Friday, December 31, 2010

Count Fleet, Tropical Park Derby Roundup

The Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct and the Tropical Park Derby at Calder highlight Saturday’s stakes racing action and kicks off the 3-year-old thoroughbred racing season.

Horses that used these races in the past as prep races en route to a win in the Kentucky Derby include Smarty Jones (2004 Count Fleet) and Barbaro (2006 Tropical Park Derby).

Overall, the field in both of these contests appears to be pretty evenly matched and it’s hard to get excited about any one horse in particular.

Pants On Fire heads a field of seven horses as the lukewarm 5-2 morning line favorite in the $65,000 Count Fleet Stakes. His best dirt speed is fastest among this group of starters and his 102 Brisnet Speed Figure is the highest at one mile and 70 yards.

Pants On Fire likes to go to the lead and if he gets a clean break he could be a factor in the race.

Two long shots I like are Tap Star (10-1) and Arthur’s Tale (4-1).

Tap Star has never ran in a route race and he’s stepping up into stakes action for the first time. However, with his breeding, I believe that he will like the extra distance.

On October 31, Tap Star narrowly lost a 6 ½ - furlong maiden race at Philadelphia Park but came back on December 10 at the same track and distance to win and finally break his maiden, after four previous starts, by an easy 5 ¼ - lengths.

In his maiden win, Tap Star trimmed almost two full seconds off of his previous time and appears to be improving with each performance. A bullet work out on December 26 indicates that he could be ready to run another good race.

Of all the horses in this race, I like the pedigree of Arthur’s Tale the most and if he lives up to his breeding, I believe that he has the most room for improvement.

Despite being carried wide in the first turn of his last race, Arthur’s Tale finally broke his maiden, by 2 – lengths on his fourth try, going a mile at Aqueduct on December 2.

Tropical Park Derby

The $100,000 Tropical Park Derby (G3) appears that it might be the better betting race as there are no solid favorites entered in the field.

Swift Warrior heads a full field of 12 as the lukewarm 7-2 favorite and if he runs true to his recent form, he could be a factor.

In addition, three other horses I like are Beachcombing (6-1), Racing Aptitude (4-1) and Ribo Bobo (12-1).

Lightly raced Beachcombing comes into the race off of a 2 ¾ - length maiden win October 17 at Belmont. Beachcombing steps up into stakes competition for the first time but I like his pedigree and think that, although he is lightly raced, he has a lot of upside. At 6-1 or higher, I'm willing to give him a shot.

Racing Aptitude is the morning line second choice and comes into the Derby with back-to-back wins over the Calder turf course. His pedigree is well suited for the turf and if he runs near his recent form he will be tough in the Derby.

Ribo Bobo also has a nice pedigree and he’s only missed hitting the board twice in six starts. Ribo Bobo comes into the Derby with a first-place and two second-place finishes in stakes competition. Five of his six starts have been at Calder but this is his first attempt on the turf.

I believe that he will run well on the turf and a bullet work out December 18 indicates that he could be ready to run a good race.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

2011 Kentucky Derby Outlook

Now that graded stakes racing for 2-year-old thoroughbreds is over, this is the time of year when I like to review their pedigrees and past performances to see if I can spot any that may have the potential to become a factor on the Triple Crown trail.

It’s a daunting task but I try to review as many as possible and narrow my list down to three or four I believe may have exceptional talent. Three horses I especially liked at this time last year were Eskendereya, Winslow Homer and Super Saver.

Eskendereya and Winslow Homer proved to be exceptional but, unfortunately, were taken off the trail due to injury. Super Saver was descent but did not fully live up to my expectations until turning things around by winning the Kentucky Derby (G1). Super Saver and Ice Box, along with Lookin At Lucky and Mission Impazible, were my Derby picks.

Uncle Mo, undefeated in three starts, most likely will top everyone’s top ten. He’s already proven to be exceptional with a combined 23 ¼ - length margin of victory in previous starts and two grade one wins in the Champagne Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He probably will be selected as the juvenile Eclipse winner and the early 2011 Derby favorite.

I have no doubt that Uncle Mo will probably be a fierce competitor up to 9-furlongs. However, it remains to be seen how competitive he will be racing beyond that distance.

Indian Charlie, Uncle Mo’s sire, was a fierce competitor and winner of the 1998 Santa Anita Derby but could only manage a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Conveyance, a brilliant Indian Charlie colt on last year’s trail, was competitive up to 8 ½ to 9-furlongs.

To his advantage, Uncle Mo gets some stamina from In Excess, his grandsire, who was a good middle-distance runner that was able to stretch out and set a new track record in the 10-furlong Suburban Handicap. Arch, his damsire, won the 10-furlong Super Derby and sired Blame – recent winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic and leading candidate, along with Zenyatta, for Horse of The Year honors. (Coincidentally, Zenyatta’s damsire line is the same as Blame’s sire line.) Dixieland Band, the sire of Uncle Mo’s second dam Dixie Slippers, is the damsire of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

So, I will be watching, with great interest, to see how well Uncle Mo performs at 9-furlongs.

Overall, I believe that this year’s group of juveniles is better than last year’s group. I’m still reviewing them, but so far there are five that I am especially interested in: To Honor And Serve (Bernardini-Pilfer by Deputy Minister), Brethren (Distorted Humor-Supercharger by A.P. Indy), Cal Nation (Distorted Humor-She’s A Winner by A.P. Indy), Premier Pegasus (Fusaichi Pegasus-Squall Linda by Summer Squall) and Animal Kingdom (Leroidesanimaux-Dalicia by Acatenango).

To Honor And Serve has been on my watch list for quite some time and I was not surprised to see him win the Nashua (G2) and Remsen Stakes (G2).

His sire, Bernardini, was an outstanding racehorse and winner of the 2006 Preakness Stakes (G1). At stud, I believe that Bernardini will have a good career. So far, he’s off to a good start and he’s been battling all year with Congrats and Bluegrass Cat for leading Freshman Sire honors. Currently, Bernardini is ranked second.

To Honor and Serve’s grandsire is the outstanding sire and 1992 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner A.P. Indy who also sired Rags To Riches – winner of the 2007 Belmont. To Honor And Serve’s great-grandsire is Triple Crown winner and outstanding sire Seattle Slew. In addition to A.P. Indy, Seattle Slew sired the 1984 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Swale.

To Honor and Serve’s damsire is the Canadian Hall of Fame thoroughbred Deputy Minister – Canadian and U.S. Champion 2-Year-Old Colt (1981) and Canadian Horse of the Year (1981).

Deputy Minister was the leading North American sire in 1997, 1998 and leading broodmare sire in 2007. He sired the Classic Champion Thoroughbreds Awesome Again (Queen’s Plate Stakes 1997) and Touch Gold (Belmont Stakes 1997). Deputy Minister is the damsire of Classic Champion Thoroughbreds Sarava (Belmont Stakes 2002), Jazil (Belmont Stakes 2006), Curlin (Preakness Stakes 2007) and Rags To Riches (Belmont Stakes 2007).

Deputy Minister is also the grandsire of the outstanding thoroughbreds Silverbulletday and Ghostzapper.

Miswaki, the sire of To Honor and Serve’s second dam Misty Hour, sired the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea. English Triple Crown winner and outstanding sire Nijinsky is the sire of To Honor and Serve’s third dam Our Tina Marie.

So, as you can see, To Honor and Serve has some nice breeding.

Brethren is undefeated in two starts but has yet to run in a stakes race. If he lives up to his breeding, I believe he has the potential to be a factor on the Triple Crown trail.

Brethren’s sire is Distorted Humor, sire of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide and Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer.

Brethren’s dam line is descended from the legendary La Troienne. Roger Lyons at Pedigree Matters has been keeping records of the top 40 dam lines that have produced the most stakes winners and since 1995 the La Troienne line tops the list at number one.

Brethren’s dam, Supercharger, is the dam of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and his second dam, Get Lucky, is also the second dam of Bluegrass Cat.

Cal Nation is unraced and has some catching up to do. However, he has been working out regularly since November 13 and if he lives up to his breeding, I believe he can be a factor too. In addition to having the same sire as Brethren, Cal Nation’s dam, She’s A Winner, is the dam of Bluegrass Cat and a full-sister to Supercharger – the dam of Brethren and Super Saver.

Undefeated in three starts, Premier Pegasus is a descendant of Mr. Prospector and he recently won the 7-furlong Hollywood Prevue Stakes (G3). He has a nice pedigree and with Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus as his sire and Preakness winner Summer Squall as the damsire, Premier Pegasus should continue to improve in his 3-year-old season.

I’m very interested Animal Kingdom and tempted to put him at the top of my list. However, it is a bit too early. Animal Kingdom has yet to run in a stakes race but both of his previous two starts have been route races.

In his 8 ½ - furlong maiden debut, Animal Kingdom finished second to Willcox Inn who went on to finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Animal Kingdom broke his maiden in his second start by an easy 3 ¼ - lengths. Animal Kingdom covered the 9-furlongs in 1:49.01 and should be able to trim one or, maybe, two seconds off that time as a 3-year-old and that would make him extremely competitive.

Animal Kingdom’s pedigree is as close to WOW as you can get. His sire, Leroidesanimaux, was bred in Brazil but was a multiple graded-stakes champion in North America at the age of four and five and the 2005 Champion Male Turf Horse. Candy Stripes, his grandsire, is the sire of Invasor - the Uruguayan Triple Crown Champion, North American Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male. Leroidesanimaux’ second dam, Kerali, is the dam of super broodmare Hasili - dam of champions Intercontental, Banks Hill, Dansili, Champs Elysees, Cacique and Heat Haze.

Animal Kingdom’s damsire is the legendary Classic Champion Thoroughbred and German Derby winner Acatenango – three-time Horse of The Year in Germany and champion sire in 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2001. All of the stallions on the damsire line going back six generations are Classic Champion Thoroughbreds and German Derby winners.

Dancing Brave, the sire of Animal Kingdom’s second dam Dynamis, is a Classic Champion Thoroughbred and the 1986 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner.

If Animal Kingdom continues to improve and move forward as a 3-year-old, he will be tough on the Triple Crown trail.

Only time will tell.

Other horses I’m watching to round out a top ten include:

Astrology (A.P. Indy-Quiet Eclipse by Quiet American) – winner of the Iroquois Stakes (G3), runner-up in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) and third-place finisher in the Garden State Stakes;

Shadow Warrior (A.P. Indy-Victory Ride by Seeking The Gold);

Sway Away (Afleet Alex-Seattle Shimmer by Seattle Slew) – runner-up in the Best Pal Stakes (G2);

Cozy Kitten (Kitten’s Joy-Caterette by Cozzene).


Friday, December 17, 2010

CashCall Futurity Stakes Racing Roundup

The 30th running Saturday of the $750,000 CashCall Futurity (G1) at Hollywood Park closes the graded stakes racing season for 2-year-old thoroughbreds and could establish one of the 10 horses entered as the early West Coast favorite for the 2011 racing season.

Bob Baffert, who won the race last year with Lookin At Lucky and Pioneerof The Nile the year before that, does not have a horse in this race. Instead, favoritism goes to trainer Peter Miller’s Comma To The Top who heads the field as the 3-1 morning line favorite.

Comma To The Top has been on a roll, reeling off four wins since the first of October, and comes into the race with back-to-back stakes wins in the Real Quiet Stakes and Generous Stakes (G3).

In his previous four victories, Comma To The Top won going gate-to-wire. His win in the Real Quiet Stakes was also at Hollywood Park covering the same distance of 8 ½ - furlongs – which is probably the limit of his racing ability. Comma To The Top has decent speed. If he can break clean from post 10 and get the lead he should be competitive.

Comma To The Top is a descendant of the Nasrullah sire line and the last horse from that line to win the CashCall was River Special in 1992.

Two long shots that I like are Rustler Hustler (9-2) and Slammer Time (20-1).

Rustler Hustler will make his second start for trainer Rick Dutrow who ships him in for the race from Gulfstream Park. Rustler Hustler also comes into the race with back-to-back stakes wins – both of them on the turf.

In August, Rustler Hustler won the Continental Mile Stakes at Monmouth Park, defeating Pluck by a neck. Pluck was disqualified in that race for interference but came back in November to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs.

In October, Rustler Hustler won the Gnome’s Gold Stakes at Belmont Park by 1 ¾ - lengths.

Ecton Park, Rustler Hustler’s sire, was a multiple graded stakes winner and a decent middle distance runner who stretched out to win the 10-furlong Super Derby. His grandsire, Forty Niner, also was a multiple graded stakes winner and a good middle distance runner who finished second in the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Rustler Hustler’s damsire, Cozzene, was a multiple graded stakes winner who was competitive at a mile up to 9-furlongs. Danzig Connection, the sire of Rustler Hustler’s second dam, won the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Ribot, the sire of his third dam, was a back-to-back Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner.

Rustler Hustler is a descendant of the Mr. Prospector sire line and since 1990 there have been four horses from that line to win the CashCall: Lookin At Lucky (2009), Pioneerof The Nile (2008), Point Given (2000) and Real Quiet (1997). (All of those horses were trained by Bob Baffert.)

Slammer Time, another descendant of the Mr. Prospector sire line, comes into the race off of a narrow victory in the 8 ½ - furlong Bob Benoit California Cup Juvenile Stakes at the Oak Tree meet at Hollywood Park.

His sire, Grand Slam, brings speed to the pedigree of Slammer Time but his damsire, In Excess, was a multiple graded stakes winner and a good middle distance runner who stretched out to set a new course record in the 10-furlong Suburban Handicap.

Grand Slam has 21 winners in 47 juvenile starters for 45 percent.

Industry Leader (7-2) is the morning line second choice and he comes into the race off a second-place finish to Premier Pegasus in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes (G3).

Industry Leader is a descendant of Nasrullah and the Cherokee Run sire line which in recent years has produced War Pass, Musket Man and The Pamplemousse.

I always like to keep an eye on Cherokee Run sire line descendants when they stretch out to a route race and at 7-2 morning line odds, I’ll use Industry Leader in some of my exotic wagers.