The Pennsylvania Derby

Today, it’s the GI Pennsylvania Derby from PARX — a 3YO only race going 9 furlongs which has evolved into a Breeders’ Cup Classic Prep. Paired with the Cotillion, it’s the biggest racing day of the year for the Philadelphia-based track. It’s a $1 Million race and it’s likely that the top finishers will be at Churchill Downs in November contesting the $6 million Classic. It’s a very solid field with high Beyer Speed Figures all around — 3 horses have run over 100 during their careers.

The race begins with Curlin Stakes winner Hofburg. He was all set for the Travers before a fever derailed him. Instead, the target became today’s race. He ran a 100 Beyer Speed Figure as the heavy 1/4 favorite. He slowly had been improving all spring and summer, highlighted by a 3rd by 3 1/2 to Justify in the Belmont. He’s 3/1 on the M/L and may drop a bit to 2/1 or below. He needed to go to a lower level to get the win, however. McKinzie is 5/2 and makes his first start since an injury derailed his Kentucky Derby Trail in March. His last win was a 101 Beyer Speed Figure in the G2 San Felipe. Mike Smith takes the reins for Bob Baffert — a vicious combination which has hit at 43% this year and won a Triple Crown. He was at the top of the group before the injury (and before Justify’s ascendance) and, perhaps, will take his place near the top today. It’s worth noting Baffert does well with layoffs. Axelrod, a surprising 5-1 M/L, has been a new horse since winning the Indiana Derby and then dominating the local prep, the Smarty Jones. He’s shown a new dimension with closing.

Core Beliefs was a bit of a mid-summer darling, winning the Ohio Derby and making a nice showing in the Peter Pan. He hit a bit of a ceiling in the GI Haskell and would need to improve to contend today. He’s 10-1 on the M/L. He’s had some time off, but it’s likely not enough to get him to the triple-digit Beyer. There’s some buzz on Bravazo and he ran a very solid Travers with a 97 Beyer Speed Figure. Except for the Louisiana Derby, he’s brought his race, including decent performances in the Triple Crown, Haskell, and Travers. He just needs to break through and win at the G1 level. It’s his 6th straight G1 try. Mr Freeze ran away and hid in the West Virginia Derby, winning by 8 lengths and earning a far and away lifetime-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102 (previous high was 89). With an easy lead today (harder to predict), he could do it again. I’d be surprised.

Instilled Regard moves to the Chad Brown barn from the Hollendorfer barn for his first start since a 4th in the Kentucky Derby. He earned a lifetime best Beyer in that race — 97. He was a million dollar purchase. He’s 15-1 on the M/L and I doubt he’ll stay that high — Chad Brown runners don’t usually double-digit float. King Zachary’s seasonal highlight is a lights-out win in the G3 Matt Winn. He disappointed in the Indiana Derby, but ran a fast 4th in the Travers. He’s at 20-1, but still has a shot. Trigger Warning has shown speed to mid-stretch through the summer but was outclassed in the Travers. I expect a similar result today.

Analysis: This is a deep race with several win contenders. I’m warming to Bravazo and his deep resume, although have concerns that he can win against this group. Odds higher than 5-1 will ease those concerns. Instilled Regard shows value at double-digits — and is a must play above 10-1 — but he’ll probably be much much lower. It will be interesting to see how the race is bet — many horses coming off layoffs — and then searching for value.

The Iroquois

The Iroquois is the first race on the Kentucky Derby trail for 2019 — offering 10 points for the winner. A large field of 12 goes to the gate in this GIII event in which 2YO’s will navigate 2 turns and 8.5 furlongs. 2YO’s routing in a graded stake — that’s all you need to say in order to bring up the Derby antenna.  It is, of course, still very early, but serious contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile tend to emerge in these early races. In turn, the Juvenile is an important “prep” race for the Kentucky Derby.

Tight Ten (2-1) looks the overwhelming favorite on paper. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he has a Beyer Speed Figure of 80 last time out, finishing second in the Saratoga Special. His biggest question is whether he can get the route of ground — something that seems likely with Tapit as his sire. Distorted Humor — who I think of as producing more milers — is his damsire. To confirm that, his dam has produced more sprinters than routers and was a sprinter herself on the racetrack. If you’re going to take a shot that Tight Ten is a better sprinter than a router, you will likely get paid – the key is to find the right horse (or horses — if you put it in a multi-race exotic). Even with a sprinting propensity,  It’s also possible he’s still a better router than this group. He’s likely to be odds-on.

The rest of the field comes in as slower sprinters. Here are a few that could improve with distance. Tobacco Road (6-1), who is also trained by Steve Asmussen, broke his maiden at Ellis Park and followed it up with a win as the favorite in the Ellis Park Juvenile. He is bred for routing with Quality Road as his sire and Lomitas (GB) as his damsire. His dam has never produced a route winner, however. She has produced her share of 2YO winners — with 5 winners from 12 starts. He rates a chance. Manny Wah (8-1) is trained by Wayne Catalano and broke his maiden over artificial surface at Arlington Park. He then finished a close third in the Ellis Park Juvenile. His sire, Will Take Charge, should eventually produce routers. Proud Citizen on the bottom should help stamina as well. His trainer doesn’t excel at first-time routing — only 10% — which raises some red flags, even though he’s only adding 1.5 furlongs.

Everfast (12-1) is trained by Dale Romans who relatively excels at first time route. This horse won first time out at Ellis Park coming from off the pace — always a nice sign. His sire is Take Charge Indy and his dame sire Awesome Again, so distance shouldn’t be a problem. Pole Setter (6-1) has already shown an ability to get a route, although it has been over the turf. He finished 6th after a competitive run in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile. Trained by Brad Cox, he adds blinkers today after weakening late in his last race. His last workout is a bullet, so it’s likely that the blinkers help the focus.

Analysis: It’s too hard to take a low price on Tight Ten, even though odds-on in graded stakes, especially 2YOs, tend to be formful. I’m leaning towards the upside of Everfast, who at 12-1, could be a daymaker in the multi-race exotics if the odds stay high. Multi-race players can play several and I’d also include Pole Setter who has enough dirt in his pedigree to make an interesting run as well and stamina built-in from that Kentucky Downs run.

Good luck at the races!

The Del Mar Futurity

The Del Mar Futurity, a GI event for 2YO’s going 7 furlongs, is one my favorite races all year. It is filled with memories. I can still hear my friend Josh yelling, “Stevie Wonderboy,” like it was yesterday. It typically sums up the meet for 2YO dirt colts, providing a 7f distance in anticipation of the 8.5 furlong American Pharoah (formally the Frontrunner). Unfortunately, this year one of the two standouts — Instagrand — will skip this race and train into the American Pharoah. According to DRF, it was the owner’s decision. Instagrand cost $1.2 million and won his debut at Los Al by open lengths and then won the GII Best Pal at Del Mar, earning one of the top 2YO Beyers of the year. So, we will always wonder whether Instagrand would have won here. That said, he may have been favored here, but maybe not. He would have been challenged by the horse that now takes on the position of heavy favorite, Roadster.

Roadster ran an 81 Beyer Speed Figure in winning his maiden race on July 29. But, prior to that maiden race, Bob Baffert had been touting this horse whenever asked “Who’s the next great one in your barn?” The maiden race was especially deep and he won by 4 1/4 lengths. He would seem to appreciate the extra furlong as his sire is Quality Road and his damsire of Silver Ghost. At some point, we may have questions about distance, but definitely not today. Another reason to support Roadster — Baffert owns this race — he has 13 wins. He definitely knows what it takes to win. With Instagram out, Roadster is likely to be 3/5, perhaps even 1/5. Can you beat him?

Game Winner aka the “other Baffert.” He ran a very good Beyer and then Baffert removes the blinkers. He’s an amazing 45% with this angle. Obviously, he must think this horse can run better, which makes him competitive for the winner’s circle. He’s the best chance to upset Roadster and a possible value play. Sparky Ville finished second behind Instagrand last time out in the Best Pal. It may have been a race that improves him. Rowayton was hot on debut and didn’t disappoint. He has an extra 2 furlongs to get; that’s a bigger jump than I like to see, but his speed isn’t terrible and there is some hype. Spin Lightning closed in a maiden, which is always notable. He earned a very slow speed figure, although there are hints of potential.

I don’t terribly care for Savagery. Front-running Beyer Speed Figures at the maiden claiming level tend to be inflated. Sigalert seems to slow to win this race.

Good luck at the races!

The Travers Stakes

The Travers Stakes is a 10 furlong race for 3YOs on the dirt from Saratoga. It is the most prestigious non-Triple Crown race exclusively for 3YO’s; some may argue that it is more prestigious than the Preakness. It can be a landmark race for great horses. It is a GI and the key point on the summer calendar for 3YO.

[Horses are in order from most likely to least likely]

In this year’s edition, The 2-1 M/L favorite is Good Magic, the winner of the Haskell. No horse since Point Given — who was a great racehorse — has pulled off this feat. Point Given did it in 2001. That said, he’s the fastest horse in the race and is remarkably consistent. He was the Kentucky Derby runner-up, finishing 2 1/2 lengths behind Justify. He’s generally considered the best 3YO in training and is trained by Chad Brown. He may be fast enough to win here, but he’ll have to up his game when the divisions merge, particularly in the Classic. A triple-digit Beyer today would go a long way toward assuaging those fears.

But there are still some other horses which I expect to challenge Good Magic, especially because of the Haskell-Travers “curse.” Gronkowski shocked nearly everyone by running a close 2nd to Justify in the Belmont. Unkown whether he’d like traditional dirt going into the race, he turned out to be a more than capable dirt horse — running a 99 Beyer speed figure. He’s had even more time with Chad Brown since then. He certainly could find the winner’s circle. Todd Pletcher’s Vino Rosso looms a threat. He ran a 97 BSF in the Belmont (and Hofburg came back and ran well in the Curlin.) He ran a useful Jim Dandy. His only try at the distance was in the Derby, where he finished 9th, 10 1/2 lengths back. But he’s run 1 1/2 well, so we know the 9 furlongs are within his wheelhouse. On his best day, he could win this. Will we get the really good version of Vino Rosso or better?

Tenfold hasn’t run fast enough to win this race, even with his win in the Jim Dandy. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he broke through and got the Graded Stakes win. Tenfold has an impressive resume, even if he’s lost the biggest races in the Preakness and the Belmont. After clearing his first-level allowance, he has run exclusively in Graded Stakes. He didn’t move forward for the Arkansas Derby — granted it was in his 3rd start — and the question is whether he’ll move forward today. If you like him — and there are lots of reasons to — make sure you are getting paid for the risk.

Wonder Gadot makes a great story. She’s the first filly to start in the Travers since Davona Dale in 1979 and seeking the first win by a filly since Lady Rotha in 1915. She is trained by Mark Casse. Unfortunately, she’s probably not fast enough to win here and she’s been facing restricted company (Canadian-breds) in her most impressive triumphs. She can win if she possesses the ability to rise to the occasion against males, much like Beholder running a lifetime high in the Pacific Classic or several of Rachel Alexandra’s races. If she wins, expect the chants of “How good is Monomoy Girl?” to be loud.

Catholic Boy is another with a chance. His key is being as good on dirt and he is on turf. That’s hard to argue for when he’s 4 for 5 on the surface (the only loss is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf) and his highest BSF’s (by far) are recently going long on the turf. He is trained by Jonathan Thomas. It’s hard to know what to make of Mendelssohn. He ran lights out in the UAE Derby, terrible in the Kentucky Derby, and okay, but not great, in the Dwyer. He is trained by Aiden O’Brien, who does much better on turf than dirt in America. It’s possible that Mendelssohn rounds back into form and dominates the field from the front. King Zachary — trained by Dale Romans — gets consideration because of his Matt Winn score. However, the Matt Winn was nowhere as deep as this race, and his failure to back it up in the Indiana Derby raises concerns.

Bravazo is proving to be a good second place horse. Granted he’s facing the best competition, he has a second in the Haskell and a second in the Preakness. His non-maidens wins are by a neck and a nose. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, he’d need to be on his best. Trigger Warning has been hitting the board throughout the midwest, and earned a 94 for his 2nd place in Indiana. He’ll be a pace factor for sure, but unlikely to be there at the end. He’s trained by Mike Rone. Meistermind — another Asmussen trainee — makes the jump from a fifth place in the 1st level allowance to a GI. He may have talent, but this is above-his-head right now.



The Pacific Classic

It’s time for the Grade I Pacific Classic, a 10-furlong dirt race from Del Mar. Along with the Del Mar Futurity, it’s one of the high points of a terrific, loaded meet. The race is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and it’s likely that a couple will point in that direction based on today’s performance. We have a competitive field of 6, with a clear, but not unbeatable favorite. That favorite is Accelerate, trained by John Sadler and ridden by Joel Rosario for the first time. He has a speed edge over the field and he is at his best at 10 furlongs. He loves this distance. He’s 3 for 4 this year overall; and while he lost this race last year, he still ran a 110 Beyer. If he runs his race, it’s his. On the downside, he has been off since the end of May — although some of this has to do with avoiding a confrontation with barn-mate San Diego Handicap (GII) winner Catalina Cruiser.

Dr. Dorr flirted with the possibility of being a top-of-the-division horse earlier this year, especially with his 7 1/4 length win in the GII Californian and accompanying 108 Beyer Speed Figure. He was well-beaten by Catalina Cruiser last time out. He’d need a form reversal — and while there are some factors that hint at that — it’s always tough to bank on a return to a horse’s best in order to win. He is trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Joe Talamo. Bob Baffert has another horse in the race in Roman Rosso. Ths horse has been running in Argentina and Uruguay and gobbling up GI’s. Baffert doesn’t have great first start with trainer records and he’s certainly ambitious with this one. Ultimately, this horse is very hard to gauge, although I’d err on the side of devaluing those South American GI’s and consider this horse for minor placings only. He’s ridden by Flavien Prat.

Prime Attraction is interesting. He’s never run fast enough to win this race and his last dirt campaign never got close to the 104 Beyer again. He comes off a strong performance in the GII Eddie Read on the turf, which is the surface this horse likely needs to be at his best. He could win today, but I’d be more confident if it were on turf. He’s trained by James Cassidy and ridden by Kent Desormeaux. Pavel finally broke through and won the GI Steven Foster at odds of almost 7-1. He had been flirting with being a GI winner since running a 97 Beyer on debut, the GIII Smarty Jones by open lengths, and finishing only 1 3/4 lengths behind Diversify in the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup. The placings this year were ambitious — and he lost to several of these here in the GI Gold Cup at Santa Anita and GII San Pasquel already. If he improved, he’ll still have to improve more to turn the tables on the others. But, as it stands right now, I don’t think he’s fast enough to win. Pavel is trained by Doug O’Neil and ridden by Mario Gutierrez.

The Lieutenant isn’t fast enough to win here, although he has improved as of late. He captured the GIII All American at Golden Gate and then finished second behind Diversify in the Suburban. He’s also the half-brother to Justify, which has helped his breeding value, but hasn’t made him faster.  He could close into an underneath spot, but the top spot seems too ambitious. The horse is trained by Michael McCarthy and ridden by Drayden Van Dyke. Two Thirty Five has climbed from the claiming ranks into a multiple allowance winner.  Racing in routes has made a significant difference for the team of trainer Richard Baltas and jockey Franklin Ceballos. If he likes the added distance and continues at his best form, he’s a longshot contender to win.



The Best Pal

This year’s version of the Best Pal, a GII 6f sprint for 2YO at Del Mar, is dominated by the presence of Instagrand. He is the 1/2 morning line favorite and a deserving one. Here is his maiden race, where he shows his stamina in the stretch convincingly.

He cost $1.2 million this past March and has been the subject of some serious hype since winning that maiden. On paper, he should dominate today. His Beyer Speed Figure of 88 towers over the field. And 2YO tend to be reliable, the opposite of what people think. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, for him to not win, he’d likely have to not like the track — something it’s hard to tell conclusively from the workouts — or regress off that big effort at the end of June. It was just one race and it’s easy to overstress in a sample size of one. That said, he’d seemingly like the extra furlong — and extra furlongs after that — being out of Into Mischief. He likely goes off better than 1/2, possibly even 1/9. Incidentally, odds-on in Graded Stakes is a historically positive return.

Can you beat him? If so, you’re likeliest to do so with Owning. His sire’s stud fee (Flashback) is only $5K, but he sold for $260K this past April.  A high multiple between the two is usually a sign of a fast horse. Also, Flashback is getting significant buzz as a freshman sire. Owning debuted for Simon Callaghan with Mario Gutierrez aboard with a 72 Beyer Speed Figure. Callaghan was the trainer of Kentucky Derby second-place finisher of Firing Line in 2015. The winner that year? American Pharoah. Owning could always improve in his second start and wasn’t favored first time out. He should appreciate the extra half-furlong. But he’s still overmatched by Instagrand.

Mason Dixon won a 150K Maiden Claimer — the type of races designed to let good horses run, but get away from the million-dollar Instagrand’s of the world. He’s extremely overmatched for Doug O’Neil and Flavien Prat. He should appreciate the extra furlong being by Union Rags. He’s likely to improve for O’Neil, who usually doesn’t have them cranked up the first time, but asking him to catch Instagrand is a tall task.

Sparky Ville would need to move forward significantly in the 2 months since he last raced. It’s not impossible, but still unlikely for trainer Jeff Bonde and jockey Gary Stevens. He has a very nice workout mixed in a bunch of average to below-average ones. He should like the extra distance, being by Candy Ride, but no match for Instagrand.

Synthesis is still a maiden, with 2 3rd place finishes to his record. He looks overmatched and he is. He doesn’t have the pedigree or the race record to be competitive here. He’s already run several times so we have more of a baseline. Trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by his brother, Kent, Synthesis will likely be 20-1 or more and has little chance to spring the huge upset.

Analysis: Based on his impressive maiden score and the high Beyer Speed Figure earned from it, Instagrand should romp in the Best Pal. His purchase price helps pad the argument as well. The most competition will likely come from Owning, who is out of promising sire Flashback and earned the 2nd best Beyer Speed Figure last time out. But it likely won’t be enough to hold off Instagram from getting his first Graded Stakes.

The West Virginia Derby

Normally, Mountaineer Park is a sanctuary for horseplayers who play at night during the week. But once a year, the track garners national attention with the GIII West Viriginia Derby. The race was a GII from 2009-2016 and, for this edition, the purse has seen a reduction to $500,000, its lowest level since 2001. But the race has still brought a field of up and coming horses looking to establish themselves in the division and gain a graded stakes victory.

Two horses in the field already have graded stakes victory and they are likely the two favorites come post time. Draft Pick won the GIII Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita before finishing second to Once on Whiskey in the GIII Los Alamitos Derby. Draft Pick ran much faster in the Affirmed and possibly could simply have not cared for the Los Alamitos or the 9-furlong distance of the Los Alamitos Derby. Once on Whiskey won stretching out after two good races at 7 furlongs. He did not run a very fast Beyer Speed Figure — 86 — in the Los Alamitos Derby win. However, that very well could be fast enough to win in this field today.

High North won the Iowa Derby with an 84 Beyer.  His best win may be the Northern Spur, a competitive race at 8.5 furlongs on the Arkansas Derby undercard. He ran a 91 Beyer in that race. He certainly has a shot, but I’m not sure he wants the distance. Rugbyman tries 9 furlongs for the first time. This is his 5th-lifetime start. Among those area 14 length score in the mud at Belmont and a 2nd by a neck in the Easy Goer on the Belmont undercard. He was crushed by Firenze Fire in the Dwyer, but his Beyer came back from that as a competitive 84.

Mr. Freeze is making only his 4th lifetime start. In his last start, he finished 2nd to High North in Iowas Derby. Before that, he earned an 89 Beyer at Churchill Downs in a 3YO first-level allowance win. This is his first attempt at 9 furlongs. Lionite finished 3rd in the Iowa Derby and won the local prep for that race. But, excluding his maiden breaker, he hasn’t run fast enough to win here. The extra distance is his main hope. Caloric, King Cause, and Pamir haven’t run fast enough in their careers and with the exception of King Cause, significant improvement is unlikely by the other two. I wouldn’t be shocked to see King Cause hit the board, despite being seemingly overmatched.

Analysis: This is as wide-open 3YO race we’ve seen in a while. I like Rugbyman on the stretchout to 9 furlongs. He’s by super-sire Tapit. At this distance, I think he’s faster than the two horses coming from the Los Alamitos Derby (Draft Pick, Once on Whiskey) and faster than the Iowa Derby winner (High North). Hopefully, he’s a price, especially with the presence of a Baffert horse in the field (Once on Whiskey).

The Haskell Invitational

It’s the end of the weekend and we have a special Sunday edition of the blog. This week is the 9f Haskell Invitational, a GI $1 million dollar race from Monmouth Park in New Jersey. It’s the highlight of a weekend with 3 3YO races. At Saratoga, we’ve already seen Hofburg capture the Curlin on Friday and Tenfold took the Jim Dandy on Saturday.

This race begins with Good Magic, who is among the leaders in this now-open division (with the retirement of Justify.) His resume includes wins in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and in the G2 Blue Grass. He had a strong second in the Kentucky Derby, finishing only 2 1/2 lengths behind Justify. He finished a close 4th in the Preakness. He’s run a 100 Beyer — in last’s year Juvenile but hasn’t reached a new level this year. He may be good enough to win today without improvement, but he won’t be at the top of the division unless he moves forward.

Bravazo was part of that close finish in the Preakness. He’s certainly moved forward this year — putting up 4 of 5 90+ Beyers in his last 5 starts. He tops out with a 96 in the Preakness. It’s tough to read how much he moved forward in the slop, I don’t quite think he’s as good as he was in the Preakness and is probably too slow to win here today. Core Beliefs and Lone Sailor both exit the Ohio Derby. Core Beliefs, who got up by a nose, has been steadily on the improve all season. He ran a 94 Beyer in the Ohio Derby.  Lone Sailor, who also earned a 94 Beyer in the Ohio Derby, ran well in the Preakness as well. He is 1 for 11 — running in top races, but still not finding the winner’s circle since his second start.

Golden Brown seems better on the turf and he’s too slow. Navy Commander won a local prep in the Long Branch but his 84 Beyer is too slow for this race. Roaming Union, who finished second in a different local prep, could be on the improve with the third start in the cycle. He hasn’t found the winner’s circle enough to be a serious contender.

Analysis: I like trying to beat Good Magic, who will play a role in the race. But at 6-5 (or worse), I think there’s risk with this horse if another one improves. Core Beliefs has been improving and can continue to improve. He’s only made 6 starts and it took him to his 3rd start to figure it out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has another gear and shows it at Monmouth.


The San Diego Handicap

We move to the older horses this week, possibly sniffing out some horses for the Pacific Classic, Breeders’ Cup Classic or the Mile. The race is 8.5f on the dirt. While the race is still quite compelling, news came that last year’s champion, Accelerate, who this year has won the Santa Anita Handicap as well as the Gold Cup, had scratched. The scratch of Curlin Rules hurts to a lesser extent, who would have to be on his game and on the improve to win here. We have a field of 6 with several horses having run 100 plus speed figures in their careers.

The race begins for me with Dr. Dorr who cuts back in distance after tiring badly in the Suburban. He did not run well over the Del Mar surface last year and one has to wonder whether he’ll take it the track today. He made the first two starts of his career at Del Mar. Baffert’s horses are usually ready to run, but he also perhaps just wasn’t ready. He didn’t blossom until after leaving San Diego, initially over the turf in New York. His dirt speed had a breakthrough on his return to the races in March, topping out with a win in the G2 Californian, the primary prep for the Gold Cup. There’s a chance that the Suburban was him coming off form or it could just be a one-off bad performance due to the track. On his game, he’s the most consistent and fastest — it’s just a question of how you evaluate the uncertainty.

Dabster will be going the farthest distance of his career. He’s already won twice at a mile (and once at 7f) in 6-lifetime starts. How he reacts to the extra half furlong will determine whether he can find the winner’s circle. He’s a bit slow to win the race if he doesn’t improve, whether due to likely the distance or other factors.  Harlan Punch ships in from the East Coast where he recently won by 5 1/4 lengths G3. That race was run at today’s distance. He’s never run at Del Mar before. He’s run some high Beyer Speed figure several times in his career, including a 97 last time out.

Catalina Cruiser is undefeated in 2 starts and put up an impressive 107 Beyer Speed Figure in 6f sprint last May. His pedigree suggests distance so the stretchout is not out of the question. If he can repeat that number routing, he’s in the winner’s circle. At 8-1 on the morning line, he seems like a good dark horse bet. Two Thirty Five has had a nice run of improvement since breaking his maiden for 20K in November of 2017 (over this surface.) He’s really put it together for trainer Richard Baltas, but he’ll face a class test today. He won an N2X by 4 1/4 lengths last out in a field of 5. This race seems a bit tough for El Huerfano, who recently came in 4th — beaten 6 lengths — in the G2 San Carlos. He a bit too slow for today’s race, even on his best. It’s a return to routing, which should help. The result for him last year in this race wasn’t good; he was beaten 35 lengths.

Analysis: I would not be shocked to see Dr. Dorr in the winner’s circle. It’s easy to forgive the Surbuban. But I think there’s more upside to Catalina Cruiser on the stretchout and that’s my selection for the race. His two races are very nice and Union Rags/Mineshaft suggests the distance won’t be a problem.

The Los Alamitos Derby

A small but intriguing field goes forward in the GIII Los Alamitos Derby later this afternoon. One of the highlights of the short summer meet, it features 5 3YO’s going 9 furlongs for a purse of $150K. Horses that run well could find themselves in any level of 3YO races left this summer, such as the Pennsylvania Derby or even the Travers, or even the Pacific Classic against older at Del Mar with a lights-out performance.

The race begins with Ax Man, who was last seen getting destroyed by Indiana Derby (later today as well) favorite King Zachary in the Matt Winn. He was 1/2 in that race — he’s been the favorite in all his starts and odds-on-in every one but his debut. He’s trained by Bob Baffert. He’s put up two sub-par performances in his career — in the aforementioned Matt Winn and in the 7f San Vincente where he was run of his feet by Kanthaka. It’s possible he didn’t like sprinting and it’s also possible he didn’t care for the Churchill Downs surface. But we have to wonder if he just didn’t feel like putting his best effort forward on either of those days. His other three performances were dominant wins by open lengths. He has three solid works since the Matt Winn. He’ll likely be the favorite again today — how low you’re willing to go on an unreliable, but fast, horse is the question.

Blended Citizen returns from a disappointing Belmont Stakes performance for Doug O’Neil. He previously won the Peter Pan over Core Beliefs and showed the form that earned him a 4th place finish in the Bluegrass. He’s the most experienced runner in the field with 11 lifetime starts and was on an upward trajectory before running into Justify and 12 furlongs. He’s not as fast as Ax Man at Ax Man’s best — no one in the field is — but stands a decent chance to run down the leaders on the long Los Alamitos stretch. I’d be willing to draw a line through the Belmont Stakes performance. Kyle Frey–who has been aboard all year–keeps the mount.

Draft Pick took a while to break his maiden, but when he returned in May from a short break, he did it emphatically. He immediately turned around the next month and took the GIII Affirmed Stakes earning a career-best 92 Beyer Speed Figure in the process. He looks to continue that hot streak today and go for three wins in a row. Trained by Peter Eurton, he is the only runner with experience at Los Al, running in two maiden races here, with 2 third place finishes. He does not seem to have a dislike for the surface — a plus, as everyone else faces a question in this regard. Slight improvement, or a subpar effort from Ax Man, puts him on top.

Once on Whiskey qualifies as the “other Baffert.” He hasn’t run particularly fast and nothing about his workouts are notable. He was last seen finishing 3rd on Derby Day in a 1st level allowance for three year olds. He’s yet to stretchout — something that could favor this son of Bodemeister out of a Mineshaft Dam. He’s a bit of an X-factor, piloted by Flavien Plat, and could make some noise at the end. He won’t be a huge price because of his trainer, but he could be a reasonable mid-to-longshot to include in the late P4.

King Cause is the other “O’Neil.” He’s yet to show the speed necessary to win here today and was beaten by Draft Pick by 10 lengths in the Affirmed. He has some early speed which could challenge Ax Man and set things up for Blended Citizen to make a charge at the end.

Analysis: Ax Man has proven a bit unreliable, and while he can win, I prefer the improving Draft Pick to lay slightly off the speed and make a winning move at the top of the long Los Al Stretch. He’s on a roll and I expect it to continue. Once on Whiskey is intriguing on the stretchout and is playable at 8-1 or better.