Coming off an enormous weekend of racing last weekend, we keep the ball rolling this weekend as we will be looking five (seven if you count yesterday’s races) more races highlighted by the 2017, $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
The nine furlong contest, which is the last major Kentucky Derby prep race, drew a field of 12 led by 2016 two year old champion male Classic Empire.
While at Oaklawn we will be looking at two other races on the Saturday card, which include the $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint and the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap.
Elsewhere, we will be looking at a pair of races at Keeneland in Kentucky in the Lexington Stakes for three year olds and the Jenny Wiley, a turf race for fillies and mares
One quick side note, I would like to thank each and every one of you for last weekend. The Wood Memorial, Bluegrass and Santa Anita Derby preview article I published ranked #1 in views this past Saturday at the isportsweb site and #2 the day before. Once again, thank you all very much for the support.
Before moving forward, let’s talk about a little bit about what happened last weekend:
April 8th, 2017- Back-“Track”
Commonwealth– I thought I was a winner when A.P Indian surged to the lead at top of the stretch but Awesome Slew went right on by late for the win. ‘Slew should be a forced in the big, middle distance races this year and A.P Indian clearly needed the race and will/should improve next time out.
Madison– I tip my hat to Paulassilverlining. I said last week I was worried about her “coming back to bite me” and she did. Big props to Constellation also who, when PSL came to her, she dug in and fought like a tiger while drifting out in deep stretch…one of the best races of the day. High Point Road was flat and didn’t show much.
Ashland– Sailor’s Valentine stalked the pace and took over late to post an enormous 22-1 upset. Daddy’s Little Darling was coming to her late but ran out of “real estate”. I was very surprised DLD went off at 6-1 as I was also surprised the public made Elate the post-time favorite. Incidentally, Elate was pulled up and vanned off the track during the running of the race but, from what I understand, her x-rays came back negative and she will be ok.
Bluegrass– speaking of enormous upsets Irap, a maiden heading into the BG, also assumed a stalking position in the early going, took the lead in the upper stretch and fought off rallies from Practical Joke and McCraken to further scramble the 2017 Kentucky Derby picture.
Practical Joke had every chance to get by the winner and flat out couldn’t (once again, I question his distance ability)….McCraken was striding out sooooo beautifully down the lane, clearly looked like a horse who needed that race and this race should set him up very well in the Derby…..J Boys Echo– “bounced” off the Gotham like I figured he would, not sure where his form he goes from here……..Tapwrit– broke poorly, made a little run, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Excelsior– another good race. Tu Brutus, who I said was the “dark horse” and wasn’t sure what to expect from him, ran a titanic ran. He blew out of the gate, set good solid early fractions while opening up a large early lead. I thought he “held” very well down the lane as the winner Send it In had to grind it out the win. It was a colossal margin back (14 lengths) to the third place finisher by the way.
Carter– was another HUGE upset when Green Gratto went wire to wire at an eye popping 54-1. Unified and jockey Javier Castellano let the winner set the pace but stayed in close range throughout. They came charging late and “just missed” catching the winner, which was a little disappointing. However, this race is a PERFECT example of why Castellano is one of, if not THE, best rider in the game today. Watch the race again (below) and pay particular attention to what happens about one or two strides inside the eighth pole. Watch how Castellano “traps” Tommy Macho, who was making a big late run on the rail, and “save” the place spot….perhaps the most brilliant ride I’ve seen in quite some time.
Wood Memorial– Big, big bounce back effort by Irish War Cry. Not only did he rate off the pace beautifully but, although carrying his head a little too high for my liking, he looked like a beast charging down the lane for the win; catapulting himself squarely back into the Derby picture…. Battalion Runner set the pace but yielded way grudgingly to IWC. He is obviously a talented animal.
Gazelle– Miss Sky Warrior doesn’t really run fast, but she absolutely decimated her opponents last Saturday. She took the field “coast to coast” and won by 13 lengths. It’s onto the Kentucky Oaks for her and she should merit your attention in that race.
Santa Anita Oaks– I knew I was in trouble with Abel Tasman when right before the race trainer Bob Baffert said this was more of a “prep race” for the Kentucky Oaks for this filly. Although she put in a very strong late run, Paradise Woods, who I said there was no telling how good she was, took the lead leaving the gate, set moderate fractions and absolutely blew the race to smithereens on the turn for home. The Richard Mandella trainee opened up 10 at the quarter pole and cruised home by 13 lengths. Both fillies will head to the Kentucky Oaks with impressive credentials.
Santa Anita Derby– another big bounce back performed except this time by Gormley, who was being trained to rate in the mornings, and did just that in the SA Derby as he came from sixth position early to get up for the win on the wire……I loved the way Battle of Midway, who was caught up in a protracted speed duel early, dug in late and ran his lungs out for second……Royal Mo also bounced back with a good effort here as he was beaten about a length even after Gary Stevens drop his whip down the stretch……the inexperienced Reach the World came with a strong late run and finished very well….I thought Iliad was going to make a race of it late but hung like a coat in the final 100 or so yards….American Anthem was huge disappointed. He was working lights out and took the lead at the half-mile pole but “shifted into reverse” at that point and beat one horse home.
Overall, I’m not sure what to make of any of the “big 3” races from last weekend as the final three-eighths in all three races were run in a molasses-like :38, :39, and :40 2/5, with Irap, a maiden before Saturday, actually coming home the fastest of the three. In addition, none of the nine furlongs were complete in less than 1:50…..those are some ugly stats readers.
Saturday- April 15, 2017
Keeneland Race Course
Race: 9 (5:34 PM EST)
West Coast – is another in a long line of expensive, well bred, fast and good looking horses who run holes in the wind in the mornings (and in races) for trainer Bob Baffert. This $425,000 son of Flatter, out of stakes winning mare Caressing, (who I won some money on years ago) closed the gap late in his racing debut, finishing second at a mile in 1:35.1 and registered a 91 speed figure. Think about that for a second…first of all, running a horse first time out at a mile is not the norm and second, scoring a 91 speed figure also first time out is DEFINITELY not the norm. He then comes back just three weeks later at 1/9 odds, gets hooked in a protracted speed duel but shakes off the other horses in that race and wins going away. This colt also has four published works since that last race and each of them are “smart”. Not sure why Baffert adds blinkers for this race… I mean he seems to show more than enough early zip already…….down the road in this spot……………No Dozing – has disappointed thus far in 2017. I mean, he had a very good 2YO year (4-2-1-0) making me think he could be among the elite 3YO’s this year but so far, he hasn’t shown me much. Yes, in his two races this year he’s faced McCraken and Tapwrit, yes, he has improved from race #1 in 2017 to race #2 and yes, he gets a major rider upgrade in this spot but I just don’t like the way he seemed to quit running (or, at least, slowed way down) at about the 5/16ths pole in those two races. All that said, he is taking a major class drop in this spot and that alone makes me think he hits the board here………………Senior Investment – is just 7-2-0-1 but he has been improving steadily from start one, topped off by chasing Kentucky Derby hopeful Girvin in the Louisiana Derby in his last and he wasn’t completely embarrassed…………Honorable Mentions: Time to Travel – looks intriguing based off his first two races. Gray colt, by the gorgeous Hard Spun, ran very well in his racing debut and came back 3 ½ weeks later to run a group of MSWs off their feet at Gulfstream. He won by almost 5, scoring an 88 speed figure and stopped the clock in an excellent 1:21.4 for seven panels. That, and the fact he gets a trainer change/upgrade, makes me think he could run well in this spot………………if you are looking for a long-shot in this race, take your pick as Resiliency, who overcame a slow pace in beating mid-level optionals in his last, Convict Pike, who ran third in the Spiral Stakes his last time out and Souper Tapit, who came from well back to win his debut, then broke poorly and was “parking lot” wide in his second career race, all have a “punchers chance” here.
Race: 10 (6:12 PM EST)
Lady Eli – continues on the road to one of racing’s greatest comebacks. If you recall, this good looking filly’s career (and life) almost came to screeching halt after (winning the Belmont Oaks in July of 2015) she stepped on a nail while heading back to trainer Chad Brown’s barn. This led to the beginnings of laminitis in not one, but both front feet…an often deadly hoof disease. After taking 13 months to recuperate, this mare came back better than ever, although she only won one of three starts. She ran her lungs out while scoring three of the highest speed figures in her career. “Scary enough, she’s never been bigger or stronger than right now,” Brown said. “Her works have been amazing down at Palm Meadows. I really didn’t circle the Jenny Wiley at the first of the year. … but, as soon as I started working her, it was very apparent to me that she still had a lot of fitness from her campaign last year. It didn’t take long for her to look as good as ever. She’s 5. It could be her last year of racing. It’s a grade 1 and I have what I think is the best turf mare in the country. So I have to run. And I’m going to allow her to run.”…Agreed, Mr. Brown, albeit the division is very deep and lots of talent, she might be the best older female turf runner in the country. Lastly, don’t worry this will be her first start in over 5 months; she is a very special filly who runs well regardless of the situation. “Overall, I’d say she’s an extremely rare horse.” Brown said with a smile….Agreed again, Mr. Brown…………….Catch a Glimpse – rattled off eight straight wins from late 2015 all the way through the end of 2016 where her form clearly went south. But the good news is, trainer Mark Casse gave her 5 months off (exactly what she needed) and brought her back to run second (behind the streaking Celestine) in the Sand Spring on March 4. This filly was only beaten by 2 lengths that day at a mile in a very snappy 1:34.2 and it looks like she is rounding back into form…….dangerous foe…………..Dickinson – is a COMPLETELY different horse since trying the grass late last year. Before that, this mare owned by the powerhouse Godolphin Stable, was by and large toiling in mid level claiming races up and down the east coast. But since trainer Kiaran McLaughlin put her on the turf, she has won 4 of 5 including 2 Graded Stakes in Florida and scoring three 99 speed figures….looks best of a very competitive rest………….Honorable Mentions: Time and Motion – is another win machine. By super sire Tapit, this filly won 5 of 7 on the grass last year including a Grade: 1 over this very surface. In fact, I’m only rating her this low due to her trainer James Toner’s comments on Wednesday: “We initially didn’t think we’d make the Jenny Wiley, but she just came into hand so quickly that I said well, let’s just go for it,” Toner said. “She’s ready to run a good race. She’s not going to be coming in with her ‘A’ race, being that it’s her first start off the bench.” ………….Quidura – is 2 for 2 with both being very nice, quickly run wins last year since coming over from Germany. Filly by Dubawi has been working well for her 2017 debut and she is giving me every impression she could be a good one with a little more racing experience……………..Some other side notes: Kitten’s Roar – has been on the board in 12 of 13 career turf races and her last three in particular were her all-time best performances…..could better this rating……………..Goodyearforroses – is in career best form right now after banging out three straight wins in California in her last three races…..she is no easy throw-out here………..Illuminant – came back running off a 10 month layoff when she wired a minor stakes field in California in a ridiculously fast 6 furlong time (even for the downhill course) and she can handle this distance. It’s just that this 5 year old mare by Quality Road shows a penchant for “bouncing” after running big races. That last one was not only a big race but, as I mentioned, off a layoff….bottom line here is she looks totally setup to “bounce” again here.
Race: 7 (3:57 Pm EST)
Count Fleet Sprint
If Whitmore keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s going to make a run at champion sprinter in 2017. His last three starts (all at 6F) were nothing short of sensational; topped off by absolutely burying his rivals in the Hot Springs Stakes in his last. This 4YO gelding, by the strapping Pleasantly Perfect, encountered some traffic issues at the quarter pole in that race but once free, he quickly opened up 6 lengths on the field at the wire, stopping the clock in a fleet 1:08.3 while posting a 104 speed figure. Moreover, he is 6-3-2-1 over this track and a perfect 4 for 4 at this distance. Don’t worry about the leisurely last work (4F- :50) that is what’s called a “maintenance” work……….one of the best bets of the entire weekend from what I can see……………….Moe Candy – rattled off three straight wins and a very good second in the Grade: 2 Palos Verdes Stakes at Santa Anita in his last four races. Interesting to note, this gray 5 YO was bet to 7/5 in that race yet wasn’t the favorite. Anyway, he runs well “fresh”, he sports two good works of late, shows back to back 98 speed figures and a 5-3-1-1 record at this distance….looks next best…………After starting his career 5 for 5 with very quick final times and over three different racetracks, Chief Cicatriz’s last race is too bad to be true. 4YO gelding by Munnings shows two good 5F works since that last race and might bounce back and run well here…………..Honorable Mentions: I was never really a big fan of Holy Boss and I’m definitely still not. This now 5 YO by Street Boss was manhandled by the top pick in his last and the steady stream of “trips” are long over, topped off by running an 84 (his lowest in 2 years) in his last. That said, he gets the services of “Big Money Mike” in the saddle and he is 2 for 4 over this surface….maybe……..for a small share of the purse……………………….Apprehender – is a tough old bird who was visually impressive while breaking last, yet circling the entire field to win his last by a neck. The now 8 YO registered his first win in 6 months that day and has been on the board in his last 8 races dating back to last summer. Also note, he finished very close to the top pick back in January……..if you are shopping for a long-shot, take a look at Wabel who, like Apprehender, was visually impressive coming from last to beat a mid-level optional claiming field “going away” in his last. 5YO by Curlin, is 2 for 4 over this surface, 3 for 5 at this distance and a repeat speed figure/performance of that last race might make him a menace here.
Race: 9 (5:09 PM EST)
Midnight Storm– Aside from “Arro-great” and Shaman Ghost (who beat him in the Big ‘Cap his last time out), this 6 year old is one of the top older males in training today. By Pioneerof the Nile, this speedster has won 5 of his last 7 (on both turf and dirt) with multiple Graded Stakes wins on that list. He has blossomed since around the middle of last year and it (visually) shows: “He’s a much different horse now than he was then,” said Billy Koch of Little Red Feather Racing, who owns Midnight Storm in partnership with breeder Alex Venneri. “He’s so much more mature. He knows how to shut his engine off. He has gone above and beyond anything we could have imagined, and we’re extremely thankful to both Alex and Phil for allowing us to be a part of Midnight Storm.”…Big, good-looking animal, he has now posted seven consecutive “trips” and he will be the recipient of one of my more favorite “moves” in this spot as he will be dropping in class and cutting back in distance from his last race. With not a lot of other early speed signed up in this race, he should make every pole a winning one here……………… Domain Rap– is another “tough old bird” who, at now 9 years old, will be making his 64th career start in this spot and (literally) shows no signs of slowing down. By Cherokee Rap, this horse is peaking out in form right now based off his last four (all in 2017) races. In order, he came from behind to win a stakes race in January, beat mid-level optionals in February, came back just 16 days after that and chased Dubai World Cup runner-up Gun Runner and was charging hard, late to grab second (behind the streaking Mor Spirit) in his last. His speed figures are remarkably consistent and high (96, 96, 96 and 101) in those four races and this is clearly his favorite racetrack as the 9-5-2-1 record over it would indicate……………………….Texas Chrome– rattled off three straight stakes wins (including two Grade: 3 races) towards the end of last year before “mailing it in” in the 2016 Breeder Cup Dirt Mile. He will be making his first start since the BC (Nov 4) but his works show me he might be fit enough to contend vs these. You have no choice but to respect the 12 on the board finishes out of 14 career races, including 8 wins….that’s impressive……..Honorable Mentions: Madefromlucky– hasn’t actually won a horse race in almost 2years but always tries his best and is always “close” at the end. This son of Lookin’ at Lucky just missed second behind Domain Rap in the Essex Handicap in his last so he, at least, needs to be “mentioned” here………….if you are looking for a long-shot, Inside Straight is your horse. By Super Saver, this 4-year-old bay gelding was visually impressive while whipping mid-level optionals in his last and finished “right” behind Domain Rap in his two prior races. His speed figures continue to climb and he likes this track….listen, I’ve seen stranger things happen
Race: 11 (6:18 PM EST)
1) Classic Empire– is mega-talented and was voted the 2016 champion two-year-old male after winning 4 of 5 starts last year including two Grade: 1’s.
This year has been quite a different story however.
This very handsome colt was beaten almost nine lengths in his 2017 debut race (Holy Bull, Feb. 4) and hasn’t been seen since.
In between then and now, he has suffered a foot abscess, a back muscle injury and he flat out refused to train in the mornings on several occasions.
In what I believe was an act of desperation, trainer Mark Casse shipped the colt to the peaceful surroundings of Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala, Fla., (formerly Tartan Farms, where such great as Dark Mirage and Dr. Fager trained in years past) in hopes of getting him “straighten out”.
Evidently, the plan is working:
“The good news is he’s doing great. I talked to (farm manager) Mitch Downs and … he said, as long as he’s had (Classic Empire) he’s never seen him feeling as good as he is now.” Casse said.
There doesn’t seem to any sugar coating in those words as he’s post three works of late including a pair of 5F works in :59.1 and :59.3.
Bottom line here is if you can look past the “issues,” and think he is fit enough, he is your winner as he is the best horse in the race…personally, I believe his talent will overcome.
2) Malagacy– ok, just real talk here; I’m still not really sure what to make of this colt.
I mean, he has (literally) done nothing wrong through three career starts.
A chestnut colt by Preakness winner and fan favorite Shackelford, he broke his maiden by 15 lengths in his debut going 5 1/2 furlongs at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 4 and followed that up with a seven-length win next time out at 6 1/2 furlongs.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said before the running of the 2017 Rebel Stakes (March 18) that he think this horse “will be better at sprints and one turn races, but we figured we’d give him a shot here”…..and what does he do? He stalks a moderate earlier pace, seizes command at the quarter pole and wins by two conclusive lengths.
“He handled the stretch out his first time very well. Now we need more distance again, and continue to prove that a mile and an eighth and beyond is within his range,” Pletcher said. “We feel like it is, based on the way he handled the 1 1/16 miles, (and) the way he’s shown he’s very tractable, very rateable. But when you’re trying to do something you’ve never done before, you’re hoping they step up with each increment you’re asking them to take on.”
The confusing part to me is this, first you have arguably the greatest trainer in the history of the sport telling us he thinks he’s a sprinter, yet he wins at 8 ½ furlongs…and in the win in the 8 1/2 furlongs, a 112-1 shot maiden runs second. That in turn, makes me question the quality of that race.
Of course, breaking from the extreme outside post here is not going to help his “stalking” running style.
Listen if he wins, I won’t be shocked. I’m “placing” him here (literally) because he needs to prove to me the Rebel was no fluke…and it very well may not have been. Of all the horses racing this weekend, I’ll be watching him the closest.
3) Conquest Mo Money- rattled off three very nice wins to start his career (all at Sunland Park) but ran into a buzz-saw and finished well (gamely) to be second behind Hence in the Sunland Park Derby in his last. (As is watched the replay) I loved the way this colt, although hopelessly beaten in that race, dug in and kept trying and kept trying (to run down the winner) down the stretch and never gave up. Horses will that sort of tenacity go along way with me. Improving colt by Uncle Mo seems to be getting better as the distances get longer (and as he gains experience as well).
Untrapped– Trainer Steve Asmussen called this colt by Trappe Shot “the best three year old he has in his barn”. Those are some strong words from a Hall of Fame trainer. Dark bay colt has never been off the board through 5 career starts including back to back placings in the Risen Star (behind Girvin) and the Lecomte (Guest Suite) and was nosed out for second in the aforementioned Rebel……figures close here………………Petrov-is another who has been “right there” at the finish of his last four races but just can’t seem to get “over the hump” sort of speak. This gray son of Flatter ran huge in the Southwest (Feb 20) and missed second in the Rebel by two noses. Nice colt, but he is showing me the “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” angle……….. There are two ways to look at Sonneteer. One, he is clearly an improving horse judging by his last three races (and speed figures), topped off by putting together a serious late run (behind Malagacy) in the Rebel to finish second at an astonishing 112-1. Since then, this son of the hulking Midnight Lute shows back to back strong works, so he could be sitting on another big performance (although I’m SURE he won’t be 112-1 this time)….or two, he is still a maiden after nine races but was able to luckily “pick up the pieces” late in an oddly run Rebel Stakes and he’ll drop back into obscurity after this race. Personally, I’m leaning towards option #1, but it’s your call from there………Ok, I am officially putting you on alert right now that, maybe not is this race (or maybe so) Lookin At Lee will make “some noise” in the Kentucky Derby. Good-looking (have you noticed I call all bays “good looking” yet?) colt by two time champion Lookin’ at Lucky is a “from out of the clouds” type late runner who is getting better as the distances get longer. Again, possibly not in this race, but the 1 ¼ miles in the Kentucky Derby will probably hit him right between the eyes. However, I could see him running well at nine furlongs (the distance here) as well.
By: Gerard Apadula
Director of Equine Operations and Development
Knights of the Round Stable Thoroughbred Racing Team
2017- Record: 25-65 = 38%
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%
Little Bets N’ Pieces
**** Dortmund, who won the 2015 Santa Anita Derby, has been retired, owner Kaleem Shah said last Sunday.
“He’s been so good to us,” Shah said. “It’s time to take care of him.”
“He had some issues when I got him (from trainer Bob Baffert) and that makes it a little bit tough with him getting up in age,” trainer Art Sherman said. “But he’ll be a good stallion. I believe that.”
Shah said there is no current stud deal in place for Dortmund, but that he has already received inquiries from interested farms. Dortmund retired with an 8-2-2 record from 16 starts and $1,987,505 in earnings.
**** The unbeaten One Liner is out indefinitely and will miss his planned start in the April 15 Arkansas Derby. That in turn will push the son of Into Mischief is off the Kentucky Derby trail as well, WinStar’s Elliott Walden said on Monday.
The colt breezed five furlongs in 1:01 4/5 at Palm Meadows Training Center April 8, and while Walden said that nothing appears to be wrong, the connections want to make sure the colt is OK before continuing his training further.
“He just didn’t breeze great,” Walden said. “He didn’t breeze like a horse that was ready to win the Arkansas Derby. We don’t want to take him over there if he’s not the One Liner we know. So we’re going to try to figure it out.
“We’re just going to bring him back and run some tests on him and try to figure out why he didn’t work great. Nothing seems apparent. He’s a really nice horse, he’s undefeated, and we’re not going to take any chances. (Trainer) Todd (Pletcher) couldn’t quite put his hand on it, so we’re going to get him back and look him over and see where it takes us.”
However, Walden said there’s no timeline for how long One Liner will be out.
“(He) should be (back at WinStar) this week,” he said. “He might not be out of training two weeks, he might be out 60 days, we don’t know. We’re going to look him over and see what we can come up with, but there’s nothing apparent according to Todd.”
One Liner ran once as a 2-year-old, winning a maiden race at Saratoga and in 2017, he’s won both of his starts by wide margins, including the Grade: 3 Southwest Stakes.
**** Champion Songbird recorded her first work of 2017 as the daughter Medaglia d’Oro filly covered three furlongs in an easy :35 4/5, out a half in :48.2.
“It was very nice and smooth, and she galloped out nicely,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said.
A minor leg injury delayed Songbird’s training earlier in 2017, but Hollendorfer expressed confidence Sunday morning that his filly’s talent has not taken a step backwards.
“She’s the same. Believe me” he added.
Her immediate race plans remain unclear, but if she does come back “the same” as the last two years, God help her competition.