite – gets the narrowest of margins in a race that could go either way.
I’m leaning in this colt’s favor slightly based off the fact he appears to be coming into this race sharper than the second pick.
By Quality Road, who on certain days was nearly unbeatable, this stretch running colt has won three of his last five including his 2017 debut in the Lecomte Stakes.
In the Lecomte he did his usual “you guys go ahead, I’ll be along later” routine and boy did he ever. He came from sixth position early, and ridiculously wide trip throughout, to score by 1 ½ going away lengths in that race.
He followed that up with not one, but two bullet works, signaling to me he is beginning to peak out.
“He went very nice today, just exactly what we wanted,” trainer Neil Howard said of Guest Suite’s half-mile work in :48 on Monday. “He went a nice comfortable half, galloped out well. I was pleased.
“He’s made nice progression (from 2 to 3). Physically he was always a nice looking horse, everything always blended in on him. He’s done well from fall until now; so far so good.”
His speed figures are moving up nice and gradually and he is 2 for 2 at this distance.
2) Mo Town – is probably a better (more physically talented) colt than the top pick but he will be making his first start in three months so I question his fitness level and intent here.
By Uncle Mo, this colt was screaming “ability” coming down the lane in his last two races last year in breaking his maiden by a wide margin, then coming back and taking the Grade: 2 Remsen with ease over No Dozing and the speedy Takaful. (Note: both of those two horses have come back since and neither ran well.)
On the good side, he’s been tearing up the surface at the notoriously deep Payson Park Training Center in Florida (three bullet works and excellent times for that surface) and he’s won off of layoffs before.
But remember….this colt will have only this race and one more before the Derby according to trainer Tony Dutrow. That means he doesn’t necessarily have to win in this spot, he just needs to run well (late preferably). Also remember, you want your horse peaking on the first Saturday in May, not the fourth Saturday in February.
“He’s a talented horse,” Dutrow said. “He’s grown up some since his 2-year-old season, and he looks fantastic now. He’s doing very well and we are very happy with him.”
“He’s the kind of horse who has the speed and stamina you like to see,” Dutrow continued.
“When the rider needs him, he has the athleticism to get the distance. We really like the Risen Star a lot, as far as a place to get him started” Dutrow added. “The date of the race is perfect and the climate is very similar to what he is used to at Payson Park and the spacing gives us four-to-five weeks to upcoming races.”
3) Untrapped – after experiencing a slight traffic issue at the top of the stretch, this colt by Trappe Shot finished right behind Guest Suite in the aforementioned Lecomte in his last where he was only beaten 1 1/4 lengths.
Albeit he was 5-1 that day, that race was no fluke as he has had two other races in his career. In his debut, he was charging hard late (after a bad start) to finishing second behind Uncontested. In his second career start, he walloped maidens at Churchill.
Logically, if you can finish less than two lengths behind Guest Suite after encountering a traffic issue, then you must be respected in a race like this.
Local Hero – ran second in his first two tries last year but after taking exactly two months off, this colt by the gorgeous Hard Spun absolutely decimated a maiden field in his 2017 debut, which just so happened to also be his Fair Ground debut. He opened a 10 length lead at the quarter pole that day and cruised under the wire (while being pulled up) by 7+. Interesting to note he ran an 89 speed figure which is not only the tops “last time out figure” but also tops of anyone in this field …ever. For a colt making his stakes debut in this spot, it appears as though he comes “loaded”……………..Cool Arrow – has won three of his last four, all by “daylight,” including wiring the field in the $300,000 Springboard Mile at Remington as the 8/5 favorite. He got away with a lethargic half mile that day but he seems to be improving and he has been first or second in 5 of 6 career starts………….A few other side notes about this race: Girvin is by Tale of Ekati and I found it interesting he won his racing debut and then recorded a second place on the turf in an overnight stake and in both races earned the same 87 speed figure. From what I’m gathering, it was trainer Joe Sharp’s plan all along to use that turf stake as a prep for this, which is not a bad plan of attack………….Arklow and Shareholder Value – both chased Guest Suite in the Lecomte and both were making up ground late at mid-range odds. The stretch out in distance, which is ever so slight, is not a bad thing for either of them. Lastly, from what I understand, So Conflated will scratch out of this race (due to drawing the ugly #14 post position) and be pointed towards the Gotham at Aqueduct. Either way, we need to keep an eye on this guy….I see some ability here when I watched his race replays.
By: Gerard Apadula
Director of Equine Operations and Development
Knights of the Round Stable Thoroughbred Racing Team
2017- Record: 18-35 = 51%
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
**** 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic has died.
The 21-year-old stallion, who returned to the United States from Japan Dec. 4, was pensioned at Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Retirement Center in Georgetown, Ky.
Old Friends president Michael Blowen announced the stallion’s death last Sunday.
Charismatic was discovered early Sunday morning. Attending veterinarian Dr. Bryan Waldridge was immediately called to the scene, but the cause of death is unknown. The results of a full necropsy are pending. (Update: he fractured a pelvis)
“Right now, everyone is pretty much inconsolable,” Blowen said. “Last night, at 6:30 (p.m.), he was fine. He was a really tough horse and he deserved a much longer retirement. But none of us, unfortunately, has a magic wand. Everyone at Old Friends takes solace from the few great months that this great champion gave us.”
**** 2016 two-year-old champion Classic Empire will not start as expected in the Fountain of Youth Stakes March 4 at Gulfstream Park trainer Mark Casse said last Sunday.
Casse said the colt’s foot abscess, which was discovered days after he finished third in the Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 4 at Gulfstream, has not healed completely and is still draining. Although the colt has been out galloping daily, Casse decided to hold off on breezing Feb. 20.
“We thought if we were going to make the Fountain of Youth, we’d have to at least breeze tomorrow and I’m not ready to breeze him,” Casse said. “I talked to (owner John) Oxley this morning and we’re going to look elsewhere”.
“My hopes are that this thing is cleared up by mid-week and we get to breeze him next week. If that’s the case, and we get to (breeze), then, we’ll start worrying about what’s next.”
“If need be, we could go with one more race into the Derby. He won the Breeders’ Futurity off a layoff”.
**** Budding super-star Unique Bella worked five-furlong this past Thursday.
The big gray filly went in 1:00 1/5, preparing for her expected start in the March 4 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita.
“She went very easy,” said Dan Ward, assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “It was an easy work, like always. She was nice and smooth and very relaxed. Edgar (Rodriguez, regular exercise rider) has got her going off slow and coming home fast. I see her getting more and more relaxed as time goes by. We had her getting her last eighth in :11 and four fifths.”