Sunday, January 30, 2011

Holy Bull Stakes Pick Four

With several near misses already at Gulfstream Park's winter meet, I'm taking another stab at a multi-race exotic - the Late Pick Four in Races 8-11. Come along for the ride if you'd like:

Race 8 - Forward Gal Stakes - Grade II at 7 furlongs for 3 YO fillies

The field of seven includes two much-anticipated returns here: BC Juvenile Filly runner up R Heat Lightning and well-bred Grade II stakes winner at two, Dancinginherdreams. R Heat Lightning has never been worse than second, including a Grade I win at Saratoga (Spinway Stakes run at today's 7 furlong distance) and Dancinginherdreams, has yet to lose in two starts including a one-turn mile win in Churchill's Pochontas Stakes. On class alone these two will be included on my ticket. But just in case speed matters more than class today, I'll toss Alexandra Rylee onto the ticket, simply because she posses lone speed today and speed kills. With odds close to double-digits she'll probably be double that on the Pick 4 with many singling either of the top choices mentioned above.

Race 9 - N1X Allowance - 5 furlongs on the turf

Most of the time you'd do well throwing a dart at such big fields going short on the turf. I'll include up to four on my ticket. Having looked over the past performances several times already, all of the 11 entrants have either come from the lower claiming ranks or would easily fit there. Removing class from the handicapping criteria, allow me to go with front-runners first and those pressing the pace second. A three-time claiming winner with enough early lick to get to the front, Alfeet Lass breaks from the two-hole with bugboy, Juan Delgado, in the seat - together they have three wins, and a second from six starts together.  Lose None drops in from Hawthorne, where she broke the track record for 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf two races back. Bonus, she needs not the front. Which trainer stat do you like here for Twentyoneandtwo - first claim 38% returning almost $10 or the goose egg in 8 turf sprint tries? Dismiss at your own peril. How about taking a five-year-old making only her fourth lifetime start in She's a Ketch? Of course trainer, Chad Brown thrives with layoff horses and turf sprinters - winning at 43% in the latter.

Race 10 - Holy Bull Stakes - Grade III - 3 YO colts

Let me start by dismissing the first two in the morning line - Gourmet Dinner and Mucho Macho Man. Gourmet Dinner has been well traveled of late (Florida to Louisiana to Hollywood) and despite some nice sprinting wins in which closed, I don't see a fast pace developing up front for him to run at. Mucho Macho Man, I don't know. I think he's OK, but I'll bet against him at low odds. The two that I'm in with are: Black N Beauty and Dialed In. Like the filly's stake race, I only see one front-runner here and Black N Beauty is it. If Desormeaux can control the fractions, uncontested up front then we may have a runaway winner. I simply respect Dialed In's trainer, Nick Zito too much to dismiss him off of only one start. Who knows he could be the post time favorite.

Race 11 - $40K claiming - 6 1/2 furlongs 4 YO and up

If I'm still in the fray up until this point, I'll be crossing my fingers and hoping.

Got to be honest here - not sure if should single the outside speed in Duffy's Tavern or toss in a closer that may take advantage of too much jostling for the lead from at least two others likely to go with Duffy.  When in doubt in a situation like this, I usually take who I think is the fastest and likely to outrun the competition and a presser/closer just in case the first two fractions are contested and go 21.5 and 44. My protection in this case will be two-year-old stakes winner and second-time off the bench starter, Dixie Band. For some reason, I'm thinking that Chairman Tucker may be laying just off waiting to pounce as well. The horse just keeps seeming to nag me into including, so I will.

The 50-cent Late Pick Four Play: 4-6-7/3-5-12/4-9/3-4-6 for $27. Good luck with your wagers.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Holy Bull - Derby 137's First Big Prep

With Gulfstream Park's Sunday feature race, the Grade III Holy Bull, Kentucky Derby fever heats up - especially for those connections seeking much-needed graded stakes earnings for their three-year-old charges. While there are some interesting choices among the nine starters, I'm surprised that the field is not full, since whoever wins the race most likely punches their Derby ticket with the $240,000 winner's share. Even the $80,000 second-place prize isn't anything to laugh about so early in the Derby prep season.

Besides the current top seven graded stakes earners, there is room for at least 13 additional horses in Churchill's Derby gate. These seven: Uncle Mo, Pluck, Gourmet Dinner, Boys at Tosconova, Comma to the Top, Biondetti and Soldat are likely Derby starters based upon earnings that range from $1.2 million to $270,000. Of course these runners need to stay healthy and do something on the track, unless the connections decide to run on the first Saturday in May no matter what - see Homeboykris' 16th-place finish last year.

Back to Sunday's feature - Gourmet Dinner joins the fray with his gaudy $660,000 in graded stakes earnings thanks to his Delta Jackpot victory, which carried a million dollar purse. Unfortunately, Delta Jackpot winners haven't fared well when running up to the Derby. With Delta Downs bullring style track - a 7 furlong track, which requires three tight turns for 1 1/16 mile race - the Jackpot winner usually takes to sprinting. On the flip-side, the Holy Bull is a one-turn mile usually taken by sprinters and Gourmet Dinner breaks from the rail.

Two-time Derby winning trainer, Nick Zito, brings the most intriguing entrant to Sunday's race - Dialed In. This $475,000 purchase broke last in his one and only start in a November Churchill sprint. Going from 12 to first in six-and-a-half furlongs was impressive to say the least. Zito scratched Dialed In out of an allowance event two weeks ago due to a wet track, but immediately committed to this graded stakes  event. Confidence or stupidity? With Zito off to a hot start and knowing the Derby trail well, I'd go with confidence.

Mucho Macho Man chased the second-leading Derby contender out of New York - To Honor and Serve - throughout Aqueduct's fall meet. Is he good enough or just not good enough to compete at this high level? I say he is a very good chaser, good enough for an underneath finish here and ultimately a decent sprinter up to a mile. What he brings to tomorrow's affair is the highest last-out Beyer, 99, which could prove dangerous with so many weaker speed figures evident.

Like Dialed In, Major Gain,  brings a fall race over Churchill's track albeit a third place finish in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Cup. Finishing behind the well-thought of Astrology and currently standing at 24th on the Derby graded-stakes standings, Major Gain becomes a major player with a win on Sunday.

From purely a handicapping stance, Black N Beauty makes a lot of sense here. Over a speed favoring track, Black N Beauty shows the only true front-running speed in this bunch. If this paltry-purchased colt ($2,500) sired by Devil His Due gets away with some soft early fractions around 24 seconds, he may be very hard to catch and would become this year's early Cinderella-story.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kentucky Derby Starters No More

A look at Gulfstream's Sunday feature - non-winners of two allowance at a mile - is quite instructive to what may happen to those pointed toward Derby 137. Instructive for the horse's failures at meeting an owner's and/trainer's Derby quest.

What makes the run up toward the Derby so interesting, so entertaining is the timing and progression of three-year-old horses up against deadlines to make necessary graded stakes earnings, stay healthy and in training and catch some much-needed luck. Race nine at Gulfstream on Sunday had three contenders that pursued last year's Run for the Roses - horses that are now prepping for something, anything else. Two made the starting gate on the first Saturday in May, one was hurt along the way and all have been away from the track a long time since.

William's Kitten made a mild attempt at the Derby following a  runner up finish to Super Saver during Churchill's signature fall race for aspiring two-year-olds - Kentucky Jockey Cup. With that finish and just under the projected graded earnings necessary for a Derby run, William's Kitten started in his only race of 2010 - a third place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes before being put on the shelf for a exactly one racing year.

Homeboykris was the winner of what was a weak rendition of the Champagne Stakes during Belmont's 2009 fall meet.  A grade one winner with enough graded stakes earned during his two-year-old season gave trainer Rick Dutrow the option of taking this son of Roman Ruler to Churchill Downs during his three-year-old season. Homeboykris started his three-year-old season with a pair of uninspiring preps - fifth in the same Holy Bull race William's Kitten finished third and a well-beaten second in an allowance field of six. But holding true to his "smoke 'em, if you  got 'em" training mentality, Dutrow took Homeboykris to a 16th place Derby finish where he was clearly overmatched.

Mission Impaziable burst on the Derby trail in winning the Lousiana Derby, the Fair Grounds premiere Derby prep. It was a decent field that included stakes winner A Little Warm and eventual Belmont winner, Drosselmeyer. Still it was a slow running in which much of the field either backed up or didn't fire. Mission Impaziable may have just inherited the best trip, but still he was onto the Derby - finishing a respectable 9th after getting caught in the expected Derby traffic. It was his sixth career start.

None of these one-time promising three-year-olds won today. William's Kitten stepped awkwardly out of the gate and didn't really get running, finishing seventh of nine. Homeboykris only menaced for a bit during mid-stretch before flattening out and the 3-5 favorite, who I singled in my 50-cent Pick 5, Mission Impazible ran a respectable second. All were beaten by hard-knocking, six-year and 11-time winner Caixa Eletronica, while not flashy or remarkable in his past performances, he beat a bunch of "Derby contenders."

I wonder where this crop of Derby-horses will land this year and into next - especially if May 7, 2011 doesn't work out so well.....

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Derby Dozen

From It's Never Too Early To Start Department: I am happy to report that I am one of 12 bloggers taking part in's Derby Dozen. If you're in the mood despite the snow blanketing all of the northeast and 10 days away from the first big Kentucky Derby prep race (Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream with $240,000 winners share), click away and see what some prognosticators think more than three months away from the Run for the Roses.

To go along with each Derby Dozen post, I'll put out a current dark horse candidate.

Awesome Partriot gets the first nod along the road. This son of Awesome Again should have no problem with races up to nine furlongs - really no one knows if a horse will stay the 10 furlongs until they try on Derby Day - which most of the major Derby preps are run at. He's stakes placed, third in Hollywood Prevue at 7 furlongs, and an allowance winner in his last start at two-years-old racing one mile on Santa Anita's natural dirt.

Oh did I mention that he's trained by Bob Baffert, who at last count had 50 Derby hopefuls. With a return to dirt Baffert's winning at a crazy clip out west (44% win and 74% in the money to date) and that's only going to continue with his three-year-old charges.

Listen, it's early, but you could do worse than a two-turn winner on dirt by a Breeder's Cup champion, trained by Baffert, currently sitting between 100-1 to 250-1 at Vegas sports books.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New Look for 2011

Just playing around with my blog design in the new year.

It's been away a while, but I'm planning to gear up and blog away now that the trail to the Derby is being in the Sunshine State, Left Coast, Arkansas and the cold of the Big A. Looking forward to it all...write soon...