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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Thoughts, observations, & notes.


  • Churchill Downs starts it's meet on Saturday night, and it features the Grade III Derby Trial Stakes. 11 races carded, average field size 8.1. That's pretty good, but I have to question something. The first 3 races have a combined total of 17 horses entered. That drags the average field size down. Let's say the first 3 races are scrapped. Average field size would now be 9. With all 11 races, the card ends at 11:10 PM Eastern. If the first 3 races were removed, the card would end about an hour earlier. On-track fans may not be able to stay until 11, but 10 seems more reasonable. Those first 3 races seem very pointless to me. Kentucky is supposed to be home of full fields, why would they card 5 & 6 horse fields when they don't have to?
  • Canada's favorite sprinter, Essence Hit Man, is making his 6 year old debut on Saturday at Woodbine in the $150,000 Jacques Cartier Stakes. After the passing of owner/trainer Audre Cappuccitti last fall, I was curious to know who would takeover training her stable. The Hit Man's new trainer is Sylvain Pion. I'd like to tell you who that is and give you some info on him, but I have no clue who he is. You can check out his career stats here. Go Hit Man Go!
  • The Ontario Racing Commission released the 2013 Ontario Racing Program Criteria this week. It divides racing for all 3 breeds into Premier, Signature, and Grassroots levels, and shows what the purse structure will look like. Basically, everything but Woodbine Thoroughbreds will be taking a purse cut this year. No great surprises there. 
  • Racing returns to Belmont on Friday. I'm not a big follower of New York racing, but, unlike Aqueduct, I enjoy watching the races from Belmont. I won't miss being stuck watching the Big A at all. 
  • With the Sunland meet finished, I've been watching the races from SunRay Park just to keep up with what's going on in New Mexico while I wait for Ruidoso to start. What an odd track. It was built as a racino, it gets no handle, and it's the exception to the rule that B-tracks will get better handles on a Monday or Tuesday than on the weekend. On Tuesday, they handled $112,950. On Sunday, they handled $130,885. There also seems to be a $50 or more winner almost every day. Weird little place.
  • Remington has a great card of racing on Saturday night. There are 2 Grade I races for Paints, the $42,000 PSBA American Paint Derby and the $89,000 PSBA American Paint Classic Futurity. Whether you're a Quarter Horse fan or not, it's a terrific wagering card, with an average field size of 9.9.
  • Has anyone been following Thistledown? They've got big fields and much better quality racing now that they've got slots. Oh, wait. No one outside of Ohio can watch or wager on Thistle because the Ohio HBPA have blocked the signal from going out of state because they don't have a revenue deal. They're still getting 9% of the slots money, which has already done wonders, but they've decided to shoot themselves in the foot but blocking all the wagering money. I understand that the horsemen want and deserve a fair deal when it comes to slots funding, but punishing the bettors who have been supporting your product for years, the people who were your only source of purse money before, doesn't seem like a good idea at all to me. 
Have a good week everybody, and good luck.

Monday, 22 April 2013

My Kentucky Derby List

I've followed the Kentucky Derby preps since the 2 year old preps began, tweeting my thoughts on horses I liked and thoughts on each race. However, I've yet to do a Derby list. Not on Twitter, not on this blog, not anywhere. But it had to happen eventually, every good horse racing blog needs a Derby list. So without further adieu, here are my top 10 horses for the 2013 Kentucky Derby.

#1. Orb
A bit predictable, but a deserving top choice. This talented Malibu Moon colt has improved leaps and bounds in his last few starts. After fairly easy wins in an Aqueduct Maiden Special Weight and a first-level Allowance at Gulfstream, Orb was given a chance to take on the big boys in the Fountain of Youth. He closed down the stretch to beat Violence by a 1/2 length, and scored his first 50 Derby points. I was impressed by that performance, but his Florida Derby win proved how serious this horse is. He won easily, and he only seems to get better with more distance. No doubt in my mind that he'll get 10 furlongs. Hell, I think he can go even further. 

#2. Goldencents
The Santa Anita Derby winner has been my favorite Derby horse for a long time, only because he's out of a Manitoba-bred mare. I wasn't exactly convinced that 10 furlongs would be his game, and to be honest I'm still not 100% about it. But the one thing he showed in the Santa Anita Derby: serious class. He went wide, continuously tried to pass Super Ninety Nine, failed a few times, but refused to give up and eventually prevailed. That's a horse with heart, and that's why he's a major factor.

#3. Revolutionary
While Todd Pletcher's Triple Crown record is atrocious, especially considering what a massive corporate stable he runs, this horse has guts. In the Louisiana Derby, he was far back early, rallied 5 wide on the far turn, caught traffic down the long Fair Grounds stretch, but still got up for the win over Mylute. One thing closers should expect in a 20 horse field is traffic. This guys got experience with traffic. Having Calvin Borel in the saddle doesn't hurt, either. 

#4. Govenor Charlie
What's one thing this horse did that none of the others have done? Broke a track record. Although the track was lightning fast that day and 2 other records were broken, Govenor Charlie did win the Sunland Derby in a very quick 1.47.54. Although he didn't beat much that day, he's dangerous as a pace setter. He was up with the leaders going some fast fractions, and he was still driving at the end. The major question mark with this guy is how good is he really, as he hasn't had much of a class test yet. 

#5. Normandy Invasion
This is a horse that has been screaming out for that 10 furlong distance. Had the Wood Memorial been 10 furlongs, or even 1 3/16 miles, I can say with great confidence that he would have been the winner. This is the horse I think is best suited to 1 1/4 miles. I just prefer horses that are winning over horses that are coming close.

#6. Departing
I was very impressed with this horses run in the Illinois Derby. Although he didn't earn any points to the Kentcucky Derby for that win, he should end up with enough to qualify after certain horses like Uncaptured and Super Ninety Nine are eliminated. He's keeps improving with every start in my opinion. 

#7. Verrazano
The likely favorite in the wagering on Derby Day is the most overrated one of the bunch. Yes, he's undefeated, and yes he's shown some versatility, but I wasn't overly impressed by the Wood Memorial win and I don't think 10 furlongs is his game. He still has to be respected, though.

#8. Will Take Charge
This guy is kind of like a less classy version of Revolutionary to me. In the Rebel at Oaklawn, he got some traffic problems on the backside and went wide around the turn, but still managed to grab the win as a 28-1 upset. We've never seen him a 9 furlongs, let alone 10, which is a question mark, and he didn't compete in any of the major preps.

#9. Overanalyze
Arkansas Derby winner should probably be given a higher spot, but I noticed looking through his races that he seems to regress a bit after he wins. Coincidence? Maybe, but a bouncer is a bouncer, and the Kentucky Derby is not the place you want to bounce.

#10. Itsmyluckyday
Finally, Holy Bull winner was perhaps a bit disappointing in the Florida Derby, but I (along with several others) feel it was a bit of a bounce effort. I still believe Orb is the superior horse, especially going a 10 furlong distance, but there's no reason to disregard this guy, he's still very talented.

So there you have it, the 10 horses I like the best in the Kentucky Derby. Only 12 days left until the first Saturday in May!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Weekend Recap

Woodbine meet kicks off
Thoroughbred action returned to Ontario on Saturday with the 1st day of the Woodbine meet. Opening day was a success, with a large crowd on track, an average field size of 7.9, and a total handle of $3,380,720. Saturday's feature race was the $150,000 Star Shoot Stakes, a 6 furlong sprint for 3 year old fillies. The race was won by Sam Di Pasquale-trainee Rootham Triple E's ($20.10), an Ontario Sired filly owned by Murray Stroud. Justin Stein was the winning jockey. Sunday's card featured the $150,000 Woodstock Stakes, the boys version of the Star Shoot. Dan the Tin Man ($13.60) and jockey Patrick Husbands came out victorious for trainer Ricky Griffith and owner Debmar Stables. The 133-day meet will continue until December 15th. Racing will be held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, with Wednesday night cards starting on June 5th.

Charles Town & other T-Bred Stakes
Game On Dude wins the Charles Town Classic
I stayed up on Saturday to watch the Charles Town Classic. I wasn't watching for Game On Dude, I was cheering for Caixa Eletronica. Needless to say I was disappointed, Caixa had nothing to offer. Game On Dude got a great trip and won. However, I don't think he ran the best in the field. I was impressed by Ron the Greek, he got a rough break and was last early, rallied very well and finished 3rd. He was beaten a nose for 2nd by Clubhouse Ride, and the two of them were only a 1/2 length from Game On Dude, who was really saved by the wire. Mike Smith said after the race that GoD 'hated the track.'
     The Illinois Derby at Hawthorne was run this weekend. Back when the Kentucky Derby points system was announced last year there was a bit of an uproar when people saw that the Illinois Derby wasn't included. It seems like most people forgot about that yesterday, but whatever. Departing was a very easy winner. He's actually tied for 20th with a few others in the Kentucky Derby points standings, so there's a possibility he could go be going to Churchill. I haven't heard what the plans for him are.
      The other big Thoroughbred Stakes race I tuned in for was the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita on Sunday afternoon. I love marathon racing, so 1 3/4 miles on the downhill turf was a must watch for me. Bettors made Sky Kingdom the favorite after his win in the Tokyo City going 1 1/2 miles on the dirt. I kind of understood why he was the favorite, he was impressive last time, but he was way overbet for a horse who never touched turf before. He ended up last. Not good for Bob Baffert, who's very cold in SoCal right now. Argentina-bred Interaction won the race by a nose over All Squared Away. It's never surprising to see a South American horse win a marathon race.

Remington & Houston Quarter Horse Stakes
There were a bunch of big races for Quarter Horses on Saturday night. Remington's card held 5 Stakes events, most notably the $253,000 Remington Park Derby and the $720,000 Remington Park Futurity, both for Oklahoma-breds. In the Derby, heavy favorite Brace for Bernal broke from post 1 and wasn't the quickest away, but rallied strongly to win by a length under jockey Paul Nieto. I was very impressed by the performance, and the final time was strong as well, 400 yards in 19.602. The Futurity turned into a two-horse race between heavily favored Coronado Cartel and longshot Houdini. The two dueled all the way down the stretch with Coronado Cartel prevailing by a nose in one of the tightest photo's I've seen in a while.  To point out how close it was, Coronado Cartel's final time for the 330 yards was 16.755, Houdini's was 17.760. The difference was 0.005 seconds. Jimmy Brooks rode Coronado Cartel for trainer Eddie Willis and owner Reliance Ranches LLC.
      Sam Houston held a pair of Stakes events as well, the Red Cell Texas Distance Challenge and the Grade I Bank of America Texas Challenge Championship. Heavy-favorite Kite Flyer broke quickly, dueled with Dashers Midnight down the stretch, and prevailed to win the 870 yard event by a length in a time of 46.500. A couple races later, in the Bank of America Texas Challenge Championship, defending champion Kool Country Man broke alertly and crushed the field by 1 1/2 lengths, covering the 440 yards in 21.756. I'm going to follow him throughout the rest of the year, because if he keeps running as well as he did, he'll be tough in the Challenge Championship at Los Alamitos in November.

My Sunland Record
So, with the Sunland meet done, here's a quick look at my record at the meet. Of the 540 races I handicapped on this blog, I picked 129 winners, hitting at 24%. Had you bet $2 to win on every horse I picked throughout the meet, you'd have ended $146 poorer. I'm satisfied with my handicapping seeing as I've never handicapped Sunland before. My best division was the Thoroughbred 2 year olds foaled in 2011. There were 9 2 year old Thoroughbred races in the Spring part of the meet. I picked 5 of the winners, and no horse I picked to win finished worse than 2nd. Had you bet $2 to win on every 2 year old Thoroughbred I picked in the Spring you'd have profited $31.80. That's a pretty good stat for my handicapping. If you haven't noticed, I'll be blogging my Woodbine selections on here until the Ruidoso meet starts on May 25th.

Have a good week, and good luck.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Sunland Meet Coming to a Close

Sunland Park's 2012-2013 meet is in the final yards, with 4 cards of racing left on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. Throughout the meet, we've seen some incredibly talented horses of both breeds, and we still have 9 Stakes events left in the last few days.
     Friday's card is a decent card, no Stakes events, but a couple of Allowance events for Thoroughbreds and a 2 year old Maiden for Quarter Horses highlight things. There's an average field size of 9.9 and some terrific betting races so be sure to play.
     Things get very exciting on Saturday, with 4 Stakes events carded. The Sunburst Stakes is an $85,000 race for State-bred 3 year old Quarter Horse fillies, which features Sandys Jesse, who won the RGII NMHBA Stakes 2 back. Right after the Sunburst is the West Texas Juvenile Stakes, for 2 year olds who competed in the trials for the West Texas Futurity but did not qualify for the final. The Morning Line sees this as a fairly competitive race, the favorite being All About Tonight at 7/2, a trial winner who was 0.031 seconds short of making the final. Later on the card are the first 2 Stakes races of 2013 for 2 year old Thoroughbreds, the Copper Top Futurity finals for state-breds. There are 2 divisions, 1 for fillies and 1 for colts and geldings. Prides Cousin, a daughter of Diabolical and a Todd Fincher trainee, highlights the filly division off an easy trial victory. Weeping Aly is the favorite in the boy's division, rebounding to win his trial after finishing 4th in a 2 furlong maiden special weight. All 4 of Saturday's stakes feature full fields of 10, so be sure to get in on the action.
     Sunday's card features two of the meets greatest races. Race 5 on the card is the West Texas Futurity, the first Grade I Futurity of the year and a very important stepping stone to the All American Futurity and the Futurity Triple Crown at Ruidoso this summer. Trainer Roy Marcom, Jr. has 4 of the 10 in the field, including fastest qualifier Dynasty Edition, who won his trial in a wicked 14.887. I'm very excited for this race, it's one of the country's greatest Quarter Horse races and it's always fun to watch these incredible talents start their careers. Later on the card, Race 10 is the Sunland Park Handicap, the best Thoroughbred race of the meet excluding the Sunland Derby and Oaks. Of course, the highlight of the field is the great Forest Mouse, a 5 year old who's won 12 of his 30 lifetime starts with earnings of $449,879. He won the Zia Park Distance Championship in December, then won the Winsham Lad Handicap here at Sunland in a track record 1.39.01 for the 1 mile 70 yards distance. He then shipped up to Santa Anita for the Grade II Arcadia and the Grade I Frank Kilroe Mile. He was 6th and 5th, respectively, in those races, beaten 4 lengths in the Arcadia and only 2 lengths in the Kilroe Mile. He returns to New Mexico ready to romp as the 127lb highweight. His only competition looks like classy veteran Red Lead, who exits back to back victories in the Curribot Stakes and a classy Optional Claimer on Sunland Derby Day. Tizpat, who dead-heated with Red Lead in the Optional Claimer, also appears here. It's a great race, and a terrific way to end the Handicap season at Sunland.
     Tuesday will end the season with a trio of Stakes events, and a mandatory payout in the Solo 6, which should have a carryover of around $2,000 by then after being hit for $18,000 last Sunday. The $50,000 Getaway Stakes is a race for Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds going 870 yards. Then there are 2 Thoroughbred features, the first in the condition book is the $50,000 KHEY Y County Sprint for 3 year olds going 6 furlongs. Highlighting the nominees is Sunland Derby runner-up Show Some Magic. Then, finally there's the Adios Amigos Claiming Handicap, a $12,500 claiming stakes going 1 1/4 miles, the longest race of the meet. Handle is always big on Tuesday's, so I hope to see you all playing.
     I've enjoyed this meet very much, it's been fun to follow and handicap. The New Mexico circuit will move to SunRay Park, with their meet starting on Friday, April 19th. I likely won't be handicapping SunRay as much as I did Sunland, but I will be following the meet and paying attention to the happenings.
     Have a good one, and good luck.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Two Year Old season starts in California

Thursday marks the beginning of Juvenile season in California with a 2 furlong Maiden Special Weight for fillies at Golden Gate Fields. Then on Friday night, Los Alamitos will hold 4 races for Maiden 2 year olds going 300 yards, 2 for fillies and 2 for the boys.
     California is home to some of North America's most prestigious 2 year old races. The most notable for Thoroughbreds is the Grade I, $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park. Some notable winners of the CashCall Futurity, or Hollywood Futurity as it was previously called, include A. P. Indy in 1991 and Lion Heart in 2003. For Quarter Horses, Los Alamitos plays host to a trio of huge Futurities, the Ed Burke Million, the Garden State Million, and the Los Alamitos Two Million. Last year, superstar One Dashing Eagle won the Ed Burke and the Garden State before shipping to Ruidoso Downs to win the All American Futurity. He earned over $2 million, winning 6 of his 7 starts before being retired to stud.
     In the Golden Gate MSW, I like La Tonga, who's flashed some quick 1/4 mile gate drills at Santa Anita and gets Russel Baze riding. She's by Brave Cat, a new sire who's a son of Lion Heart. I'm a fan of almost anything with Lion Heart blood. At Los Al, a few to watch for are Shake Djibouti and Cartel Fantasy in Race 2, Jess Bring It and Barefoot Bluejean in Race 4, Miss Paddy in Race 6, and Micato in Race 7. All of them are well bred runners with some nice works.
     Juvenile's are always fun to follow. It's nice to see some young horses begin their careers, and then watch them develop. For all we know, we may end up watching a future Grade I winners this week.

Some other notes
In other 2 year old news, Sunland will be hosting the 1st 2 year old Thoroughbred stakes races of the year on Saturday, with the Copper Top Futurity. There are 2 divisions of the state-bred race, the $88,389 Filly division and the $95,125 colts and geldings division. Several of these horses will end up running in the Mountain Top Futurity at Ruidoso this summer, a big race for the NM breds.

Lot's of good racing at Keeneland this weekend. Wise Dan is making his 2013 debut on Friday in the Maker's 46 Mile. Then Saturday is Blue Grass day, where Mark Casse is making a last chance attempt at making the Kentucky Derby with Dynamic Sky and Uncaptured. There's an all-stakes Pick 4 on Saturday starting with the Shakertown and ending with the Blue Grass. I probably won't be playing it, but it will be a huge pool.

Lone Star and Hastings both start up this week, Lone Star on Thursday and Hastings on Friday. Lone Star has completely resurfaced their main track after a very notable bias during the Quarter Horse meet last year, so it will be interesting to see how the track plays. Hastings is getting ready to roll after a very successful 2012. They had a big boost in handle, a lot of which was due to lowered takeout on their Pick 3s, Pick 4s, and Pick 5s to 15%. Both are tracks I enjoy and hope you all take some time to play.

Have a good one, and good luck.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Weekend Recap

It's Monday, and since nothing interesting happens on Monday, let's recap the happenings in racing on the weekend.

Verrazano and Goldencents, Derby preps
Verrazano won the Wood Memorial, Goldencents won the Santa Anita Derby. We all know that. Verrazano was impressive again, but not nearly as impressive as he had been. I don't really know how much he was asked, but had that race been 9.5 or 10 furlongs, Normandy Invasion. There were some debates yesterday on Twitter about  which one was the better horse. My 2 cents: Verrazno is an overall more talented horse, but in a 10 furlong or longer race, Normandy Invasion would win.
     I was very happy that Goldencents rebounded and won the Santa Anita Derby. He pressed on the outside, but was more relaxed this time and it worked out. I'm cheering for him in the Kentucky Derby, he's out of a Manitoba-bred mare. My dad also trained his great-grandmother on the dam's side for her last start or 2 at Hawthorne in the 80's, so I kinda have a connection. To me, he looked like he could do 10 furlongs, but it will depend on how much other speed he'll have to deal with and what post he gets.

Sunland Stakes races; Moonifisant looks like a freak
Sunland held two Stakes races for Quarter Horses on Sunday, the Grade 2 Bank of America New Mexico Challenge Championship and the Restricted Grade 2 New Mexican Spring Futurity. Jess Featureme Quick was the 3/5 favorite, but finished a clear 2nd behind Feature Mr Who. The two had competed in the same trial, with Jess Featureme Quick winning and Feature Mr Who finishing 2nd. Feature Mr Who came from post 1 yesterday, a gate that does extremely well in the 440 yard distance. May that have helped? I don't know, maybe.
     But the real highlight was the Spring Futurity. After winning his trial by 3 lengths in the fastest qualifying time of 15.007, Moonifisant remained undefeated, holding off Threedeewoodee by a 1/2 length. The crazy part was his final time: 300 yards in 14.706. Incredibly fast for a 2 year old. The track record at Sunland is 14.594, so Moonifisant was 0.112 seconds short of the track record. I think he'll be a freak, he looked incredible to me. I assume he'll either be going for the Ruidoso Derby next, or possibly hold off for the Zia Derby and continue to race against NM breds. I'm also interested to see how fast they go in the Grade 1 West Texas Futurity on Sunday. Dynasty Edition is the fastest qualifier to that, winning his trial in 14.887.

Ajax Downs gets 30 days
Quarter Horse racing in Ontario can breathe a sigh of relief. It was announced on Friday that Ajax Downs had made a transitional funding deal and will race 30 days this year. 10 less that last year, but it's better than nothing. Brian Bell, a top jockey at Ajax, told me a couple weeks ago that Ajax has enough money in their purse account to race for 3 more years. Hopefully the track will start working to grow handle, as it's pretty terrible now. We still don't know how many Quarter Horse dates Fort Erie will race.

HANA releases 2013 Track Rankings
The Horseplayer's Association of North America released their 2013 Track Rankings list. Of the 67 tracks ranked, 2 things remained the same: Keeneland was ranked #1 (for the 5th year in a row) and one of my favorite tracks, Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, was ranked last. Some other interesting ones, Sam Houston is ranked 6th, Fort Erie was ranked 2nd last, and Saratoga was 9th. I'm surprised Saratoga isn't a bit higher, it's outranked by Tampa, Houston, and Hawthorne, none of which are tracks you would guess would be higher than the Spa. Aqueduct is, not surprisingly, the lowest ranked of the 3 NYRA tracks, placed 17th. HANA will have the full chart of takeout rates up on their website this week.