We will be looking at four more races this weekend as we inch closer and closer to the 2017 Kentucky Derby.
The highlighted race this weekend is the 2017 Charles Town Classic, a nine furlong event for four year olds and up for a whopping $1.25 million purse at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia. The speedy Stanford, who won this race last year, will lead the field of eight.
Elsewhere, as we make our rounds around the country, we will be look at the Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland. The nine furlong contest for three year olds, which usually has some Preakness implications, drew a very short field of five.
In addition, we will make a rare trip up towards Chicago for a look at the Illinois Derby for three years olds going nine furlongs. The Illinois Derby was “put on the map” when War Emblem won the race in 2002 before wiring the field in the 2002 Kentucky Derby.
Lastly, we head out to Santa Anita for a look at the $200,000 Californian Stakes for three year olds and up going a mile and an eighth.
As a programming note, I will be passing next weekend’s races, as I will begin gearing up for a full analysis of the Kentucky Derby on May 6.
I will actually return May 4 with a look at the 2017 Kentucky Oaks (and several under-card races) then double back on the May 5 with the Derby (and several other under-card races). Until then, stay well.
Before moving forward, let’s look back on what happened last weekend:
Friday-April 14, 2017- Back-“Track”
I mentioned Ever So Clever either a) hasn’t coming back the same way as last year or b) she is rounding back into form. By the enormous late rally she executed, I’d say undoubtedly option “B” as she came from near last early, circled the field and won by almost 2 lengths, paying $33.60 for the win. …runner up Chanel’s Legacy led every step of the way and into deep stretch but was overhauled by the winner at 12.50-1, making a $192+ exacta. She seemed to be back in form now as well….I thought Vexatious was going to “closer” at the wire but only managed to be third.
Champion Stellar Wind is back! Even with the ride she received from Victor Espinoza, she still won. Simply put, Terra Promessa broke running and quickly established the early (and uncontested) lead. She had the quintessential perfect trip on the front end, everything her own way, even though her head positioning down the backside was all wrong. At about the 5/16ths pole, Jose Ortiz, who rode a brilliant race, let her out a notch and quickly put some distance between him and SW, getting the oh-so-important “first run” on the champion. Espinoza, seeing that, quickly started “motivating” SW. He was able to run down TP by mid-stretch and win by 1 ¼ lengths. Let me go ahead and tell you, it’s a good thing SW is as good as she is and was ready to run, because she overcame a major blunder by her rider.
Saturday-April 15, 2017- Back-“Track”
Right off the bat, let me say I won three of the seven races that I previewed but by lost two races by a head. I’ll say it for the 9000th time, I’d rather my horse lose by 40 lengths as opposed to a nose/head.
Lexington – This race was one of the tough losses. I thought I was home free at the sixteenth pole when West Coast, who made a big move on the turn to seize command of the race, tired in deep stretch and was caught by Senior Investment. There were a few things I noticed about this race. As Flavien Prat was imploring West Coast in the final 100 or so yards and I thought he did everything he could to get the horse “home”, so good job there….of course, if he would have timed his three wide move on the turn a little better, he wouldn’t have been in that situation… Senior Investment who I had for third, came from near last, circled the field and won by a head in an absolute thriller of a race…I was shocked to see this horse go off at 11-1…I was thinking 4 or 5 to 1 would have been about right….No Dozing ran well. He was “coming” late after a taking a hard bump on the first turn….Souper Tapit looked like a pinball on the first turn as well. He literally “bounced” off the rail.
Jenny Wiley: Was the other tough loss. Lady Eli, who was sweating a little more that I would have liked in the pre-race, was coming hard late, took the lead but was gunned down right on the wire by Dickinson. Kudos to Dickinson and her rider Paco Lopez. I mean, they were snarled down on the rail at the mid-stretch marker, but when a little seam open up, Lopez went for it and it paid off for him and his horse…I tip my hat to him for a patient ride. Here is the replay… Dickinson has the white blaze, royal blue silks.
Count Fleet Sprint
Whitmore – came with a sweeping, three wide run to the lead at the quarter pole and, although drifting out down the lane, won “going away” in another riveting performance. He won by almost four lengths while stopping the clock in a rapid 1:08.1 for six furlongs. He needs to hunt bigger game and I repeat, if he keeps this up, Drefong and the rest of the sprint division better keep an eye on this cat………Apprehender – was “parking lot” wide but won a VERY close, three way photo for the place spot.
No excuses for Midnight Storm, the 1-2 favorite. He broke well and was cruising on an easy lead with his ears pricked the whole time, but tired and was a beaten horse on the turn for home……..thank you all very much for the kind emails as I said in last week’s preview that “if you were looking for a long-shot take Inside Straight” and that horse came running late to get the money at 20-1…..Congrats to all of you/us who bet him, it was a very nice payoff. I guess removing the blinkers did the trick for him as he is unbeaten since that equipment change ………..I also had said that Domain’s Rap figured to be second in this race and he was….at 13-1….very surprised he went off that high as I was expecting 5, 6 or 7 to 1…. Mental note to self: Keep betting at Oaklawn Park to a minimum. I mean, how do you have a 20-1 shot win and a 13-1 place and the exacta only pay $97.00??? That’s absurd….should have been WAY more than that.
Classic Empire is back…. He didn’t break especially well, he was checked at the top of the stretch but “leveled out” very well inside the eighth pole and got up for the win. Although the pace was fast early, (which helped him tremendously) he wore down the early leaders in deep stretch to win by ½ a length. He will move forward off this race as it was clear to see he needed the race badly, plus his trainer and rider said he was “not fully cranked up for this race”…big, big bounce back effort and, similar to Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial, he catapulted himself right back into a being a huge Kentucky Derby threat……..big props to Conquest Mo Money, who set a strong early pace but dug in and fought hard to hold the place spot. I thought he ran nothing short of a remarkable race……..Lookin at Lee – who I had a bold prediction for in my preview last week, was “coming late” and got third….once again, I think the Derby distance should “punch him right in the face”…..Sonneteer – also needs more ground and closed well to be 4th and although “STILL” a maiden, he could be “laying in the weeds” come Derby Day………Kudos to Malagacy too. He was looking the wrong way when they sprung the gate so he obviously didn’t break all that well. He was hung out to dry (wide) on the first turn, loomed boldly on the turn for home but dug in and was still fighting like Muhammad Ali down the lane. He was “cooked” inside the sixteenth pole however, and “retreated” from second to fifth in the matter of several strides. I mean Stevie Wonder could see nine (and of course ten, the Derby distance) furlongs are “out of range” for him. Whether he runs in the Derby or not, he is officially off my Derby list…..nice horse….mega-talented and he will make his owners big, big money down the road…. but no way he gets 10 furlongs on the first Saturday in May.
Saturday April 22, 2017
Laurel Race Course
Race: 7 (4:33 PM EST Post)
Federico Tesio Stakes
Action Everyday – is a $400,000 son of the fleet The Factor who appears the one to beat in this spot. Colt from the “Todd Squad” barn won his first two races very nicely at Tampa Bay Downs but was overmatched in his last while chasing Kentucky Derby hopeful J Boys Echo, Preakness hopeful Cloud Computing and Derby hopeful but now injured El Areeb in the Grade: 3 Gotham in his last. Although beaten 11 ½ lengths in that race, I didn’t think he ran horribly as he missed third (and beating El Areeb) by just a half-length. “Action Everyday is a horse that has shown some ability and he’s also shown some immaturity,” Pletcher said. “He has been a little bit unprofessional at times in some of his races. We felt like the Tesio, from a timing standpoint, was good and the distance should suit him well,” he added. “We’re optimistic that he’s got some improvement in him and that he’ll continue to sort of put things mentally together and learn how to polish his races off a little bit. He came into us sort of later in the fall at Palm Beach Downs so it took a little bit of time to get him ready. He’s had a pretty smooth winter and early spring so we decided to ship him up to New York and take a shot at some of those races,” Pletcher continued. “He was actually very professional in his debut and then in his second start he made the lead and tried to sort of pull himself up and didn’t quite know what to do with it. We’ve been working on that. We put some blinkers on him which seems to keep him a little more focused.” …………………….Carradine – is a bay colt, from the scorching hot Linda Rice barn (51% winners at this meet and 31% overall), who ventured out of (New York) state bred competition for the first time in his last and pulverized an $80,000 optional claimer field at Aqueduct. He won by eight that day and scored a 93-speed figure in the process. It was an impressive race but what made it more impressive to me was he was “four wide throughout”. Listen, any horse who runs a 90+ speed figure on the Aqueduct inner track, while being four wide the entire journey, is doing some serious running, as that is a difficult task. Now he ventures out of town for the first time, but he seems to be improving slowly. It’s a little troubling that all three career wins have come over off tracks (although he’s run well on fast tracks too), so is the one average workout he’s had in the last month (but Rice normally sends them out ready): “We were very pleased with his last race. We were expecting a good race out of him but it was better than we expected,” Rice said. “We were very pleased with the way he drew off in the stretch. He gained a lot of seasoning this winter at Aqueduct with every race. He’s gotten a little bit more time between races for his last two events and I think he’s moving forward with the added time. We’re excited about running him in the Tesio,” she added. “He’s come a long way in the last three months, really”……………….Twisted Tom – is 3 for 5 in his career including (gamely) winning the Private Terms Stakes (making him 1 for 1 over this oval) in his last. The Chad Brown trainee had to “fan four wide” at the three-sixteenths pole but dug in and ran down O Dionysus for the nose win. The extra half of a furlong he has to go in this race should only help him…………Honorable Mention: O Dionysus – is a model of consistency and was making his two-turn debut in the aforementioned Private Terms. He rated nicely behind horses in that race, wore down and edged past a stubborn leader (Dharmaster) at the eighth pole but was gunned down by Twisted Tom on the wire. “He ran another good race. Turning for home, he hooked up with the other horse on the inside that came back and fought back with him and he kind of got him put away, and then the horse on the far outside came running at the end. I don’t know whether he was a ways away from him so he didn’t see him. If that would have made a difference or not, I’m not sure,” trainer Gary Capuano said. “He’s running, he’s not quitting, but I don’t know whether he’s maybe waiting on horses a little bit. But he’s doing good. Everything’s on target.”
Hawthorne Race Course
Race: 5 (5:17 PM EST Post)
Hollywood Handsome – appears to have “turned the corner” in his career since the beginning of 2017.Good looking colt by Tapizar was toiling vs. MSW when starting his career at the end of 2016. Since then, he has come from behind nicely to break his maiden (Jan 17), came with a strong late rally vs. mid-level optionals only to be beaten by less than a length (Feb 18), highlighted by coming from last to finish fourth (beaten just three lengths) to who I believe is a serious Kentucky Derby threat (Girvin) in the Louisiana Derby in his last. Simply put, I don’t see any Girvin’s in this race and his late run should be setup well by several “speedsters” I see in this race…..logical choice………..Hedge Fund – set a “screaming” early pace (:45.3 half, 1:10.1 for six furlongs) in the Sunland Park Derby in his last before understandably tiring down the lane to finish third. That’s the bad news; the good news is he was run down by Hence, who I expect a good race from and could be “laying in the weeds” in the Kentucky Derby, and Conquest Mo Money, who took two year old champion Classic Empire to the limit last weekend. This Todd Pletcher trainee has the ability to rate off the pace and, (especially) if they utilize those tactics or strategy here, he’ll be tough to beat in this spot………….Mr. Misunderstood – is sending me mixed signals as he’s won his last three by wide margins, yet two were on the grass and the other in the slop, so I’m not quite sure how he will handle a fast track in this spot (the weather at Hawthorne, at this writing, is not calling for rain). In other words, this gelding by Archarcharch is 4 for 4 over grass and slop, but 0 for 3 on fast tracks. Is it the surfaces that are causing him to run lights out or has he just improved of late? Your call from there……………Honorable Mentions: I hate to put Multiplier this far down as he is probably sitting on big race. This stretch running son of The Factor has come to hand quickly for trainer Brendan Walsh, topped off by coming with a four wide rally to break his maiden “going away” in his last. Albeit lightly raced, (this will only be his fourth career start) I love the upward trend in the speed figures also (59, 76, and 83)…..could easily better this rating………………..It’s Your Nickel – disappointed in his last (beaten by 14 lengths in the Bluegrass Stakes). However, if you toss that race and look at his last three, they were all very good performances. That race in the John Battaglia (even though on the synthetics) still stands out in my mind as one of the most electrifying late moves I’ve seen so far in 2017. There is no doubt in my mind he can handle the dirt surface just as well and the drop in class here should also help his cause……St Louie Guy – perhaps they named this gelding by Kantharos after me; although my beloved Cardinals suck so far this year. Anyway, this chestnut is laudably consistent as his nine on the board finishes out of 10 career races would indicate. He won his last by a colossal margin which in turn was his best race to date, plus the speed figure in that race says he is a contender here….long-shot possibility?
Santa Anita Park
Race: 8 (5:30 PM EST Post)
Collected – had won four of his first six races by using good tactical speed and versatility. This chestnut colt by City Zip was then entered in the 2016 (sloppy tracked) Preakness in career race number seven and, although he was in close range early, he faltered and was beaten by a country mile. (He clearly is not an off track horse). Trainer Bob Baffert then gave him almost a year off but he came back running in the April 1 Santana Mile. He took over the lead at the half mile pole with a visually impressive four wide “attack” of the early leaders and drew away slowly down the lane, scoring a career high 101-speed figure in the process. This $170,000 yearling purchase is now two for two over this surface, one for one at this distance and fired two big works between that last race and this one, signaling to me he is holding form and there will be no “bounce” in this spot…..looks best……..Follow Me Crev – has been very impressive in this first two 2017 starts. 5-year-old gelding by Quality Road came from behind to beat $75,000 optionals in his first start (Feb 20) while scoring a 96-speed figure. He then came back some seven weeks later and, after being towards the back of the pack early, he rallied up for third behind two of the very best older horse in the country (Midnight Storm and Shaman Ghost) in the Santa Anita Handicap in his last (beaten by just 4 ½ lengths to those two, registering a 101 speed figure.). This is his favorite surface (4 for 9 over it and 2 for 11 everywhere else), he cuts back in distance (although I’m not sure that’s a good thing) and, most importantly, he drops in class…..bottom line here is he looks like Collected’s main rival on paper……………I wonder which Cupid will show up on Saturday for this race? The one that springs from the gate and runs his opponents off their feet like he did in the West Virginia Derby, Illinois Derby and Rebel Stakes, or the one shows brief speed then retreats to get beat by a country mile like in the Arkansas Derby, Easy Goer Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby? This $900,000 son of super sire Tapit will be making his first start in seven months and, honestly, I have no idea which horse will show up. There will be no missing him on the track as he is a gorgeous gray and has been working well for his return. That said, looking at his past performances, he always seems to “need a race” before running his best off a layoff though…….Honorable Mentions: Texas Ryano – will be making his first dirt start after 20 consecutive turf starts. I’m not real worried about that fact as he’s been working very well (on the dirt) all year long, so I don’t think he will have a problem with the transition. What does bother me is, after chasing upper echelon turf runner Ashelyluvssugar around the state of California last year, and habitually registering “trips” speed figures, he has somewhat disappointed in two first starts this year. You get the third start off the layoff angle here so maybe he is sitting on a good race, but on paper, I can’t back him with a lot of confidence……………….. Prospect Park – can pop a big race now and again and is equally as good on the turf as he is on the dirt. Another son of Tapit he shows seven on the board finishes out of 10 career races over this surface. He could be a menace in this spot if he “feels like it.”
Charles Town Race Track and Casino
Race: 11 (5:35 Pm EST Post)
Charles Town Classic
1) Stanford – has a distinct advantage here, as he has the “in-form” speed and draws the rail for this rare three-turn race.
This now 5 year old by Malibu Moon is a head shy of coming into this riding a three race winning streak, while firing high and consistent “trips” in his last three races (101, 103 and 102).
Note the addition of blinkers in his last race, as I believe that might help his career.
“The main objective with putting the blinkers on was keeping him focused throughout the race,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Sometimes it can be difficult to make an equipment change on a horse you’ve had so much success with, but it had been in the back of my mind to try it with him.”…indeed, I mean, he’s been first or second in 11 of 15 starts, so that must have been a tough decision to make.
The only troubling part to me is this…he won this race last year while being on mostly an unchallenged early lead. With the #4 horse (Matt King Coal) having major speed and being entered here, he might put some early pressure on Stanford, which of course, could set it up for a late runner. If regular rider “Johnny V” can avoid that, he should be home free as he is the best horse in the race.
2) Sunny Ridge – is one of a couple of the aforementioned late runners I was speaking of who could run down the top pick if he is forced to go to fast too early.
This gray gelding by Holy Bull is razor sharp and in career best form right now based off his last two races.
He came from behind to bury the field in the Jazil Stakes in the Aqueduct inner track on Jan 14 , then doubled back and came with a 5 wide run at the top of the stretch to win the Stymie Handicap (also on the Aqueduct inner) by three quarters of a length.
This four year old ran a 96 and a 99 speed figures in those two races (remember what I said about running big speed figures on the Aqueduct inner a little while ago.)
The old saying “Pace Makes the Race” could not be any truer than in this race….
3) Matt King Coal – is also in razor sharp form right now for trainer Linda Rice.
Good looking, $250,000 colt by Cool Coal Man is two for two this year (both at Laurel Park), his speed figures match the top pick’s to a tee and he’s been working light out of late. He also shows a very impressive/consistent lifetime mark of 8-4-2-1.
I only put him third based on two things I’ve noticed. One, he had clearly been facing inferior competition in his first two races this year and two, albeit the speed figures and finals times were good, in both races, he got away with very soft early fractions (:50.1 for a half and three quarters in 1:14 and change in his last)…..no way they go that slow early in this race in this spot even with this race being three turns.
Imperative – is a tough old bird at age seven but he has the dreaded “good race, bad race” pattern since August of last year. He’s “due” for a “good” race so we will see …and he does seem to like this track. “He loves the track configuration at Charles Town,” trainer Bob Hess said. “I think he loves that surface being a little kinder. Javier (Castellano) worked him the other day and he’s really happy with how’s he’s doing.”……………….War Story – either runs a monster race or doesn’t run at all………..Bodhisattva – seems to run good races in bunches. Gorgeous five year old by Student Council has won just three times in the past two years and seems (keyword: seems) to have cycled out of form …again. Of the last three I “mentioned”, you can sum up all three horses with one word….inconsistent. If you know me, you know I don’t like playing those types of horses.
By: Gerard Apadula
Director of Equine Operations and Development
Knights of the Round Stable Thoroughbred Racing Team
2017- Record: 28-72 = 39%
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
**** Two time female turf champion Tepin has been retired trainer Mark Casse announced this past Wednesday.
Tepin had not raced since her runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last November and she had only been in light training since missing her planned seasonal bow in the South Endeavour Stakes Feb. 11 due to a mild bout of colic.
Tepin’s future was brought under scrutiny when she refused a workout at Palm Meadows Training Center March 27. Although sound and happy since returning to her base at Churchill Downs recently, the mare “wasn’t showing the same competitive fire” that allowed her to win several grade/group 1 races in three different countries last season including the prestigious Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot last June.
“We just think she doesn’t want to do it anymore. She’s happy and healthy,” Casse said. “She just doesn’t have the same desire to train, and we said all along if she showed that to us we would listen. We’ve given her the opportunity, we took her to Churchill, which definitely made her happy but…it’s just time.”
Casse added Tepin would not be bred this season, and there are no mating plans set yet for 2018.
**** Trainer Lynn Whiting, who was best known for winning the 1992 Kentucky Derby with Lil E. Tee, died Wednesday from complications due to illness and a stroke. He was 77.
Whiting was found unresponsive in his Louisville home Wednesday morning, after having been seen at his Churchill Downs barn earlier this week for the first time since suffering a stroke in February.
Whiting began training in 1968 and won 1,279 races from 6,113 starts for earnings of close to $24 million.
“He was a top-shelf horseman and gentleman,” former jockey, who rode Lil E. Tee to his Derby win, Pat Day said. “The racing industry has lost a dear friend.”
**** The Pizza Man, a winner of 17 of 33 starts, $2.1 million in earnings, a pair of grade 1 victories, and wildly popular with fans, had his first serious work toward his 2017 debut, working a half-mile in :50 flat this past Tuesday
Trainer Roger Brueggemann said: “He got back last Wednesday and had been training in Ocala for a little prior, just jogging and galloping and maybe stretching out a couple times, he looked really good and a lot better this year than last”.
“He looks great and I think he’s going to have a big year,” Brueggerman added. “He’s not going to have a lot of races and will point to the (Arlington) Million as our first big goal. The Opening Verse (which he won in 2015) is too early this year, so we’ll probably look for a nice allowance for him and look for a second spot at that point before the Stars and Stripes (also at Arlington), and then the Million. In a perfect world, we will have a race between then and the Breeders’ Cup, and then he’ll ride off into the sunset.”
**** Baby Zip, the 2005 Broodmare of the Year and dam of Grade: 1 winners and successful sires City Zip and Ghostzapper, who remains one of the fastest horses I’ve ever seen run live, was euthanized at age 26 due to complications from laminitis, Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs Kentucky announced yesterday.
A daughter of Relaunch out of the Tri Jet mare Thirty Zip, Baby Zip was bred in Kentucky, was a stakes winner at two, and purchased privately by Stronach following her racing career for his Adena Springs breeding operation. Baby Zip rose to prominence as the dam of City Zip (by Carson City) who won the 2000 Hopeful Stakes and seven other stakes while earning $818,225.
Baby Zip is best known as the dam of Stronach Stables’ homebred Ghostzapper, a son of Awesome Again, who won nine of his 11 starts, including the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic while being named 2004 Horse of the Year and champion older male.
Ghostzapper returned in 2015 to capture the Metropolitan Handicap in his final start (a race I attended) but cracked a bone in his leg in deep stretch and was retired several weeks later.
He retired with earnings of $3,446,120 and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
Baby Zip’s last foal was Kid’s Zip, an Unbridled’s Song gelding, born in 2012.
All told, she had eight winners and three graded stakes winners from 12 starters.
“Baby Zip’s influence on our stud book will remain prominent for generations to follow,” said Adena Springs’ general manager Eoin Ryan. “It’s a rarity to produce a pair of stallions that have made such a strong impact on our breed. We’ll certainly miss having her around the farm.”