Friday, February 22, 2013

Let the "Championship Series" Begin


The first ever "Prep Season" which was based on a 10-4-2-1 point scale for the Kentucky Derby is officially in the history books. While there are many horses with points already attached to their names, none of these three-year-olds are a lock for the Derby yet as they might have been in years past. We now turn the page to the first leg of the "Championship Series" where the points jump to 50-20-10-5 and a win in one of these next eight races should all but guarantee a spot in the Derby.

The Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park on Saturday dates back to 1945 and is the stepping stone to the Florida Derby (G1) in March. This is one of the more prominent early Derby preps but you have to go back 13 years to find the last winner (1995 Thunder Gulch) of this race that went on to win the Derby. Before that you have to go all the way back to 1979 and Spectacular Bid.

Violence, winner of the CashCall Futurity (G1) over the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park back in December returns to the dirt for his sophomore debut in the 10-horse FOY field as he looks to remain undefeated for Todd Pletcher. Falling Sky, the winner of Sam F. Davis (G3) is the only other graded stakes winner entered. There are some other promising three-year-olds such as Orb, Majestic Hussar, Elmutahid and Cerro that look to place themselves in the Derby picture if they hit the board on Saturday.

A star looks to rise on Saturday at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star (G2) as 14 horses are scheduled to load the gate in the Bayou. History will not be on the side of the winner that emerges from this full field. Not one horse has gone on to win the Derby after capturing the Risen Star or the Louisiana Derby Trial as it was previously named which was first run in 1973.

Normany Invasion makes his anticipated three-year-old debut in this star-studded field after an impressive closing run in the Remsen (G2) where he missed out by a nose. Oxbow will be the one to run down after running away with the LeComte (G3) over this track just last month by an astounding 11 3/4 lengths. Bob Baffert ships in Code West from California while Todd Pletcher is represented by Palace Malace and Steve Asmussen has recent maiden winner Proud Strike.

With fewer races to run in under the new points system the fields will likely be larger from here on out. This weekend is going to separate the contenders from the pretenders and there will be some talented horses exiting with little to no points. Saturday can't come soon enough as we get closer and closer to that first Saturday in May.

Fountain of Youth (G2)
2/23 Gulfstream Park 5:35 EST
Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/16m

3 Violence 9-5
Undefeated, Grade 1 and Grade 2 winner will be tough to beat here as the Risen Star looks to be the tougher field of the two races this weekend. 

4 Majestic Hussar 6-1
Coming off a 104 BRIS Speed rating over this track in an allowance optional claimer last out tries two turns for the first time. Look for him to hit the board and could upset Violence if he handles the distance.

10 Falling Sky 6-1
If he shows better form coming down the stretch than last race he should be there at the end. 

5 Elmutahid 20-1
Recent maiden winner for Kiaran McLaughlin over this track in his first start on dirt will be interesting to watch as he makes a huge jump in class here. Could be a sleeper in the field. 

Ex/Tri Bx: 3,4,10,6

Risen Star (G2)
2/23 Fair Grounds 5:57 EST
Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/16m

10 Oxbow 5-1
D. Wayne Lukas has this colt peaking at the right time. If he improves off his romp in the LeComte then he will be very tough to run down. This son of Awesome Again has the pedigree to run all day and is Lucas' best chance to return to the Derby this year (unless Titletown Five gets going here soon). 

9 Normandy Invasion 5-2
Fair Grounds is historically not kind to closers. Will be closing late, but a 1/16 of a mile shorter than the Remsen certainly will not help this Chad Brown colt's chances in running down Oxbow. 

2 Code West 6-1
Ran second to the impressive Super Ninety Nine last out in an optional claimer and is one of many talented up-and-coming three-year-olds entered. Bob Baffert will have the son of Lemon Drop Kid ready to try and pull off the upset. 

1 Proud Strike 8-1
Impressive 7 1/2-length maiden winner over this track at the distance last month could pull off the upset if he handles the large jump in class here. 

6 Palace Malace 6-1
Don't usually like putting five horses up here but with a full field and track likely to come up wet it's tough not to include him as he is the only one to run over a sloppy track.

Ex/Tri Bx: 10,9,2,1,6

Friday, February 1, 2013

February Racing

Well, the Holy Bull (G3) certainly didn't live up to the pre-race hype. Many were touting the race as the best prep of the season but as it turned out, all but two of the three-year-olds in the race were overhyped. My Winter Book pick (Bern Identity) was within striking distance coming around the far turn but Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby showed that it should have just been a match race between the two. They both pulled away at the top of the stretch and absolutely destroyed the field as the third-place finisher was 11 3/4 lengths back. It's now back to the drawing board for me and many others (Frac Daddy and Dewey Square were big disappointments as well) as we scramble to find another three-year-old to follow these last three months on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby".

February kicks off an exciting weekend for the Derby hopefuls. There are three Derby prep races spread out across the country as well as the Hutcheson (G2) and an allowance at Gulfstream Park which includes some talented maiden winners who hope to load the gate in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at the end of this month. After this weekend we are left with only two races in the "Prep Season" before the point values jump and we move into the "Championship Series" where things really start to tighten up.

Withers (G3)
2/2 Aqueduct (Inner Dirt) 4:18 EST
Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/16m

2 Revolutionary 3-5
Stakes debut for the highly touted three-year-old out of Pletcher's stable. Took him four tries to break his maiden but when he finally did he posted a 103 BRIS Speed rating while running away by 8 1/2 lengths over the inner dirt here at Aqueduct. Not going to get much value with him here but he is the one to beat  and should find himself on the points standings list after Saturday. 

5 Siete de Oros 8-1
Pennsylvania bred is exiting a head second in the Jerome (G2) over the inner dirt at Aqueduct. Likes to come from off the pace and will try to run down the favorite. 

1/1A Long River/Valid 7-2
Long River broke his maiden over this track in December and is entering off a fourth-place finish in the Jerome. Valid makes only his third career start and is exiting a maiden win at Laurel. These two will likely be fighting to finish in the money behind Revolutionary. 

*If the track comes up muddy include #7 Smooth Bert in your exotics as his only two wins come over muddy tracks...

EX/TRI BX: 2,5,1/1A

Sam F. Davis (G3)
2/2 Tampa Bay Downs 5:23 EST
Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/16m

1/1A Northern Lion/Dynamic Sky 9-5
Northern Lion is a recent 5 3/4-length maiden winner for Mark Casse. Would have liked to see the son of Lion Heart not be entered as coupled entry to get a better value. Dynamic Sky followed up a disappointing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with a win in the Pasco Stakes over this track just a few weeks ago. Getting two-for-one here is tough not to back. 

9 Midnight Pappa 10-1
Zito looks to join the Derby Trail with his recent maiden winner over this track. Had to drop him down to a 20k maiden race to do so, but was also coming off a three-month layoff. Posted sharp workouts leading up to the race and could be the sleeper in here. 

EX BX: 1,9

Robert B Lewis (G2)
2/2 Santa Anita 5:03 EST
Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/16m

4 He's Had Enough 
A disappointing fifth in the CashCall Futurity (G1) last out returns to dirt for only the second time. His first start over dirt resulted in a head second to the two-year-old Champ Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Look for him to bounce back here with a win and add to his point total. 

2 Flashback
Stakes debut for another highly touted three-year-old except this one comes from Baffert's stable. Son of Tapit has some competition in this tiny field of four and will likely be the heavy favorite. 

3 Den's Legacy
A third-place finish in the CashCall Futurity and runner-up in the Sham (G3) his last two times out. Likes to come from off the pace and is a legitimate contender that could pull off the upset. 

1 Little Jerry
First start on dirt but this son of Candy Ride is out of his league here and won't be a factor. 

EX/TRI BX: 4,2,3

-At Gulfstream Park look for Forty Tails and Merit Man to battle it out in the 7f Hutcheson (G2). In the allowance race keep an eye on Gunderman and recent maiden winners Verrazano and Eton Blue.

*Itsmyluckyday stole the show in the Holy Bull and is now atop many people's Derby lists. Shanghai Bobby was a close second while the other contenders failed to show up.