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 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.

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.


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.

Remsen Stakes (GII)

A 2YO battle at 9 furlongs on Aqueduct’s Outer Track leads the Kentucky Derby trail this week. It’s a great day of racing at the Big A, including the Cigar Mile, so be sure to check out the card. This especially includes the late Pick 4, which adds the Demoiselle, a 9-furlong battle for 2YO fillies and a turf maiden sprint for 2YO fillies. There should be some good action on the Pick 4 — let’s take a look at the Remsen, the featured event for aspiring 2YO’s.

This is a nice field with several horses we will hear from next year — whether turf or dirt. Triple Dog Dare has run well at a route and should appreciate the strechout. There is one catch — he’s still a maiden. Honestly, that doesn’t matter that much at this stage and it should raise his value as the public thinks differently. Avery Island won the G2 Nashua, but in a relatively slow time. I do need to say I think Joe Bravo is overated. He’s actually a minus factor for me in evaluating a horse. Joe Bravo rides Avery Island today.

Biblical cost $800K for the China Horse Club, who is a growing force in top-level American racing. So far, he’s not fast enough and he’s already run at the distance. I’d pass today, but he could develop into a monster in time. Catholic Boy is fascinating. Running 4th in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, he’s never run on dirt. He’s likely a bit better on turf than dirt, but everybody has to take their “run my good turf horse on dirt just to see if he’s a Derby horse.” While they sometimes win, I tend to pass on them.

Alkhaatam is another who is still a maiden. But he ran fast in his maiden race and should appreciate the extra distance. Vouch won huge in a maiden at Laurel. I’d pass — the class jump usually gets horses shipping from the mid-Atlantic (PARX, Delaware, Laurel/Pimlico). VIP Code — see above. Yes, he ran fell on turf in the Awad, but this dirt makes him 5 lengths slower.

A few horses I didn’t mention, but remember there still young and can develop quickly, so if you feel a longshot, especially in appearance this is a race to go for it.

I like Triple Dog Dare. He won’t be 6/1, but I don’t think he’ll be 9/5, either. Play him at 5/2, but look for value in other pools, both horizontal and vertical. It should be a solid P4, with 4 good races.

Good luck at the races today!


Desi Arnaz Stakes

Today, we’re going to look at the Desi Arnaz Stakes, a 7-furlong sprint for 2YO fillies from Del Mar. Like last week’s feature race (Bob Hope), it’s the 5th race on the card — pivotal to ending the P5 (for those who play, you don’t need to use the information here). 2YO don’t neccesarily have the same traits are their older sisters — they tend to more reliable and more able to make surface switches. With that in mind, let’s look at the 6 entrants in field


  1. Steph Being Steph — son of Majestic Warrior is likely reference to Steph Curry. She has some very nice races –coming off the pace in her maiden and a held at bay while second in a prior stakes race. But altogether this horse seems a notch below this level right now.
  2. Ms Bad Behavior: Baltas, who is sending us fit horses, sends out a very fast maiden winner. This is 4th start — conditions could be much better than these animals to repeat his speed figure.
  3. Midnight Bisou: William Spawr is a great trainer, especially of fillies and mares The sample size is small for 2YO’s. Ran fast first time out, even although still a maiden.Wish this were here 3rd race in the cycle. Still, One to watch the price.
  4. Smiling Tigress: Too slow and doesn’t have an early speed advantage. No reason to bet this horse.
  5. Secret Spice: A strong maiden win but much slower in a sprint stakes. Has ben running, but too slow to win here.
  6. Dream Tree: Bob Baffert $750K purchase this past March. Won on debut with impressive numbers.


While it’s hard not to be swayed by a Baffert, I’d rather get the condition of Ms Bad Behavior in this race. So, it’s Ms Bad Behavior as the pick.

The Sleepy Hollow $250K

We are back to routing this week as a large field of eleven goes forward in the Sleepy Hollow Stakes, a 1-mile NY-bred stakes for $250K. 1 mile on the main track at Belmont is a one-turn race. Every year, there are NY-breds in the Kentucky Derby and many more on the Derby trail.  Let’s take a look at the field:

  1. Stoney Bennett: He had a very strong maiden win at 6f, taking command at the start and he’s the fastest in the field. He is trained by Ollie Figgins and is stabled down in Laurel. It is difficult to go from a maiden to stake. One to watch, but that’s about it.
  2. Battle Station: Two nice wins, including a 9 1/4 length win at 7 furlongs. Trained by Wesley Ward at Keeneland. A serious contender.
  3. Big Gemmy: Middle of the pack in the G3 Iroquois, he may appreciate the drop in turns and distance. Another contender, if he runs back to his maiden, which is very possible with the drop. Gets a second go at the longer distance, something no one else has. THE PICK.
  4. Engineers Report: A slow maiden winner and in the slop at that. Cut him from top spot consideration.
  5. Mr. Pete: Stakes winner at the Finger Lakes (never impresses me). Overall, a bit slow, even though he brings experience. Underneath players may want to take a deeper look.
  6. Bourbonfuhrme:  A turf maiden winner — he seems terribly overmatched, even if he takes to the surface.
  7. Inalienable Rights: A poor showing as the favorite last time out as he was whooped by Battle Station. Still, he has 2 good showings and, if you’re willing to throw out the last, there’s your value. Blinkers on, which hasn’t been exactly a strong move for his trainer, Mark Henning.
  8. We Should Talk: Another fast maiden winner — coming from off the pace — and Sagamore and DePaz have been successful. Almost everything that applies to Stoney Bennett applies here, but the rating of the horse bumps this guy up a decent amount.
  9. Lover’s Leap: Broke his maiden at Finger Lakes and was competitive in stakes there. Irad Ortiz catches the eye on a horse with 4 sprints that now stretches out. But, he’d likely have to improve significantly to bring about a win.
  10. Analyze the Odds: Another first stretchout on dirt (Only Big Gemmy has a dirt router) in the field.Some competitive runs at Saratoga and a Finger Lakes win. Will need to really enjoy the extra ground to be there at the finish.
  11. Evaluator: The best turf horse in the field. A strong maiden win and then unimpressive runs in two G3 turf sakes. Likely in shape, but he’ll have to take to the dirt.

The Pick:  BIG GEMMY (8-1)

Image: Daniel Mennerich, 2011

The Risen Star

The first Kentucky Derby qualifying race this weekend is the Fountain of Youth and the 50-20-10-5 Point Values. I wrote about it earlier today.

The second Kentucky Derby qualifying race is a bit later this afternoon at the Fairgrounds with the Risen Star. Two defectors from the postponed Southwest with JS Bach (update: scratched) and War Story. It makes perfect sense to run here, unless you had shown clear favoritism for the Oaklawn surface. These two are now chasing many more points; not only to the winner, but also for the top 4.  Both of those two are reasonable contenders in a relatively open race. Imperia relished the dirt last out, but would need to be a top form to capture this one. He very well may need a race.

Also, in the Kentucky Jockey Club Gold Cup, was International Star, who won the Lecomte over this track. He fits on speed as a reasonable contender, although I have a hunch we’ve seen the best that this horse can accomplish. That could be enough to win today, although likely not with improvements probable. Instead, I much prefer Tiznow RJ, who ran much better than I thought he would in the Lecomte. With the seasoning under him, he seems primed for a huge effort today Bluff was an impressive maiden winner, but hasn’t shown the speed needed to win this race.

As for the re-drawn and rescheduled Southwest Stakes from Oaklawn, the addition of Hillbilly Royalty is fascinating. He was super sharp earning a 93 Beyer in an allowance here two weeks ago. It’s a fast turn around, but he seems sharp and reschedule/ defections make this race very winning. He also likes to reward his believers as he already has two double-digit odds wins to his resume as well, winning on debut at 14-1 and in an allowance at 13-1. He’ll be a good deal lower that that on Sunday, but could still be a reasonable 4/1.

The Southwest Stakes (GIII)

Update: The race was postponed due to inclement weather. It was redrawn, with some defections and an addition, and will be run on Sunday, Feb. 22. Here’s my amended analysis, also found here:

[The addition of Hillbilly Royalty is fascinating. He was super sharp earning a 93 Beyer in an allowance here two weeks ago. It’s a fast turn around, but he seems sharp and reschedule/ defections make this race very winning. He also likes to reward his believers as he already has two double-digit odds wins to his resume as well, winning on debut at 14-1 and in an allowance at 13-1. He’ll be a good deal lower that that on Sunday, but could still be a reasonable 4/1.]

Here’s the original article: 

One of my favorite 3-day weekends of the year with President’s Day, particularly because of the annual Southwest Stakes from Oaklawn. Many eyes toward Louisville in May with 10 Kentucky Derby points going to the winner (10-4-2-1). Several in the race already have Kentucky Derby points in part because of the Smarty Jones Stakes, won by Far Right.

Far Right returns as the 3-1 M/L favorite in the Southwest.  He proved himself better than Bayerd and Private Prospect last time out. That said, there are reasons to be hesitant about him. I’m not sure he’ll love the extra half furlong and Ron Moquett — an otherwise very good trainer — doesn’t win Graded Stakes. He only cost $2,500 originally, although Robert LaPenta bought a 1/3 share in him after the Delta Jackpot. Far Right could be a horse of a different quality, but I’d rather see that first before taking action, especially on a likely favorite.

Mr. Z. was clear and going home but then was all over the place in the stretch. Given that he’s experienced, I’ll take it as tiring very badly; Jon Court seemed to go to the whip a bit early (although it is a notoriously short stretch in the 8f route at Oaklawn.) Even though the addition of Nakatani is notable, I still don’t like him today. He has all the signs of a horse that’s already peaked.

War Story is interesting, but Amoss horses typically show who they are pretty quickly. He could be fast enough to get it done here today, especially if he takes to the surface. A blistering workout on the 11th is encouraging, but the 11 post is going to be a challenge. It’s a close enough race that post could make a difference.

You’ll hear a bunch about the Todd Pletcher-trained, Donald Dizney-homebred JS Bach coming out of a dominant maiden score at Gulfstream. I typically don’t like the maiden to Graded Stakes move for inexperienced horses, but understand the motivations for it. On the contrary, I don’t mind the maiden to Graded Stakes move as much in the case of Kantune, who already has 7 starts under his belt. He really took the Oaklawn surface — both in the morning and afternoon — after struggling in California. He’ll go the same distance over the same track as his lifetime best today. He’s 15-1 on the morning line and is fast enough to get it done.

Kentucky Derby points start to rise with the Risen Star from the Fairground next week. Be sure to check the Kentucky Derby Trail page for replays and more. 

Image: I-5 Design and Manufacture, Copyright 2009.

The Lecomte Stakes (GIII)

Two stops on the Kentucky Derby trail this weekend, with the Lecomte Stakes on Saturday from Fairgrounds and the Smarty Jones on Monday from Oaklawn. Here’s the preview for the Lecomte, which brings a deep and relatively even group of 3YO to contest 8.3 furlongs at the Fairgrounds. I think this is the first stop at the Fairgrounds — offering great New Orleans racing — since the launch of this site in May. Great winter track, with a long stretch, and a very strong maiden program.

One standout in the group — Eagle who will be my recommended selection for Neil Howard and W.S. Farish. Eagle currently has 2 Kentucky Derby points, based on a 3rd place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club, The only other in the field with any is International Star, with 1 point with his 4th place finish in the same race.

As with most early prep races, the race typically tells us more after the race as almost all contenders are facing new challenges. Neither International Star nor Eagle rated highly for me in the Kentucky Jockey Club. I thought International Star has potential, if he liked the dirt, which he seemed to. Eagle, as is not uncommon for high-class 3YO, moved forward in that race to stamp himself a possible future contender.

Here’s some thoughts on the field:

International Star:  Return to Churchill for dirt worked well. Needs to move forward yet again, not impossible but not something that I like to be on. The Ramseys will be trying everything to get anything to the Derby, regardless of competitiveness (see We Miss Artie) and points are available for the taking here. 

Tiznow R J: If  It’s perfectly okay to take a shot at a G3 right now if you break your maiden at today’s distance on today’s track k by 13 1/4 lengths. Derby fever? Maybe, but I support the placement, even if this would be a stretch. Asmussen trains. 

Four Leaf Chief: A Louisiana-bred that lost in an open company allowance here last month. That’s all you really need to know.

War Story: 2 for 2. Loooch racing for Amoss. Has some positive factors, but needs another move forward with distance, and I’m not sure he’ll get it. 

Hero of Humor & Dekabrist & Killingit: Just not qualified for this level.

Savoy Stomp: He won on debut for Pletcher, but hasn’t taken step forward. Ran into a buzzsaw for the track/distance at Gulfstream in Bluegrass Singer last out. You also can throw out the muddy try in the Nashua. May move forward, although the winner’s circle seems a stretch today. Exotics players may want to consider him underneath. 

Runhappy: Nice maiden win at Turfway. Obvious huge step up — I’d rather see an allowance try on track first. Seems unlikely here today.

Another Lemon Drop: Nice horse, but may have moved up because of the slop. Ran behind Dortmund, but didn’t make much of an impression that day.  

Eagle: Big move forward last time for this Neil Howard trained and W.S. Farish bred and owned. He won a Keeneland allowance — impressive now with the return to on the dirt. This is certainly his chance to join the Derby trail in earnest with a win. Plus, there’s lots to like. He’s been working well over the track and he’s already made the move forward into the 90 Beyer range. Eagle has 2 points already, will have 12 with win. Not enough to qualify, but a big win here may stamp him as a contender to watch.

Given the field, I think Eagle’s a fair play at 2-1. 

Good luck! 

Read about the other races on the Trail here.

Image: Wally Gobeth, Copyright 2008.