The Californian

Let’s take a look at the Grade II Californian, a 9-furlong affair from Santa Anita. It’s the final leg of the early P5 — making it extra-important to multi-race bettors. Although 3YO’s could enter, it’s a field full of veterans — all horses are 5YO and above. I’m going to go through the field in post position order and, as usual, add some betting analysis at the end.

  1. Soi Phet:  He is a 10-year old that has been on the California scene for a long time. He’s made 56 starts in his career, gathering 13 wins during that time. His last win came at Los Al last September in a minor stake for state-breds where he went off at 7/2. He’s 1 for 5 at the 9-furlong distance. In his last race on March 23, he finished a good second to Prince of Arabia, who is in here today. It’s hard to bet against a hard-trier like Soi Phet, especially when he fits on speed. One to watch, but likely outclassed at the Grade II open compan level.
  2. Full of Luck: Hollendorfer brought this horse from Chile, where he was 8 for 14. He tried the turf, where despite being the favorite in the GIII San Francisco, he finished a disappointing 11th. He’ll now make his dirt debut, despite all that Chilean turf success. On paper, he seems overmatched, and unless he’s been hiding dirt form, he will be outclassed here today.
  3. Curlin Road: He had a nice pair of good odds wins last year — 5 to 1 in a N2X and 10-1 in the Cougar II — as he improved to a new level. He still is only 4 for 26 in his career. He ran well in the Grade I Pacific Classic, with a career-best speed figure, but then went on the shelf until the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. In that race, he was overmatched and gave way (also the track was wet.) He returns to the Grade II level and, if you believe he’s healthy, could offer some value because of that last bad speed figure.
  4. Dr. DorrThis horse has been running very well in preparation for this race. He sprinted lights out — beating Ten Blessings — and then led start to finish in the Santana Mile. He’s 4 for 6 at Santa Anita but faces two tests today. First, he’s never gone 9 furlongs (8 is the most last time out). Second, it’s only his second start at the graded level — the first was a 4th (out of 7) in the 2nd start of his career. He’s attractive, but those are two huge factors, especially if you’re taking 8/5 or less.
  5. The Lieutenant: Seems slightly overmatched at this class level and he’s only 1 for 6 at Santa Anita. His last win was an N2X at Los Al; since then, he’s been in three straight stakes. 2 of those were poor performances in Graded affairs. He lost to Dr. Dorr by 4 last time out and I’m not sure the additional ground is going to be a benefit. Seems to want a bit easier than the Grade II competition he’ll find today.
  6. Prince of ArabiaHe’s only 3 for 20 in his career. He won last time out at 35-1 in a N2X. He was making his first start on dirt since September 2016 and responded very well. He ran fast enough to win today. He’s run well in some turf graded stakes, but who knows if that form can carry over to dirt now. It’s generally tough to bet on a longshot winner moving up in class.

Analysis: This is a fairly wide-open race. Dr. Dorr is the best on paper, but he has to pass the class and distance tests. I’d have trouble singling him in the Pick 5. I’d back him up with Curlin Road, moving back to a decent class level — he could run up the track, but he very well could be there at the end. I’d also add Soi Phet to deeper tickets.

3 Derby Horses: Justify, My Boy Jack & Audible

It’s still way too early to get a deep grasp on the Kentucky Derby. Among other things, workouts and post positions are essential parts of the Derby equation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t summarize and analyze what we do know. I’m going to pick 3 horses and see if I can form an opinion on them.

Justify: Starting with anybody but him felt sacrilegious. He’s blazing fast along with being quite precocious — he’s 3 for 3 with a Santa Anita Derby in his belt (with 3 100 or higher Beyer figures.) But only 3 for 3. Because it only takes to the fourth sentence to mention the “Curse of Apollo” — no horse has won the Derby unraced at 2 since Apollo in 1882. “The Curse” isn’t a statistical quirk; it’s a measure of maturity. The Derby is chaotic and overwhelming for many young horses. An experienced horse is calmer. Can Justify overcome the curse? Baffert brought us a Triple Crown — perhaps this is next. He’s fast enough that he could still be affected and win (think of Curlin for a good effort). I think this is a question that every handicapper has to ask for themselves over the next few weeks.

My Boy Jack: You have to like the smart move to go to the Lexington to get the points to qualify for the Derby. He was originally a turf horse and ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, finishing 3 lengths behind Mendelssohn. My Boy Jacks faces Mendelssohn in a rematch of sorts on Kentucky Derby Day. He came back in January after a brief vacation and tried the Dirt in the Sham, finishing a well-beaten third. Interesting, he moved around running at 4 different tracks on his Derby trail. He’s fast, but I don’t know if he is Derby fast and his best win (other than maybe the Lexington) was in the mud at Oaklawn in the GIII Southwest. His profile doesn’t quite scream Derby resume.

Audible: This is a horse that has done nothing wrong. You can excuse the sprinting effort on debut in September — even though he made up tremendous ground. And then all he’s done is win, starting with stretching out to a mile at Aqueduct. He blew away an allowance field, albeit there were only 4 horses running. At Gulfstream, he brought it to a new level, running Derby-level speed. He was dominant in both the Holy Bull and Florida Derby is trained by über-trainer Todd Pletcher. He has the experience that some of the field lacks. I think he stands a good chance come Derby day, and will likely be on most of my tickets.


Arkansas Derby

This week, we’ll return to Oaklawn Park for the jewel of the meet — the Grade I Arkansas Derby. With 100 points to the winner, we will have reached the end of the qualifying for the Kentucky Derby (The 20 point Grade III Lexington at Keeneland will be run a few hours earlier). 9 horses will go 9 furlongs; I’ll discuss 5, from the favorite to those with several others with a chance to win. The heavy favorite will be Magnum Moon, who won the Grade II Rebel by 3 1/2 lengths. Another of Todd Pletcher’s army of 3YO’s, Magnum Moon has run faster than any horse in the race and is currently 3 for 3 and undefeated. Like Derby favorite Justify, he didn’t run at 2, debuting blazing fast on January 13 at Gulfstream Park (although not as fast as Justify). This lack of experience is probably the biggest knock on Magnum Moon, who already defeated many of these rivals in the Rebel. But he’s a deserving favorite, who has already likely qualified for the Derby.

Trying to beat Magnum Moon again is the Bob Baffert-trained Solomini. He has a strong second in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and crossed the line first in the Grade I Los Al Futurity (he was dq’ed and placed third). He was the favorite in the Rebel before being beat by Magnum Moon. He’ll need a step-forward speed-wise (or a decline from Magnum Moon) to win this race. Quip shows up after a dominant return at 19-1 in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby, beating Derby qualifier Flameaway in the process. He likely has already qualified for the Kentucky Derby and is a bit of a wildcard. He’s just about fast enough to win (again if Magnum Moon is off his game) and could show some value as an unknown off that huge upset win in Tampa. Combatant is another who finished behind Magnum Moon in the Rebel, but did so unexpectedly at 8-1 with only 1 win from 6 starts. He’s run fast in those starts despite not winning and his last two dry track starts are competitively fast. Like all of the beaten Rebel participants, this son of Scat Daddy will have to improve to find the winner’s circle. Finally is the inexperienced Tenfold, who is 2 for 2 after debuting in February at Oaklawn. This Steve Asmussen-trained son of Curlin has been impressive but would need to move forward significantly in his stakes debut. His M/L is 10-1 and may go off nearer to 15-1.

Analysis: This is Magnum Moon’s race to lose, but there’s no money to made betting him to win. He can be a strong single in a P4 or P3. Unless he’s off his game, he’s likely to best Solomini and Combatant once again. Tenfold rates a longshot chance and is worth a small bet at high win odds. Quip is the wildcard and has the best chance to win should Magnum Moon falter.


Santa Anita Derby

100 points for the Kentucky Derby are on the line, but there’s so much more at stake in the Santa Anita Derby. On paper, it’s a two-horse race. And those are two sensational horses this time of year. I’ll take a look at the two super-contenders and then also look to see if any horse has a decent chance at an upset.

Justify has zero points and needs them to qualify for the Derby. That shouldn’t be a problem, as second-place seems the floor for this lightly-raced Baffert trainee. He’s been lightning fast in his maiden and first-level allowance — triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure fast and untouched with wins of 6 1/2 and 9 1/2 furlongs (which honestly could have been more.) His main knock? He didn’t race at 2 and the “curse of Apollo” is in effect. No horse has won the Derby unraced at 2 since Apollo since 1882. We’ve seen a bunch of curses and “never-happens” fall in sports this decade, so perhaps it’s time for this one to go as well. But that’s not really an argument. The stronger argument is the blazing speed. I’d be more likely to see him make the Kentucky Derby and freak out there due to lack of experience, as opposed to having a bad day today in a field of 7 at his local track. Mike Smith retains the mount for the stakes debut.

Bolt D’oro still has the best name on the trail, but, of course, that’s meaningless. But it’s still a very cool name. He was put-up as the winner against a very good horse in McKinzie in the Grade II San Felipe. He came back just as good as he was last fall and ran his record to 4 wins from 5 starts, with the only loss in the BC Juvenile. He has an experience edge over Justify, having run in exclusively graded stakes (3 G1’s) since breaking his maiden. He’s fast, but Justify may be a bit faster. Javier Castellano retains the mount and he’s as good as a jockey as you can get.

The rest of the field is significantly slower, with maidens in Jimmy Chila and Orbit Rain. Core Beliefs just broke his maiden, but it was on the front end on a slow pace — the weakest type of maiden win. Pepe Tono is too slow to win, absent improvement from a win less than a month ago. The one experience exception is Instilled Regard, who while slower than the top two, won the Grade III Lecomte at the Fair Grounds. But then he finished fourth in the Grade II Risen Star and did not contest the Louisiana Derby. If there’s going to be an upset, it will be Instilled Regard, but he’d need to improve off the February win and have the top 2 not fire. 10-1 seems fair and it’s possible you might get that price with money pouring in on the top 2.

Analysis: It is Justify’s race to lose. He’s fastest and the lack of experience shouldn’t hurt him today and much as it would in Kentucky. There’s not much you can do with 4/5 (may be 2/5) except play it through a Pick 4. It should be a good race to watch as we see what Justify (or Bolt D’Oro) can do. Finally, Keep an eye on Instilled Regard’s price — 10-1 or better should represent some value in an otherwise valueless race.


Florida Derby

4 graded stakes winners lead a talented field in this year’s Florida Derby. The Florida Derby, run at 9 furlongs, is a 100-point race for the Kentucky Derby — ensuring the winner a spot in the field. Second place, with 50 points, is a virtual guarantee as well.

At the top of the field is Audible. Unseen since his dominant win in the GII Holy Bull here in early February, all signs point towards a strong performance today. He brings the highest speed in the field (Bris) and was visually strong in that performance. He’s a NY-bred, but he cost half a million dollars, so that should be of little consequence. He runs for the Pletcher barn, whose 3YO horses are rounding into top form. He’s a strong contender and the one to beat. Likely will be a short price — perhaps well-suited as a single for the Pick 4.

Promises Fulfilled won the GII Fountain of Youth (FOY) here in early March. A frontrunner, he may have company from Strike Power or he may have the trip to himself. In the latter case — which happened in the FOY, he may be hard to stop on the lead and represents the biggest threat to Audible, who’ll likely have to make up ground on the outside.  Will be hard to get a fair price on this horses, whose merits are obvious.

Catholic Boy won the GIII With Anticipation on the turf in August, the GII Remsen in December and then finished second in the GIII Sam F. Davis in February. Like Audible, he gets a bit of a layoff coming into this race. He adds Irad Ortiz. He’ll likely track the leaders, who he rates just a slight bit below. He scares me with a real upset chance, although I think he’s not as good as Audible.

Strike Power lost in the FOY, but won the GIII Swale in this previous start. Given that the FOY was his first route, a second route portends improvement — although his trainer does not do well with the second-time route. The extra distance is a question, with Speightstown (a sprint sire) as his sire. He would need to turn the tables on Promises Fulfilled — something that’s possible for this lightly-raced horse. If he’s the forgotten horse (6-1 or higher), he’s a good bet.

Mississippi is a maiden winner with 2 strong allowance performances in January and February. He may have improved — which puts him right among the contenders — but he’s still in much deeper waters today. He adds blinkers, which threatens too much speed in the field. And he may get stuck outside from the 9 post. However, If you want to bet a longshot, this is your guy, though. Fast, improving, with top-notch connections.

Analysis: Simple and straightforward for me. It’s Audible — linking through a Pick 4. I’ll keep my eye on Catholic Boy as well and likely include him in the Pick 4, too.

Louisiana Derby

We return to the Fair Grounds for the final time this prep season with the 9 furlong Louisiana Derby — the first 100 point race of the season. The 100 points to win will definitely get you in, and the 40 points for second should do the same. So, you can go from off-the-radar to Kentucky Derby horse with a great showing in today’s race. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the contenders for today’s race — some, like Bravazo, which have likely already qualified.

Bravazo (54 points): Draws the rail after a terrific outside run to win the Risen Star at 21-1. Does seem to be a new horse this year for the Cowboy D. Wayne Lukas. Both wins have been close — beating Snapper Sinclair by a nose in the Risen Star. He originally marked himself a contender with an Oaklawn allowance win and backed it up big-time in the Risen Star. The other two board finishers are back today, plus a decent new shooter, so he’ll need a top-notch effort. It’s worth noting that Lukas’ horses can be inconsistent and this horse has already qualified. Strong contender, but looking elsewhere.

Snapper Sinclair (22 points): Comes off a very strong second in the Risen Star and adds Jose Ortiz in the saddle. He was 41-1 in that race. A second place finish again will stamp a ticket to Louisville. He’s been a much better horse since the switch back to the main track and gets his third route over the distance today. The extra half furlong is a question due to his City Zip/Yes It’s True sprint breeding — on paper, he seems suited to the Santa Anita hillside (and he did win a 7f on the turf at Kentucky Downs. He’s a contender with some questions.

My Boy Jack (12 points): Shipped from the west coast to win the Southwest by 4 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn in the mud. Ships back from California for today’s challenge. He may be a “turf/mud” horse, so pay attention to the track conditions for today’s race. Once Keith Desormeaux gets them going off the layoff, he typically can keep them hot. That said, seems like a bet against off that big off-surface effort.

Noble Indy (10 points): Another late developing Todd Pletcher trainee, he finished third in the Risen Star. He was two lengths back of the head-bobbing pair in that race. Take Charge Indy should help him get that extra half-furlong. He adds blinkers — something it’s hard to get a read on, but ITWT (in Todd we trust). Either 1st or 2nd get him into the Derby. I expect he’ll likely end up in one of those two spots.

Lone Sailor (2 points): Hasn’t shown too much as far as winning on the Derby trail, with his best showing coming with a third in the Breeders’ Futurity last fall. That race was won by Free Drop Billy — high up on the Derby points charts — and the runner-up was Bravazo. He’d need a major step forward and might have to win to guarantee a stop in Kentucky. He’s a longshot worth looking at, especially depending on the pace, as he’s shown a propensity to close.

Givememaminit (2 points): A Louisiana-bred who has been on the trail for a long-time, he finished third as a maiden in the Hopeful last summer. Seemed outclassed in the Risen Star with a 10-length loss. His best speed has come sprinting against Louisiana-breds. Even though Javier Castellano takes the mount, this son of the great Star Guitar may need easier than this. I’ll be passing.

Of the rest with no points, Retirement Fund catches the eye if you toss his mud-run in the Southwest. He has the pedigree to get the distance and has shown a proclivity for the track. Hyndford ran second to the uber-impressive Magnum Moon in a Tampa allowance. That might be the most impressive company line for a new shooter — maybe in the entire race. Marmello is outclassed here as a maiden without the requisite speed. And, finally, Dark Templar would need a major step up, only just winning his allowance on the front end with a slow place.

Analysis: Of the “point-less,” Hyndford has the most upside. And he’s worth a few bucks if the price hangs above 6-1. But the pick is going to be Noble Indy, as Pletcher’s stable rounds into form. But lots of choices in what should be a good betting race.

Good luck at the races!

The Rebel

Rebel Rebel by the late David Bowie has been in my head since I starting ‘capping the Grade II Rebel. Maybe this great guitar-driven song is now stuck in yours as well — I hope you like it, in that case.

But now it’s time to put the music aside and start analyzing this key Derby prep. It’s getting late into the season and the serious contenders are forming into shape. Let’s look at the contenders for this race:

Title Ready: Won an allowance over the track impressively which earned him his shot in the Rebel. Makes his second start of the year and adds Jose Ortiz. A contender — if a bit slow so far — and maybe the value of the race because of his lack of stakes experience.

Solomini: Returns to the track for the first time in 2018. Won the Los Al Futurity, but was disqualified and placed third behind two very good horses — McKinzie and Instilled Regard. He’s been competitive in every race, with some strong seconds behind division leaders. It’s also Baffert at Oaklawn, a place he owns with 3YO’s. 3/2 morning line promises a small payout — have to hope for another 2nd.

Magnum Moon: 2 for 2 for this Todd Pletcher trainee. Won at 1-9 last time stretching out at Tampa. Relatively untested, today will tell a good deal about this horse. His maiden win shows he has the speed to win, but he has to duplicate it in a large field of quality 3YO’s to win. Hard to knock this horse, but prefer a bit more experience for this sort of test.

Sporting Chance: Won the hopeful last year and then disappeared from September to February where he ran in the GIII Southwest here at Oaklawn. He would need to improve 2nd time off the layoff to be competitive here.

High North: Gary Stevens rides for Brad Cox on this horse which improved greatly on his 3YO return in the Grade II Risen Star. He’d likely need some pace and some improvement, but both aren’t out of the question.

Combatant: No bad races for this horse, with 3 seconds against solid competition. Ran blistering fast for this field over the Oaklawn track at a mile, in finishing second to Mourinho. If you throw out the mud start in the Southwest, he is right up there with the favorites speed-wise.

Analysis: Both Combatant and Title Ready are 8-1 on the morning line, with reasons to believe that they can win the race. If forced to choose, I’d go with Combatant. Solomini is the most likely winner. I’ll use Combatant and Title Ready in the P4 (and possibly throw in Solomini as a saver depending on cost.)


San Felipe Stakes

Three major Kentucky Derby preps this weekend — Gotham Stakes, Tampa Bay Derby, and the San Felipe. Tough choice, but I’ll stay out west (where I play regularly) and see the return (of the favorite) in Bolt D’Oro. Means nothing of course, but I’ve always thought the name of this horse was bad-ass.

Bolt D’Oro draws the rail and seeks to regain the form he showed in the Frontrunner last fall over this track. He finished a disappointing third as the odds-on favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and has been unseen (at least in the afternoon) since. He’s been working out regularly and strongly and now begins the final quest to the Derby — which, if things go right, will likely include the Santa Anita Derby in the middle. He’s a gamble — you never know how these horses come back, especially when it’s already March. Let’s see what else if out there to possibly beat him.

McKinzie won the GIII Sham and was placed first in the Los Al Futurity. He’s also very fast and did beat Instilled Regard that day — who won at the Fair Grounds on the trail. He’s certainly fast enough to run with Bolt D’Oro, (1) if he improves just a bit; (2) can handle the class test; and (3) Bolt D’Oro does not fire like he did in the Frontrunner.

Kanthaka burst on the scene by winning the San Vincente in early February. That win was at 7 furlongs, and he does have a sprint pedigree. He’ll stretchout today, but I expect that it likely won’t go as planned. There’s always the possibility, and it’s not 10 furlongs, only 8.5. Plus Jerry Hollendorfer is skilled at stretching them out. His big question is the distance.

Lombo has shown improvement with two straight wins at Santa Anita– breaking his maiden and then winning the Robert B. Lewis decisively. He’ll need to grow and increase his speed to be competitive with this group, but that’s not out of the question. This grey horse is a dark horse candidate for finding the top stop today.

AyacaraAquila, Calexman, and Peace are longshots. Of these, Peace has back speed which might make him competitive today. Aquila is a last-out maiden winner, who ran fast, but not super-fast enough to be a winner today, absent improvement. Ayacara may be a factor if the pace is super hot and falls apart.

Analysis: Tough race to make a lot of money, but I have good feelings for the return of Bolt D’Oro. Lombo stands an upset chance, maybe in second place of an exacta with Bolt D’Oro. McKinzie has a strong chance, perhaps use him on top of Lombo as well.

Fountain of Youth

Today’s focus on the Derby Trail will be the Fountain of Youth from Gulfstream Park.Its a Kentucky Derby points race and a key race for Derby seeking 3YO’s. Post time is 6:09 ET and its race number 14, closing out of the day of a loaded Gulfstream card. It’s 8.5 furlongs, spelling trouble for horses on the far outside. Only 10 entrants today, so the bias won’t be so bad.

The race marks the return of Breeders” Cup Juvenile Champion Good Magic, which he won as a maiden.Trained by Chad Brown, he is the likely favorite and is more than capable of beating this field, especially with the scratch of Free Drop Billy. The risk, as always, is how he comes back from the layoff.

Strike Power is the second choice, having won the Swale and his maiden impressively. Stretching out is a question for this son of Speightstown, who has made his trade as a sprint sire. That might depress the price and create a bit of value in this horse.

The rest of the field has a few interesting horses. Storm Runner won a first-level allowance at Gulfstream, never an easy feat. He’s been running with a win over the track. He’s run a ton over this distance, including twice this year, suggesting he’s in condition.  It’s his second time over this surface. I dought he’ll be 15-1, but anywhere around 8-1 is worth a shot. Peppered is making his seasonal debut about a terrible effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. But before that, he finished second in the Grey. If he takes to the Gulfstream Dirt and improves off the layoff, he might offer some value at a small bet at 30-1.

Gotta Go finished second in the swale and has won at a mile (1 turn) at Churchill Downs. Anything past is a question, but he should be able to get today’s distance. A good performance makes him a contender for the win spot.

Analysis:  I left out horses with little chance, including the last out maiden winners entered straight in this stake.This is Good Magic’s race to lose. If he is on his game, he’ll win by open lengths. To try to beat him, both Strike Power and Storm Runner are decent options. I’ll be betting Storm Runner and hoping for a good price.



Weekday Races: Charles Town #5

When this site started, I did a feature called “Race of the Day.” It’s exactly what it sounds like — I wrote a preview every day. It eventually ran Wednesday through Sunday. As the site began to focus more on Saturday racing, I discontinued Race of the Day in favor of extended coverage of Saturday and Triple Crown (3YO Campaign) racing. But the Race of the Day was a terrific tool. It permitted exposure to different classes of racing than you see on Saturday. There’s great value in being able to understand the difference between a maiden $5K claimer and a maiden $50K claimer. Or the difference between $5000 non-winners of 1 in 6 months and $5000 non-winners of 2 in 6 months. Playing lower level races can teach the concept of class and help your overall understanding of the game. They can also help take down Pick 5’s and early P4’s — and at small tracks, late P4’s — that tend to be made up of these races.

So, let’s focus on a race #5 tonight from Charles Town (8:51 PM ET). It’s a 6 1/2 furlong $12.5 Claimer for State-bred (West Virginia) Maidens 4YO and up. As typical, there is a significant class drop/class rise for maidens moving from MSW to MC. Let’s run through the contenders and see if we can find a bet:

  • #1 Gattosing 5/1: Making his third start off the layoff, although the second start was riderless as the horse fell at the break. Showed potential in two prior races. Stretches out — which didn’t work great last November.
  • #2 Alternate Route 5/2: Cuts back from 9 furlongs where ran ok before tirirg. Ran well at 7 furlongs on debut, even with a shaky start. Low percentage trainer doesn’t inspire at a low price.
  • #5 Just a Lil Lukey 8/5: Start #12, brings the second drop into $12.5K Maiden claimers. Inconsistent. Has some nice performances, but last one wasn’t great. Likely favorite, but vulnerable.
  • #6 Makana 6/12nd start at the level after leading in the straight and being interfered with last time. Not much on worktab and a low percentage trainer, but this horse shows some sneaky potential.
  • #7 Country Sonde 15-1: Slow, but can’t eliminate because of the drop and the stretchout.The class change could make the difference.

Analysis: I’ll try to beat Just a Lil Lukey off the bad performance. I prefer a bet on Makana (6-1 ML) and a small bet on Country Sonde (15-1 ML). I’d use those two and add Alternate Route (5-2 ML) to a deeper mutli-race wager.