The big weekends of racing roll on as we draw closer and closer to the Kentucky Derby. This weekend will be looking at five more races highlighted by a split division of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Oaklawn Park is running a tremendous card on Saturday including Maiden Special Weight races being run for astronomical $100,000 purses, a $50,000 claiming race that carries a $97,000 purse and will feature the strapping, super talented Dessman in the fourth race.
On top of all that, we will also be taking a look at far and away the most competitive race of the weekend in the Azeri Stakes for four year olds and up fillies a mares, which drew two of best females in the country in Elate and Midnight Bisou.
As strongly as the Azeri drew, the Essex Handicap drew equally as weak. Regardless, we will be breaking down the $350,000, mile and sixteenth contest for four year olds and up.
Elsewhere, we will be look at the Inside Information at Gulfstream Park, a seven furlong dash for four year olds and up fillies and mares.
Race: 7 (4:21 PM EST Post)
Elate is a two time Grade: 1 winner and is a neck and a head away (behind Champion Abel Tasman) from being a four time Grade:1 winner. Needless to say, she was clearly the second best older female in the country last year. Although she will be making her first start in over six months, she seems to run well fresh and she has been working steadily at Payson Park for the last several months……………………Although beaten fair and square by Monomoy Girl several times last year, I’m sticking to my guns that Midnight Bisou still has a world of talent and should continue to get better and better as she gets older. She was clearly the second best three year old filly last year. Filly by the gargantuan Midnight Lute sports an impressive 12-6-3-3 career record and is an eye popping 5 for 5 at this distance. I’m not worried that this will be her first start in 48 days as she has run HUGE off of three prior layoffs in her career and that 5 furlong drill (1:00 flat) two weeks ago at the Fair Grounds signals readiness…..figures bang up in this spot…………………….I’m not quite sure what to make of 2018 Female Sprint Champion Shamrock Rose in this spot after finishing a disappointing fourth in her 2019 debut. I mean, did she need the race? Did she not like the sloppy track? Or, after rattling off four straight wins, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, to end the year last year is she now “over the top”? That said, I’m inclined to give this stretch running filly by the hulking First Dude one more shot and put her on a few tickets…………………..Honorable Mentions: Eskimo Kisses probably “bounced over the moon” while showing very little in her last race (Spinster) last year after an enormous effort in winning the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga in her previous race. Filly by To Honor and Serve was put away for the year after that race. She shows up her with so-so works but she does have an affinity for this track as her 3-2-1-0 record over it would indicate………………………..Tapa Tapa Tapa has speed and the rail and comes off a big win at Tampa Bay Downs last time out. Gray mare by Tapit looks overmatched in this spot but that monster five furlong work last week (:59 flat) is a attention getter. Any horse that works that fast on a notoriously deep surfaced racetrack like TBD merits a look. (My Play: .50 Trifecta box using all 5. Cost $30.00)
Race: 8 (4:57 PM EST Post)
Rebel Stakes (Division: 1)
If you don’t like Improbable, stop reading now because I love him. He’s big, fast and has an amazingly long, beautiful and very efficient stride. Only Instagrand comes close to matching him in that area. This chestnut is 3 for 3 in his career and has won at six furlongs, a mile and a mile and a sixteenth over three different surfaces. He has excellent tactical speed and already is an easy Grade: 1 winner. He’s been running a hole in the wind in the mornings, (so much so I found myself riveted to the computer screen while watching them) so throw out the fact that this will be his first race in over three month as he certainly looks ready. You can also throw out the fact that he is by City Zip, who throws mostly grass horses and sprinters, because this guy is giving me every indication that he is special….down the road here…………………I also like Galilean quite a bit too. This drop dead gorgeous, $600,000 son of Uncle Mo has decimated Cal breds in his last two races and I especially liked his last race. Note how he won by 4 ½ while on “cruise control” but also note it was another 10 lengths back to the third place finisher. Like Improbable, he’s won at six furlongs, seven furlongs, a mile and a mile and a sixteenth and seems to be getting better as the distances get longer. As he swims out into deep waters in this spot, I don’t know he can handle a monster like Improbable but this is a quality horse with a big, big future ahead of him……………………….Although Long Range Toddy is giving me little hints that he is beginning to cycle out of form, I’m not buying that fact yet. This stretch running colt sports a 6-3-1-1 career record and, on back class alone, he looks the best of the rest……………….Honorable Mentions: Easy Shot chased Gunmetal Gray and Mucho Gusto in his last two and wasn’t completely embarrassed by either one of them…………………….Classy John looks overmatched here but, although he’s been facing MUCH softer competition, he is 5-3-2-0 in his career including a couple of Restricted Stakes wins at the Fair Grounds…… One last note about this race, can someone please tell me what a horse (Proud Nation), who was beaten by 40 lengths in a Maiden Special Weight race last time out, is doing in this race???? (My Play: $500.00 win on Improbable)
Race: 9 (5:29 PM EST Post)
Giant Expectations led and yielded late against the recently deceased Battle of Midway and McKinzie in his last at Santa Anita. He clearly will meet noooooo such rivals in this spot. Although he hasn’t won a horse race of any kind in 15 months, he just needs to run close to what he did last time and he’ll cruise in this race……………..After seven consecutive dull efforts, Rated R Superstar turned on the afterburners down the stretch of the Razorback Handicap in his last and finished a close up third at 80-1. He is another who likes this track and you get the third start off the layoff angle as well…………………….Heavy Roller is peaking out in form right now after blowing out Allowance foes in his last. Looks best of a very weak rest…. for a $350,000 Stakes race. (My Play: $5.00 Exacta box using all. Cost $30.00)
Race: 10 (6:06 PM EST Post)
Rebel Stakes (Division: 2)
Unbeaten three time Grade: 1 winner and 2018 Two Year Old Colt Champion Game Winner really needs no introduction here. He looks to have filled out and put on muscle from the last time we saw him while winning the Breeders’ Cup Male Juvenile in November. He’s been out working his (older) work mate (Stakes runner Dr. Dorr) consistently in the mornings but let’s put all those facts aside for a minute. Over the years I’ve learned that when certain horse people talk…..I listen. Trainer Bob Baffert is one of those people. When he said that this colt was the “Michael Jordan” of his barn a few weeks ago, you know he caught my attention. For a trainer, who has trained not one but two Triple Crown winners, to call a horse Michael Jordan, what can I possibly say to trump that?………………………….I know this might sound a bit odd, but I thought Gunmetal Gray ran a better race in finishing second to Mucho Gusto in the Robert B. Lewis last time out than he did in coming from way back to win the Sham Stakes while beating Much Better, the highly touted Coliseum and Sueno his previous time out. How you may ask? Simple….he had a super hot pace (first half mile in :46.4) in front of him in the Sham and as expected, there was a nuclear pace meltdown. This guy came along and blew by everyone down the lane albeit in a very pedestrian :27.1 final quarter mile.….That race setup perfectly for him. It was quite the contrary in the RB Lewis where the track was sloppy and clearly playing towards early speed. There, he was some 11 lengths behind early with virtually no chance of making up that kind of ground on such a speed biased surface. Yet when Mike Smith set him down for the drive, he passed everyone on the far outside but the winner. With no rain in the forecast and a couple of early burners in this race, it could set up well for him once again………………….Omaha Beach is very intriguing to me too. Another gorgeous horse with a beautiful stride, he could not have looked any better while breaking his maiden at Santa Anita in his last. This son of War Front ripped off mind boggling fast fractions in the slop (:21.3, :43.3 and 1:08.1) on his way to annihilating his foes by nine lengths and stopping the clock in 1:21 flat for seven furlongs. He is all of about three lengths away from being unbeaten in five career starts and has methodically improved through all five of those races as well. Moreover, his last six furlong work (1:10.3) was one of the best works I’ve seen in quite some time….no way I leave him off my tickets…………………………Honorable Mentions: After Our Braintrust was purchased privately (for a sum that I’m sure dwarfs the $25,000 originally paid for him) after the Jerome Stakes, this son of Freud just missed winning the Withers Stakes in NY his last time out. He is still another who has improved through each of his first five races and has yet to be off the board….could be a menace again in this spot…………………….If you are hunting long shot, take a look at Laughing Fox. This $375,000 son of Union Rags is yet another who has improved dramatically through his first four career races topped off by beating first level optionals his last time out. Of course, being 2 for 2 on this oval won’t hurt his chances either, nor will the fact that Ricardo Santana gets the leg up. (My play: $1.00 Trifecta box using all 5. Cost $60.00)
Race: 11 (5:37 PM EST Post)
Inside Information Stakes
Jala Jala was an absolute win machine in her native country of Mexico but proved she can handle American racing as well while winning two of three starts in the U.S. on this oval. Although she finished second last time out, this chestnut five year old mare might have run her best race ever while chasing the talented Blamed and only being beaten by 1 ½ lengths. Bullet work at Palm Meadows last week signals to me she is holding form…….looks best……………..Tequilita finished just a neck behind Jala Jala last time out and this mare by Union Rags loves this track as her 4-2-1-1 record over it would indicate…………..America’s Tale has good speed and draws towards this inside. Good looking filly by Gio Ponti won three straight, on the engine, to end last year. Go ahead and throw out her last race (on the turf) as she is 5 for 11 on the dirt and 0 for 5 on the turf. Figures prominent throughout here…………..Honorable Mentions: Pink Sands is a $625,000 filly by Tapit who might be starting to get her act together. This Shug McGaughey trainee has hit the board in eight of 10 career starts and, more importantly, is 2 for 2 over this surface. In fact, in both of those wins her final times and closing quarter miles were very good. Bottom line here is I won’t be at all that shocked if she outruns this rating………………………Although Teresa Z will be making her first start in over four months, and she has a habit of needing a race or two off a layoff, it must be noted this $635,000 mare by Smart Strike quietly had a big year last year. She won a pair of Stakes races, including a Grade: 3 by six lengths in NY, and sandwiching those races by chasing the mega talented Elate and a very good Wow Cat. She will meet no such rivals in this spot. (My Play: .50 trifecta box using all 5. Cost $30.00)
By: Gerard Apadula
Director of Equine Operations and Development
Knights of the Round Stable Thoroughbred Racing Team
2019- Record: 16-47 = 34% (My Plays: -$1,007.76)
2018- Record: 107-261= 41%
2017- Record: 92-235 = 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%
Little Bets N’ Pieces
**** Santa Anita Park‘s main track opened March 11 for jogging and galloping, the first time horses were allowed onto it in nearly a week. Timed workouts also resumed on the training track the same day.
Monday was also the first day that Santa Anita’s new safety protocols were implemented. Horsemen had to submit forms the previous day if they wanted to work horses on the training track. Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, said that trainers had applied for 150 horses to work on the training track.
“We flagged about 12 of those horses and asked the trainers not to work those horses this morning,” Ritvo said. Criteria used to flag horses included ones that have been away from the races for an extended period of time and hadn’t worked in the past 120 days, said Ritvo.
“We got full cooperation with that,” he said. “Everybody said they completely understood. I think it’s the beginning of hopefully all working together. It just felt good.”
Ritvo met with track consultant Dennis Moore the morning of March 11 to see how the analysis of the track was proceeding. “Step one was to look at the base, to make sure there’s no erosion,” Ritvo said. “The second thing is the soil analysis. The last thing is, ‘is it even everywhere?'” Ritvo said Moore was pleased with how the track was progressing and that racing has been “tentatively set to resume March 22”.
Update: a 22nd horse broke down at Santa Anita during Thursday morning workouts. The Santa Anita brass is holding steadfast that the track will remain open. More this as the story unfolds.
**** A couple of attention getters from Ocala Breeders Sales this past week:
Topping the session was a New York-bred colt by Tapit out of Grade: 1 winner Artemis Agrotera, who breezed one furlong in a strong :10 1/5, was purchased by West Point Thoroughbreds, Rob Masiello and Siena Farm, for $2 million.
* Off an impressive :21 1/5 quarter mile breeze, Larry Best of OXO Equine, landed a Pioneerof the Nile colt for $1.2 million.
The colt is out of the Multiple Stakes placed Golden Artemis and who is the dam of Grade: 1 winner My Conquestadory and promising 3 year old colt Bourbon War, who came flying home to get second Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park three weeks ago. Golden Artemis herself brought $1 million at the Fasig-Tipton November Sales in 2013.
* Phoenix Thoroughbreds bought three horses, topped off by a Bernardini colt out of Canadian champion grass mare Inish Glora for $825,000. The colt ripped one furlong in :09 4/5.
“Obviously, he’s fast–fast and beautiful,” said Tom Ludt, Phoenix’s head of operations. “It’s expensive right now, but he’s a really good colt. He galloped out great. That’s what we’re looking for. Now we just need to get him to do it over a little bit longer distance.”
The colt will be heading to Steve Asmussen’s barn.
* Katsumi Yoshida’s Northern Farm paid $675,000 to land a Candy Ride half sister to U.S. champion sprinter Drefong.
Drefong, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner was retired to stud for the 2018 season to stand at Teruya Yoshida’s Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido, Japan.
“She was really good, and when we looked at her black-type page, Drefong’s name was on it. We are very excited to buy her,” Northern Farm Shigaraki Manager Yasuhiro Matsumoto said. “She was really good looking and her walk was very nice. We were here for her work out and her form was very good. We’re going to bring her back to Japan and hope that she will have a good racing career.”