Saturday, April 14, 2012

Arkansas Derby Racing Roundup

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has never won the prestigious Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park. But today he’ll have two chances to win the $1 million graded stakes race when he sends Bodemeister, the 9-5 morning line favorite, and Secret Circle (5-2) to the starting gate.

Of the two, Bodemeister appears to be more likely to win the 76th running of prestigious race and with only $60,000 in graded stakes earnings he’ll need to win in order to secure a berth in the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby.

Since his maiden debut in January, I thought that Bodemeister had the potential to be a classic champion. His Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile, a tool I use to measure classic potential, is a whopping 96.25. The only horse left on the trail with a higher profile is Alpha (97.50).

I like the way Bodemeister, in just his third start, finished a game second to Creative Cause in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park. In that race, Bodemeister showed a lot of talent for such an inexperienced colt and was only beaten by three-quarters of a length by a seasoned colt that has finished in the money of all the big stakes races on the west coast.

If Bodemeister continues to improve and move forward off of that performance in the San Felipe, he can win the Arkansas Derby – his breeding says he can do it.

Only time will tell.

Secret Circle has been a brilliant racer finishing second only once in six starts. But Secret Circle looked like he reached his optimum distance in his last race when he was almost ran down by a fast closing Optimizer in the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park last month.

Eddington, the sire of Secret Circle, won the 9-furlong Calder Derby as a 3-year-old and finished third in the Gotham Stakes (G3), Wood Memorial Stakes (G1), Preakness Stakes (G1) and Travers Stakes (G1).

Dixieland Band, the damsire of Secret Circle, won the 9-furlong Pennsylvania Derby at the age of three and he’s also is the damsire of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

I expect Secret Circle to run another brilliant race today but he may be useful in the bottom of the exotics.

In seven career starts, Isn’t He Clever has only been off the board once and he boasts a 4-2-0 record. His worst performance was a fifth-place finish in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park on February 4. Later that month, He followed that effort with a 1¾-length victory in the Borderland Derby at Sunland Park.

In his last race, Isn’t He Clever narrowly missed winning the Sunland Derby (G3) by three-quarters of a length to a determined Daddy Nose Best. Another big move forward off of his last race and Isn’t He Clever can be competitive in today’s race.

Two long shots I like in this race are Najjaar (15-1) and Optimizer (30-1).

Najjaar also has the breeding to be a classic prospect but so far he has not lived up to his breeding.

Jazil, the sire of Najjaar, won the 2006 Belmont Stakes (G1) and his dam, Better Than Honour, is also the dam of 2007 Belmont winner Rags To Riches.

Darshaan, the damsire of Najjaar, won the 1984 French classic Prix du Jockey Club and he’s also the damsire of the classic champions Marienbard, Sendawar, High Chaparral and Darsi. As a sire, Darshaan sired the classic champions Mark of Esteem and Dalakhani.

In addition, Shirley Heights, the second damsire of Najjaar, and Mill Reef, the third damsire, were also Classic Champion Thoroughbreds and sires of other classic champions.

Despite his breeding, Najjaar has been a slow developer, finally breaking his maiden on the fifth attempt when he made his 3-year-old debut in January at Oaklawn Park. Najjaar followed up that win with another victory on March 2 traveling the same route of ground at the same track.

In his last race, Najjaar finished sixth in the Rebel Stakes (G2) but was closing well and was only beaten by four and three-quarters of a length. The extra distance of today’s race may help Najjaar who will need to improve his game considerably if he is going make it into the Derby starting gate.

Optimizer is a young colt I liked last summer and thought he may have an impact on the trail but, for the most part, he struggled during his two- and three-year-old season.

However, with veteran jockey Jon Court in the irons for the first time, Optimizer showed a new dimension in his last race and narrowly missed winning the Rebel Stakes (G2) by three-quarters of a length.

This is the time of the year that young colts can show a lot of improvement on the Derby trail and I’ll be watching to see how well Optimizer looks in the post parade.

Court returns for today’s mount and if the pair repeats their performance of the Rebel Stakes, they can be competitive in today’s race.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Blue Grass Stakes Racing Roundup

Hansen, the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1) hero and Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Male, will seek to establish himself as leader of the “herd” Saturday when he races in the 88th running of the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland.

Since his 2-year-old season, Hansen has struggled to gain the role as leader of the 3-year-old division when he finished a well-beaten second to Algorithms in the one mile Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park in January.

I liked Algorithms in that race and had previously profiled him in my 2012 Kentucky Derby Outlook as a young colt that may have classic potential. However, he was later taken off the trail with an injury.

In March, Hansen rebounded from his loss in the Holy Bull with a three-length victory over My Adonis in the Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct Racetrack. Overall, his record is 4-1-0 in five career starts.

While Hansen, the 6-5 morning line favorite in the Blue Grass, is a very talented son of Tapit, there are other young colts in this race that I like better and if I use Hansen it will be on the bottom of the exotics.

Howe Great and Dullahan, the 6-1 morning line second co-choice set by Mike Battaglia, are currently at the top of my Derby list and a solid run in the Blue Grass will keep them in that spot. Howe Great tops the list but he will need to win in order to advance to the Kentucky Derby while Dullahan already has enough graded stakes earnings.

Howe Great is a young colt I’ve been interested in since last summer and I profiled him in my Derby Outlook. Like Hansen, Howe Great also has a 4-1-0 in five career starts but he’s run in fewer stakes races.

His win the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park last month was one of the best performances I’ve seen on this year’s trail. In that race, Howe Great stalked fast fractions set by pacesetter Scorcher and showed me that he has the “will to win” when Dullahan tried to close gap in the final yards of the stretch.

If Howe Great repeats that performance with a win in the Blue Grass, he’ll be a tough Kentucky Derby contender.

Dullahan also looked good finishing second to Howe Great in the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) and he’s somewhat of a “buzz” horse coming into the Blue Grass. Trainer Dale Romans used the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) as a springboard for Paddy O’Prado who won the 2010 edition of that race and went on to finish second in the Blue Grass and third in the Kentucky Derby.

Dullahan already has a win over the Keeneland track with three-quarter length win over Majestic City in the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes (G1) last fall. Dullahan followed that win with a solid fourth-place finish to Hansen, Union Rags and Creative Cause in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1).

Prospective (10-1) is an under-the-radar Malibu Moon colt that I’ve liked in all of his races as a 3-year-old and he comes into the Blue Grass with a 4-2-0 record in seven starts.

His only bad race was a dead-last finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1) at Churchill Downs last fall and since then he’s won the Pasco Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and finished second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3).

Malibu Moon, the sire of Prospective, only raced twice until he was retired with a slab fracture. But at stud, Malibu Moon has produced some nice sprint and middle-distance horses such as Life At Ten, Devil May Care, Declan’s Moon and Malibu Mint.

Awesome Again, the damsire of Prospective, was a good middle-distance runner that won the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and earned classic honors by winning the Queen’s Plate Stakes, one of the most prestigious races in Canada.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Illinois Derby Racing Roundup

An overflow field of 17 young Thoroughbreds was drawn for the 55th running of the $500,000 Illinois Derby (G3) which is the ninth of ten races on today’s card at Hawthorne Race Course.

Only 14 of those horses – with Currency Swap as the 4-1 morning line favorite – will make it to the starting gate. Currency Swap currently has $150,000 in graded stakes earnings and he might squeak by with a second-place finish but a win in today’s race would stamp his ticket to the Kentucky Derby – all the others in the field will need to win.

After a five-month layoff, Currency Swap returned to racing in March at Gulfstream Park for his debut as a 3-year-old and finished a 7-length runner up to Gemologist who is the morning line favorite of Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) which will be run today at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Currency Swap has room to improve in his second start of the season and another move forward will make him competitive in today’s race.

Our Entourage is the 9-2 morning line second-choice and he looks like he has the potential to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fourth victory in the Illinois Derby.

The son of Street Cry looked good winning his 3-year-old debut in February at Gulstream Park running 8½-furlongs on the turf in a sharp 1:40. 85. Breaking from post nine, Our Entourage moved quickly into position chasing the pace and took the lead in the stretch to prevail by one length at the finish.

Another move forward in today’s race will make Our Entourage very competitive.

Saturday Launch (15-1) comes into the race off a sharp win in a one mile turf race at Gulfstream Park on March11. In sixth-place at the top of the stretch, Saturday Launch angled to the outside and made a nice rally to get up at the finish and win by a half-length.

That race was the second start of the season for Saturday Launch who finished third in his 3-year-old debut in a 9-furlong turf race at Gulfstream Park.

Saturday Launch has room to improve in his third start for the season and another move forward will make him competitive in the Illinois Derby.

Honorable mention goes to Done Talking (20-1) who has room to improve in his second start of the season. I liked him as a long shot in the Gotham Stakes (G3) but he finished 10th coming into the race off of a three-month layoff.

Done Talking probably needed the race and if he looks good in the paddock, I’m willing to give him another chance.

Prior to the Gotham, Done Talking finished fourth to victor El Padrino in the Remsen Stakes (G2) and was only beaten by a length. El Padrino has since gone on to win the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and finished fourth in the Florida Derby (G1).

Done Talking closed fast in the Remsen and earned a 113 Brisnet Late Pace Figure for that effort. Any improvement in that performance will make Done Talking very competitive in today’s race.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wood Memorial Stakes Racing Roundup

Undefeated Gemologist, with four wins to his credit, will go to the starting gate Saturday for trainer Todd Pletcher as the 8-5 morning line favorite in the 88th running of the $1 million Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) at Aqueduct Racetrack.

With $103,855 in graded stakes earnings, Gemologist will probably need to finish at least second in order to have enough earnings to make it into the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

While the quality of the field that Gemologist defeated in his last race is suspect, he did finish in hand, covering the mile in a sharp 1:35.95. Since that race, Gemologist fired a bullet work out on April 1 and another move forward will make him competitive in the Wood Memorial.

If Gemologist repeats the form of his of his 3-year-old debut last month at Gulfstream Park where he led from gate-to-wire and cruised to a 7-length victory, he has a good chance to stamp his ticket to Louisville.

Alpha (5-2) has been on my watch list since last summer and he has the breeding to be competitive in classic competition. His Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile, an index I use to measure classic potential, is a very good 97.5 – a score of 100 or more is excellent.

Alpha’s sire, Bernardini, was a fast colt that won races from a mile to 10-furlongs as a 3-year-old. Notable races Bernardini won en route to becoming the 2006 Eclipse Champion Three-Year-Old Male include: Withers Stakes (G3, 8-furlongs), Preakness Stakes (G1, 9½-furlongs), Jim Dandy Stakes (G2, 8½-furlongs), Travers Stakes (G1, 10-furlongs) and the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (G1, 10-furlongs).

A. P. Indy , the gradsire of Alpha, and great grandsire Seattle Slew, were Classic Champion Thoroughbreds. Nijinsky, the damsire of Alpha, and maternal grandsire Northern Dancer were also Classic Champion Thoroughbreds. Alydar, the sire of the second dam, would have been a Classic Champion Thoroughbred if it had not been for Affirmed.

Munnaya, the dam of Alpha, raced in England and won the 11-furlong Lingfield Oaks Trail Stakes and finished third in the 10-furlong Pretty Polly Stakes. The remaining four dams on the tail-female line – Hiaam, Kamar, Square Angel and Nangela – were all stakes winners. Kamar was the 1979 Canadian Champion 3-year-old filly and Square Angel was the 1973 Champion.

Alpha has shown some behavioral issues when loading in the gate so I’ll be watching to see if he has overcome that problem. While it remains to be seen if Alpha will live up to his breeding, if he behaves in the paddock and starting gate, I look for him to run a good race.

A long shot I like is Casual Trick (20-1) who also was sired by Bernardini.

Casual Trick flipped his pallet in his last two races but has since had surgery to correct the problem. He has the breeding to be a factor, but, he’ll also need to improve his game if he’s going to make it to the winners circle.

Casual Look, the dam of Casual Trick, was an English classic winner of the Epsom Oaks and Red Ransom, the damsire of Casual Trick, was considered by many to be a strong contender for the 1990 Triple Crown before he was retired due to an injury.

Manila, the sire of the second dam, was the 1986 Eclipse Champion Turf Male with over $2.6 million in career earnings and the 2008 inductee into the National Museum of Racing of Hall of Fame.

General Assembly, the sire of the third dam, was a multiple graded stakes winner that finished second in the 1979 Kentucky Derby and set a new track record of 2:00.0 in the 10-furlong Travers Stakes (G1).

Prior to problems with his pallet, Casual Trick finished second in the Gulstream Park Derby to Reveron who recently finished second to Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby (G1).

Trainer Nick Zito knows how to get young colts ready for big races and if Casual Trick can return to the form of his Gulfstream Park Derby performance, he can be competitive in the Wood Memorial.

Street Life has quickly become a “buzz” horse with two back-to-back wins at Aqueduct including a half-length win in the Broad Brush Stakes on March 17.

Street Life has good breeding with Street Sense as his sire and Grindstone as his damsire. However, he’s taking a big step up in class and only first place honors will give him the graded earnings he needs to start in the Kentucky Derby.