Southwest Stakes

Happy President’s Day! And the “bonus” racing that comes along with it, including a Kentucky Derby Prep from Oaklawn. The Southwest Stakes, a GIII at 8.5 furlongs, has drawn a field of 10, with the scratch of Principe Guiherme. At first glance, it’s a Baffert race to lose, with Mourinho rocking the best speed figure and a significant advantage over the field. And, as usual, I’ll try to beat him, just like we beat Instilled Regard with Brazado at 21-1 in the Risen Star.

The strengths of Mourinho are many. He’s fast — fastest in the field — and won the Smarty Jones over this track. He’s finished first or second in every race. He had a successful 2YO campaign, gaining experience which showed up in the Smarty Jones as he stretched out for the first time. He cost $625K as a 2YO in training. There are some downsides. Baffert doesn’t exactly excel with 2-time starters off the layoff (he rocks the layoff, though), but that’s of less concern b/c of the nature of this animal. He did get an easy lead last time — something that likely won’t happen today.

There are several challengers, starting with the Asmussen-trained Combatant for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing. He finished second in the  Smarty Jones, sitting off the pace, and finishing 3 1/4 lengths in arrears. He’ll need to improve and get a more favorable pace, but both are possible. It’s his 3rd start as a 3YO – both routes — which is favorable for another strong performance. Seven Trumpets ran well in the Jerome, but was still significantly slower than needed to win here. He’s likely a pace factor, along with Retirement Fund, Ezmosh, Mourinho, and Sporting Chance.

Sporting Chance makes his 3YO debut after winning the GI Hopeful last year. It’s also his first stretchout for the son of Tiznow. He was an expensive yearling for the Derby Trail veteran in D. Wayne Lukas. He has the most chance to improve among the contenders. Ezmosh comes off a loss by a neck to the upset winner of the Risen Star, Bravazo. He’d need to improve and get a good pace, but is likely too slow.

Analysis: It is Mourinho’s race to lose and there aren’t tremendously strong contenders. Combatant could win at a better pace, but I really like Sporting Chance to improve on his 2YO form. You won’t get 21-1, but you could get 6-1. Add him to your ticket with Mourinho and you should be able to get through the P4.


Risen Star

My first impression when looking at the entires was that Instilled Regard towered over the field. But, on closer look, I found a contender that I like. I’ll talk about Instilled Regard and then visit some contenders who could knock him off if he has an off day.

The case was Instilled Regard is strong. He’s been the fastest horse in the field. He is a G3 winner — in the Lecomte, over this track. He should like the extra distance and was bought as a 2YO for over a million dollars. He seems to be realizing that potential on the track. Barring injury, he’s the only horse in the field that I can say I’m confident he will be in the Kentucky Derby. Perhaps Bravazo — my under-the-radar contender in this race — will find his way there, too.

With that said, let’s look at look at some other contenders. Noble Indy is a WinStar and Repole. Don’t know if I’ve seen that partnership before. He’d really need to improve — not out of the question for a 3YO. Physical and mental growth can happen quickly in horses. Snapper Sinclair maybe gets the lead and holds on the whole way. The same thing could be said for Noble Indy.

Bravazo is a D.Wayne Lucas horse — he runs his 2YO into shape and into class placement. He ran 2nd in a G1. He ran some competitive high-class races as a 2YO and debuted this year blistering fast in comparison. This is a Calumet Farm homebred. I think he’s probably the biggest competitor to Instilled Regard.

Principe Guilherme was the favorite in the LeComte but was soundly beaten by Instilled Regard. He’ll need to recapture that allowance form — he won by 11 lengths in a 1st level allowance in December.

Analysis:  I expect Instilled Regard to win, but Bravazo is a strong challenger. With a morning line of 8-1, there’s potential for payoffs in the win pool and exotics — both vertical and horizontal — and a portion of your budget should go in that direction. But, Instilled Regard would likely have to regress, which can happen.

The Sam F. Davis Stakes

Let’s jump on I-75 and move from Gulfstream in Miami up to Tampa Bay Downs for the Sam F. Davis Stakes. The Sam F. Davis is now a points race on the Derby Trail and they’ve drawn some top-notch competition — it’s fairly common from a horse from this race to make it to the first Saturday in May. It’s a huge day at Tampa, second only to Tampa Bay Derby day, and the attention (and handle) should make for a good day for the track. Let’s look at the field of 7 (in post position order):

  1. Navy Armed Guard: Still a maiden, he’s been well-traveled before landing at Tampa for his last two starts. He showed some potential — while failing as the favorite — in his last starts, earning a decent speed figure. This seems over his head, even for trainer Joan Scott, who typically does well at Tampa.
  2. Flameaway: Always have to look out for Mark Casse with owner John Oxley. This horse has been running well on the turf and over the mud, with his best performance winning the Kitten’s Joy in front-running fashion last time out. His previous fast track try was disappointing. Leaning away, unless thunderstorms come rolling into Tampa. There’s only a 10% chance of that happening, according to the Weather Channel.
  3. Vino Rosso: Undefeated in two starts for Todd Pletcher, he stretched out last time to a slower speed figure over the Tampa surface. Owned by Repole and St. Elias — two major players — he would need to improve handily in his 3YO debut, which is not impossible. I give him an outside chance, but nowhere near the 3-1 morning line (much more like 6-1).
  4. Septimius Severus: 2 starts, with only the maiden win, he may have been comprised by the slow pace in his allowance try. Adds Jose Ortiz, which is about as good as you get. Seems overmatched, and the 15-1 line — which may drop some — seems more reasonable. Still, I’ll be looking elsewhere.
  5. Hollywood Star: Fresh off the Holy Bull scratch, he had some nice 2nd’s as a 2YO. But he got good pace every time and was beaten 15 lengths in the Juvenile. He’ll really need to improve. He’ll be 2nd choice, but I’ll stay away from a horse that has won just once and has run slow.  Show me, first.
  6. Catholic Boy: The fastest speed figure in the field when he dusted Withers winner Avery Island in the Remsen in his dirt debut. He had run very well on the turf to that point. He’s had time off to hopefully improve, but all he needs is good form — the speed is there to win this race. He’s 8/5 and will probably be 4/5.
  7. Vouch: An impressive maiden at Laurel, he finished 3rd in the Remsen behind Catholic Boy and Avery Island. Another coming off a layoff, he’s likely outmatched for skilled conditioner Arnaud Delacour. He has early speed (but he’s not the only one) so we’ll probably hear from him in the initial stages.

Analysis: It’s Catholic Boy all the way. He’s faster and, absent regression, should win by several lengths. Vino Rosso deserves a deeper look because of the connections, but it’s hard to bet on improvement at a short-price.


Holy Bull

The Derby Trail is picking up with 3 points races this week — the Withers, The Holy Bull, and the Robert B. Lewis. The focus is Gulfstream for the second week in a row; We’ll visit some returning friends in a competitive edition of the Holy Bull. The Holy Bull, a Grade II is 8.5 furlongs and starts viciously close to the turn and a decided disadvantage. Mississippi has scratched and will run in an allowance on Sunday, rather than start from an outside post. Hollywood Star has also scratched.

Here are the horses with a chance:

Enticed: Godolphin-owned colt that won a slow Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill in the fall. He beat Tiz Mischief by a head and many think these are the top two horses, despite the layoffs. Enticed could eventually be the best horse in the field, but will it be today? He’s a very strong contender for the win spot; don’t expect good odds at all — he’s a very logical place to land.

Free Drop BillyA grade 1 winner in the Breeders’ Futurity, but then well up the track in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. If we get that horse from the G1 win, he certainly can compete for the top spot. A fast pace would help.

Master Manipulator: Trained by Eric Guillot, he needed a soft pace to break his maiden on the lead. Guillot can place ambitiously, so this colt seems a bit over his head here. But you never know with Guillot and a horse that can be placed on the lead. The connections are strong — Southern Equine and Calumet Farm — and he cost $360K.

Audible: He’s done everything right, progressing through first two NY conditions and then demolishing open company in a first-level allowance. Yes, it was just an allowance, but he shows many positive attributes and he’s comparatively fast in this field. He was a $500K purchase, is trained by Pletcher, ridden by Castellano, and owned by golden owners WinStar Farm and China Horse Club. He has enough early speed and ample late speed. His stakes debut is against challenging company, but I expect him to find the winner’s circle here.

Tiz Mischief: Beaten by a head in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, he essentially duplicated his maiden efforts in a slow race. Unless others don’t improve, I don’t see him winning today.

Pony Up:  He’s an X factor horse — he’s run well on the turf (not great, however) and this is a requisite dirt try to see if he can chase Triple Crown glory. It’s not the fastest field, so if he takes to the dirt, he has a good chance.

Analysis:  I’m all over Audible here. I’d like to see him at 7/2 or greater to make a bet. Pony Up might make a good (smaller) longshot bet if he’s over 10-1.



Pegasus World Cup

We’ll take a break from 3YO to look at the world’s richest race, the $16 million Pegasus World Cup. Held at Gulfstream, it uses a novel approach to entries, which has created a deep, layered field (with one standout favorite in Gun Runner.) I picked Gun Runner to win the 2016 Kentucky Derby, but that turned out to be a bit early on this horse, who has now won 5 Grade I races, including the top races in the division and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Today — win or lose — will be his last race as he’s set to retire to stud after the race. He’s the 4/5 favorite and well-deserving. The biggest knock on him is his outside post (10 of 12) — it’s viciously hard to win from the outside at the 9 furlong distance at Gulfstream. Only Big Brown has done it since the renovation of Gulfstream created the difficult conditions.

The rest of the field has some solid horses. Toast of New York reappears after a Classic try against Shared Belief, California Chrome, and eventual winner Bayern. But he only has one race since then — and there’s not a ton of stats on the second start after a 3-year layoff. Still, he showed class in his US races years back, and if he recaptures that form, he could find himself on the board, and maybe even the winner’s circle. Collected beat last year’s winner, Arrogate, in the Pacific Classic, and, when on his game, he can be fast enough to win — not an easy thing to say in this field. Sharp Azteca has been great at a mile and Jorge Navarro always finds a way to get the most out of his horses. Distance is a question, but he loves Gulfstream. Stellar Wind is a great mare, running for new connections in Chad Brown. This seems over her head, but you have to remember that’s plenty of money for finishing well (but much more for winning — $7 million). West Coast won the Travers and continued on to have a good rest of his campaign. He loves to win and is making his first 4YO start. Seems overmatched — surprising for the Travers winner — but he’d need a bit of improvement. The rest appear overmatched or likely to finish underneath, such as Gunnevera. 


I’m intrigued by Toast of New York, as I remember vividly his performance against Shared Belief. He might not be the same horse after the layoff, however, but he’s clearly worth a flyer. I’m also interested in Sharp Azteca, who will take the lead and not give it up. That final furlong may not matter — 8 to 9 furlongs can allow a bit of coasting home with the right pace. And, as much as I respect Gun Runner, who has to be on horizontal tickets, he’s a value-killer throughout the betting unless upsets occur elsewhere. He’s the most likely winner, but there’s value to be found elsewhere, starting with the two mentioned here.


California Derby

We’ll head up the coast to the Bay Area for the California Derby at 3:55 p.m local time. At Golden Gate Fields, it’s a local prep for the El Camino Real Derby — their Kentucky Derby Prep race. Combined with the Spiral from Turfway, these two races create an artificial surface path to the Derby. Today, we’ll hopefully see if any of the horses show enough prowess routing over the fake dirt to earn the right to fight for consideration for the Kentucky Derby.

Let’s run down the field (after scratches):

  • Kylemore: A really nice allowance try over the track, plus a nice win over the turf at Del Mar late last summer. 2nd try in his 3YO campaign.
  • Mugaritz: Won the allowance mentioned above at high speed. Got here through the maiden claiming ranks — clearing by 6 at $20K Maidens. He’s improved to start the 3YO campaign — his lack of back class is his main knock.
  • Intimidate: Left Northern California to win the King Glorious for Cal-breds on his first-time route on the dirt. Returns to the artificial surface, where he had some success this past fall. Seems a bit overmatched, despite the stakes win.
  • Generally Lucky: He’s a 3-time winner, but all at lower levels, breaking his maiden at the $16K level. He ran 3rd in the allowance mentioned above, with Kylemore and Mugaritz. Would need to improve.
  • Choo Choo: A Southern California shipper, he’s run well in two turf stakes, especially the Eddie Logan. Picks up Juan Hernandez for the local debut. He’s 2-1, but that seems ambitious for his first artificial try. He’s a serious contender, on class and with enough speed to be competitive for the top spot.
  • East Rand: Starting in the Midwest, he made his way to SoCal for two turf stakes. His performances weren’t great, losing by 21 lengths in the final stakes try. He ran so-so over an artificial surface at Arlington last summer. He’ll need to improve, especially in regards to early speed now that he leaves the turf. Not today.


There’s a decent amount of early speed, which sets the race up for Kylemore, who brings a good resume. I expect him to win the rematch with Mugaritz, coming off the pace. Generally Lucky should find his way into the trifecta at 30-1.

The LeComte

Let’s venture down to New Orleans to the Fairgrounds for their Derby prep series, where they’ve produced some good horses the past few years (but no Kentucky Derby winners.) Today is the GIII LeComte, a 1 mile and 70 yards two-turn route for newly minted 3YO’s. It’s a deep field — before scratches, we have 14 entrants, with 1 in the wings on the AE list. As usual, I’m looking to beat most favorites, unless that favorite is absolutely solid and provides value — then he becomes a lock in P3, P4, and P5, if available. I tend to look for seasonal debuts, first-time routing, track-liking and other factors that suggest a change in performance in looking for mid-to-long shots.

Update: Wonder Gadot has been scratched. This was to be a filly vs. boys matchup on the Derby Trail, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Instilled Regard — a million dollar purchase as a 2YO in training — looks to grow on his 3rd place in the Los Al Futurity. He ran fast in that race and seriously threatened to win against the top West Coast horses of McKinzie and the bumping Solomini. Javier Castellano — maybe the best jockey in the US — picks up the mount for Jerry Hollendorfer. If he runs back and likes the track, he’ll win. I don’t think you’ll get the 4/1 morning line — I expect him to be more around 8/5. So, there could be value in that spread if we end up with a 5/2 or 3/1 favorite.

Principe Guilherme: He’s making his graded stakes debut after two impressive wins, including an 11-length win over the Fair Grounds surface. He’s slower than Instilled Regard right now, even with the impressive showings. For me, though, he’s a bit of a wait and see. Big allowance winners aren’t a dime-a-dozen, but I need to see Graded Stakes experience to take a low price. He’s a pass for me — even up to 4-1. He’ll likely be a bit lower.

Prince Lucky: Trained by the Cowboy Larry Jones (I’ll never forget his wardrobe when we ran into each other at Delaware Park a few years back), he brings a PA-bred to the Derby Trail. He’s 3 for 3, with a win in open company at Laurel. He’s never routed, and Jones usually needs a race at the distance to get the best from the horse. But he is a wildcard in today’s race and adds Leparoux. A win would be surprising, but not shocking. For those looking for a solid 8-1 to 10-1, this might be your horse.

Kowboy Karma: He makes his seasonal debut after some decent showings in minor stakes and a 4th place finish in the Champagne. He’s another trained by the Cowboy. He’s been consistent, but he’ll need to have improved since November, something that’s not impossible, given his better-than-average workouts. He does have several failures as the favorite and is probably worth passing on the win slot based on that fact alone.

Lone Sailor: Loves the slop, but it looks like a fast track today. Has a nice finish in a GI, which shows some potential. He’ll need some pace today, and improvement coming off of the layoff. 15-1 is a tempting morning line — he might just blow up the tote board.

Analysis: There are a few other horses who seem too slow or inexperienced to handle this today. But, as with any 3YO race, improvement can happen fast. Hate to be boring, but Instilled Regard is a solid favorite, and he’ll win, as long as he doesn’t regress. Those looking for longshots should look to the Larry Jones pair and give a deeper look to Lone Sailor.

Good luck at the races!



Sham Stakes

In trying to evaluate the legacy of Sham, the 1973 Derby and Preakness runner-up, we have to consider he’d probably have won these 2 races in almost any other year. His times are in the top 5 in history — he just happened to be in the same crop with Secretariat. There is a connection between Sham and Santa Anita, with Sham winning the Santa Anita Derby. But, on the downside, he didn’t win a Triple Crown race and was injured in the Belmont.

This race is a GIII. Based on his legacy, you could argue for GII — the Secretariat is a GI. But it seems a bit of a stretch for, what is in fact, a losing horse. I think the GIII is about right. Even assuming that he won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, that puts him far from elite company — 64 horses have won at least two legs of the Triple Crown in a given year. But the historic nature of his times deserve recognition and I’m glad to see Sham’s name next to a graded stake.

(Wolly Bully is in my head)

On the actual race today, it’s a GIII mile for 3-year-olds. Still just a mile, it nevertheless could go a long way towards shaping the Derby qualifying on the West Coast. The race begins with McKinzie who has run lights out both times on the track. He was beaten last night, but put up as the winner. The decision was controversial to say the least (I am biased here). Mourinho is fast enough to win, but does have two second-place finishes as the favorite with a big of hang at the end. Blinkers go on, potentially to address this failure to move away from the pack. My Boy Jack will try to bring good turf form — his last start was a 3-length loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf — to the dirt. You can’t put too much stock in his poor showing at 5f in his career debut.


I’m going to try to beat McKinzie and do it with the headwear-added Mourinho. I like My Boy Jack to close and finish well underneath.

H. Allen Jerkens Stakes

Always fun to handicap a race type you don’t see that often. Here are some key points on the Jerkens, named for a great horseman:

  • We’ve got a 2-mile route on the Gulfstream Park turf course. Yes, I typed that right — 2 miles…a full 1/4 of a mile longer than the Marathon and the distance of the Belmont Gold Cup. We’re looking for a horse with stamina — and an easy lead could be carried a long way.  All the horses in the field except 2 are turf horses. The horses are El Kurdo and Infobedad. Heavy stamina tests are much more common on turf. And 2 miles is quite a stamina test. We really don’t know who is going to be able to do it, but we can use clues to help us get there (have they done it before?).
  • The race is relatively new, so it’s not graded, even though it was a purse of 100K. I’d treat it as a GIII — it drew a decent field.
  • The real test is the distance and trying to project the speed. Infinite Wisdom has dominated a 1 5/8 miles on the lead, although he’s recently been off form after that performance. He should enjoy the extra ground with the right trip.
  • Bullards Alley is coming out of the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf, where he earned a great speed figure. He’ll be the favorite as he brings his high turf speed. He ran great in the 2-mile Belmont Turf Cup. Showed great stamina in that race, and has to be the favorite here.
  • El Kurdo comes from Ecuador, where he’s been a consistent winner. But he was a bit slow on his state-side debut…enough so, that I’m going to pass on him on the turf try.
  • Infobedad is the only American dirt horse with distance experience. His last race was a 2nd in the GII Marathon. But he’s going dirt-to-turf and hasn’t exactly been interchangeable in the past. Still, he has the distance pedigree for this — certainly worth a look if he floats over 8-1.


Lots of turf horses in a quality field. If you are an expert at estimating distance, this is a race for you. For me, I’m going to stay away from the heavy favorite in Bullards Alley, and bank on Infinite Wisdom getting the lead and taking them all the way around. Hoping for 9/2 or better.

Good luck at the races!



The Malibu

When I think Malibu, I immediately go to “The Big Lebowski.” STAY OUT OF MALIBU, LEBOWSKI! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have a movie to add to your watchlist immediately. If only for the quotes,

The GI Malibu is the final graded stakes for 3YO. It’s the final race that is restricted to foals of 2014. It’s sort of like prom, or maybe a reunion. In an open year, it can be pivotal to settling arguments, such as who is the best 3YO in the country.  It is a final grade one for the division — often times used to bolster a HOY or divisional campaign. By this time, everybody has been facing older for months, but this is one last time for kicks.

Notice the distance — it’s at 7 furlongs — hard to sprinters, hard for milers and longer. Both types of horses win this race — the classy ones can usually handle the drop down in distance from other graded stakes. The less classy ones can’t. The same thing with the sprinters, although to a lesser degree — it’s about class, that intangible quality that makes an animal able to compete at high levels and have a knack for winning.

Let’s take a look at the Malibu field with an eye toward class:

City of Light: Sprinter. Has competed at allowance level, losing as the favorite twice. Speed is there, but he might not be ready for these types of horses — class mismatch.

Edwards Going Left: Sprinter: He’s 6 for 9 in his career, and 4 for 6 at Santa Anita. He has won California Stakes and an open N2X. He might just be a daymaker, if he’s gotten used to winning (3 of 4).

Irish Freedom: Router. Baffert. Graded-Stakes placed. Keep an eye on how Prime Attraction runs against Collected. This one doesn’t win all that much.

Favorable Outcome: Sprinter. Chad Brown.Won the Swale, a 7f GII race for young 3YO. He’s got to be on your ticket.

Pavel: Router. Has kept strong company with an aggressive campaign.Not sure about the cutback.

Heartwood: Sprinter; Minor League horse. Making a huge step in class, even though the last win was nice, this needs even bigger. Outclassed.

Dabster: Miler/7fer. Baffert. Inexperienced, part of the reason for the odd designation. Seems over his head right now, but the horse is rolling and has a huge ceiling. Tough call.

C Z Rocket: Sprinter/Router/Winner. 3 nice winsm inlcuding the overnight stake like non-winners of 3 at Churchill downs, Still, gut say it’s too much, too soon. Horse debuted in September. Tough pass.


Edwards Going Left is the pick in the Malibu. He likes to win on the track and at the distance. And he’s shown some class, willing the Cal-bred staeks and open 1st level and 2nd level allowances.