Friday, September 26, 2014

Frontrunner Stakes Racing Roundup

©2014 Calvin L. Carter. All rights reserved.
The “Road to the Kentucky Derby” rolls west Saturday to Santa Anita Park where 10 young Thoroughbreds have been entered in the $300,000 Frontrunner Stakes (G1). The Frontrunner is the first Grade One race on the Kentucky Derby Trail.
Under the tiered-point system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine Kentucky Derby eligibility, the winner of the Frontrunner will receive 10 points while the second-place finisher will receive 4 points, the third-place finisher will receive 2 points and 1 point will be awarded to the fourth-place finisher.
Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert has won the Frontrunner Stakes (G1) a record five times and he will send the morning-line 8-5 favorite American Pharaoh and Lord Nelson (8-1) to the starting gate.
American Pharaoh comes into the Frontrunner with a gate-to-wire, 4¾-length win in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and this is his first race at a route of ground.
Pioneerof the Nile, the sire of American Pharaoh, was a pretty good middle-distance horse and multiple graded-stakes winner of the CashCall Futurity (G1), Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2), San Felipe Stakes (G2) and Santa Anita Derby en route to a second-place finish in the 2009 Kentucky Derby (G1).
Lord Nelson is stepping up in class and comes into this race off of a half-length maiden win at Del Mar on July 19.
Pulpit, the sire of Lord Nelson, was a multiple graded-stakes winner who won the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2), and finished second in the Florida Derby (G1) en route to a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
If American Pharaoh and Lord Nelson improve off of their last outing, I think both will be competitive but, of the two, I’m looking to see how well Lord Nelson handles the step up in class and the stretch out to 8½-furlongs.
A long shot I like at10-1 morning-line odds is Sky Preacher who comes into the Frontrunner for trainer Doug O’Neill with a 1-2-0 record in four starts.
Sky Preacher appears to be an improving young colt by Sky Mesa. On June 27 Sky Preacher won easily breaking his maiden by 7½-lengths in a final time of 1:37.55. He followed that win two months later with a second-place finish in the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf Stakes in time of 1:36.35, which is what I like to see in a young colt.
Sky Mesa, the sire of Sky Preacher, was a multiple graded-stake winner of the Hopeful Stakes (G1) and Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (G2). He also finished second in the Haskell Invitational Handicap (G2) and third in the Dwyer Stakes (G2).
Another move forward by Sky Preacher could make him competitive in the Frontrunner Stakes (G1).
Daddy D T (6-1) finished in sixth-place in his maiden debut at Del Mar in August. A month later, trainer John Sadler moved Daddy D T into stakes competition where he was a half-length winner over Sky Preacher in the Oak Tree Juvenile Stakes.
Scat Daddy, the sire of Daddy D T, was a multiple graded-stakes winner of the Sanford Stakes (G2), Champagne Stakes (G1), Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and Florida Derby (G1) en route to and eighteenth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
A bullet work out on September 20 could have Daddy D T ready to run a good race.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

It's "All Or Nothing" For California Chrome

©2014 Calvin L. Carter. All rights reserved.
        California Chrome is a talented horse who was victorious in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and many thought he would win the Triple Crown. However, despite his athletic talent, I thought that California Chrome had behavioral issues that would eventually trip him up on the trail to glory.
In my Kentucky Derby blog I wrote that it was "all or nothing" for California Chrome and when he's stuck in middle of herd, as he was in the Belmont Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby, that he would not win the race, and most likely finish off the board. Here’s what I wrote about California Chrome in my Derby blog:

CALIFORNIA CHROME (5-2) – A Chestnut colt by Lucky Pulpit out of Love the Chase by Not For Love was foaled February 18, 2011. He comes into the Kentucky Derby (G1) for the connections of Steven Coburn and Martin Perry with a 6-1-0 record in 10 starts. In his last race, California Chrome looked impressive winning the Santa Anita Derby (G3) by 5¼-lengths and a repeat of that performance could make him tough in the Derby. Here’s the chart call and video:

CALIFORNIA CHROME a bit slow into stride and slightly crowded early, pulled between horses to duel for the lead, continued outside a rival on the second turn, took command nearing the quarter pole, kicked clear, widened while being ridden along in midstretch and proved best under a long hold late.

Of all the horses entered in the Derby, California Chrome is one of the most interesting. Obviously, he’s very talented. He’s won his last four races by a combined win margin of 24¼-lengths. He has good speed and finishes his races with a lot of energy. His finish time of 1:47.52 in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) is racehorse time and it makes him very competitive in the Derby.
Indeed, the way California Chrome won his last four races gives the impression that he has no peers on the racetrack and he’s most likely the winner of Kentucky Derby 140. However, when you look at the past performances of California Chrome it appears that he’s “All or Nothing” when he runs. When he wins, he wins big. When he loses, he completely misses the board.
To investigate the source of this curious racing form, I previewed all the videos of California Chrome’s races and it appears that the biggest obstacle to him winning the Derby could be his own mind. In the three he lost, it is evident that behavioral issues prevented him from winning those races. In all those defeats, California Chrome was in between horses or behind in traffic and he did not know what to do: Should I go right, left or up the middle?
Here’s a look at chart call and video of California Chrome’s 7¼-length loss in the Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes last June at Betfair Hollywood Park:

CALIFORNIA CHROME went up between horses to duel for the lead, battled three deep between foes on the turn and into the stretch and weakened in the final furlong.

The chart notes that California Chrome, running between horses, weakened at the end of the race but, more likely, he didn’t have the mental aptitude to press through to victory. After that loss, trainer Art Sherman put blinkers on California Chrome but that did not help him overcome the mental barrier he faced when stuck behind horses in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) last September. Here’s the video and chart call:

CALIFORNIA CHROME chased between horses on the backstretch and turn, rallied between foes in deep stretch and was in a bit tight off heels late.

California Chrome had a hole, granted a small hole, in the final strides of the Del Mar Futurity but he could not press through the wall of horses to win the race.
Last December, in the Golden State Juvenile Stakes at Santa Anita Park, California Chrome raced free, and clear, of other horses along the rail in the stretch drive but he did not have that “heart” of a champion to press on to victory. Here’s the chart call and video:

CALIFORNIA CHROME hopped at the start and was off slowly, chased inside a rival on the backstretch, came around a tiring foe entering the stretch and lacked the needed rally on the rally through the final furlong.

A good mind, the ability of a horse to focus during the heat of a race is so important. And it appears that California Chrome has focus issues when stuck in the middle of a herd of horses.
In the book I co-authored with Kerry Thomas, Horse Profiling: The Secret to Motivating Equine Athletes, published in 2012 by Trafalgar Square Books, we note that good horse behavior is vitally important and it’s the final piece of the breeding puzzle necessary to produce equine champions.
Federico Tesio also knew about the importance of a horse possessing a good mind. Behavior is what Tesio looked for in the horses he bred or inspected at auction, and, during his lifetime, Tesio bred an incredible 21 Italiano Derby winners.
Franco Varola’s Dosage system (not the one commonly used today) consisted of five “aptitudinal” groups, and Varola was most interested in the behavioral traits and characteristics that each sire transmitted to his offspring.
In Typology of the Racehorse (JA Allen, 1974), Varola noted: “The differences between the five aptitudinal groups are of essence or character. It matters very little whether a racehorse is 16 hands or 16.2, or whether it is chestnut or brown; but it does matter a lot the way he behaves in actual racing, whether he is consistent or erratic, brilliant or slow, bellicose or resigned, in other words which pattern or mode of being is he expressing...It is of great utility to be able to distinguish between these various aptitudes, this being something that plays an effective part in mating.”
Yes, indeed, Signors Varola, Tesio.
The talented California Chrome doesn’t need the lead to win. But he has to be free and clear outside of horses, up near the front or a length off of the leaders.
If jockey Victor Espinoza can put California Chrome in that spot then he could, perhaps, be a threat to win the Kentucky Derby. If California Chrome is stuck in the middle of the herd, he could run close to his profile ranking or even worse.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Iroquois Stakes Racing Roundup

©2014 Calvin L. Carter. All rights reserved.
The much anticipated journey on the 2014-2015 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” begins Saturday at Churchill Downs with the 33nd running of the $100,000 Iroquois Stakes (G3).
New to the prep schedule, the $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) which will be run on December 20 has been added to the list of qualifying races increasing the total to 35. Kentucky Derby eligibility is determined by the points earned by the top four finishers in the races on the Derby Trail. Only 20 horses are allowed in the Derby starting gate and the horses with the most accumulated points at the end of the prep schedule will qualify to run in the Derby.
A field of nine young Thorougbreds has been entered in the Iroquois with Mr. Z, trained by D. Wayne Lukas and owned by Zayat Stables, LLC, heading the field as the 5-2 morning line favorite.
In his maiden debut, Mr. Z showed early brilliance winning a 6-furlong sprint race by a half-length at Churchill Downs. Since then he’s finished second, twice, in the Sanford Stakes (G3) and Saratoga Special Stakes (G2), both at Saratoga Race Course.
The Iroquois is his first stretch out to 8½ furlongs, but Mr. Z has some nice influences in his pedigree and he should be able to handle the increased distance.
A recent bullet work out at Churchill Downs on September 1 could have Mr. Z ready to run a good race and I look for him to be competitive.
Hashtag Bourbon, along with Bold Conquest, is the morning line second co-choice at 4-1 odds.
Hashtag Bourbon appears to be an improving young colt. He finished third in his maiden debut on June 28, losing to Mr. Z by 3¼-lengths. On August 2, Hashtag Bourbon showed much improvement in just his second race, winning the Mountaineer Juvenile Stakes by 4½-lengths.
Kellyn Gorder, the trainer of Hashtag Bourbon, has been pointing the young son of Super Saver to the Iroquois Stakes (G3) for his graded stakes debut.
The Iroquois has been the plan from Day One,” said Gorder in a Churchill Downs press release. “We like the fact that we don’t have to ship and we thought this would shape up to be a perfect spot for him.”
Another move forward off of his win in the Mountaineer Juvenile could make Hashtag Bourbon very competitive in the Iroquois Stakes.
Bold Conquest is trained by Steve Asmussen who also has Lucky Player (5-1) entered in the Iroquois. Bold Conquest finished second in his maiden debut in July at Saratoga. He followed up that performance with a narrow win by a head in a 6½-furlong sprint, also at Saratoga.
Bold Conquest is moving up in class and this is his first stretch out to a route race. However, he also has some nice pedigree influences and he should be able to handle the added distance. He also picks up the services of jockey Joel Rosario who rode him in his maiden debut.
Another move forward off of his debut win should make him competitive in the Iroquois Stakes (G3).
A lukewarm long shot I like in this race is Danny Boy (5-1) who comes into the Iroquois off of a three-length maiden win at Ellis Park on August 1. In that race, he covered a mile on the turf in a time of 1:36 and that is the kind of time that I like to see in a young colt that is on the Derby Trail.
Danny Boy is stepping up in class and distance but his pedigree indicates that he should be able to handle those challenges.
If Danny Boy improves off of his maiden win, he could be competitive at a nice price.