Friday, August 23, 2013

The Grade 1 Travers Stakes

It is time again for "The Mid-summer Derby" at Saratoga. Saturday's running will be the 144th renewal of the Grade 1 Travers Stakes. A field of nine will go to the post featuring this year's Kentucky Derby winner and runner-up, the Belmont winner, the Haskell winner, even the Virginia Derby winner will make an appearance at The Spa. It sets up to be a race with some speed present as Verrazano, Palace Malice, and Moreno all like to go to the front. Will this set things up for a closer? I certainly think so, according to the picks:

#2 Orb (4-1) has not won since the First Saturday In May. However, I do not feel that Orb will go on to be like Mine That Bird or Super Saver and never win another race after the Derby score. In fact, I think the Shug McGaughey trainee gets back to the Winner's Circle on Saturday. There will be plenty of pace for him to run into in the Travers, so his closing style should be a benefit here. He has been working like a beast in the mornings at Fair Hill and Saratoga with THREE consecutive bullet workouts on the tab. He even has a previous start at Saratoga. He ran third in his debut (behind Violence and Titletown Five) here last August. The price of 4-1 is even decent enough to speculate on Orb in this race.

#3 Verrazano (2-1) is the 2-1 morning line favorite in the Travers off a fantastic performance in the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth in July. He posted a Beyer figure of 116 in that victory, but if you look at his past performances, his previous best Beyer was a 105 on Groundhog Day at Gulfstream. He didn't repeat that number until the Haskell. It is entirely possible he bounces a bit off that big Haskell win. I think this is more of a factor given that there is going to be other speed for him to contend with here. John Velazquez is a genius in the saddle, but it appears to me that he will have a bit to overcome to be a winner in the Travers on Saturday.

#7 War Dancer (15-1) might be the longshot to look at in the Travers. This might be a bit of a silly statement, given that the colt has only run once on dirt (finishing a career-worst 4th). However, his recent speed figures have been improving steadily, culminating with a victory in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby over the grass at Colonial Downs. I feel he will be another beneficiary of what could be a wicked pace in this race. He tends to sit back in mid-pack or towards the back of the field and make one sustained run. Alan Garcia has been his jockey in all but one of his seven starts, so he should be very familiar with this Ken McPeek runner.

There is a 50-cent minimum Pick Four at Saratoga on Races 9-12, covering the Grade 1 Test, the Grade 2 Ballston Spa, the Grade 1 King's Bishop, and the Grade 1 Travers. That lineup might be the most stacked one since NBC had Must-See TV on Thursday nights.

Be sure to check out my Twitter page: @They_Are_Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Grade 1 Arlington Million

Saturday is the 31st running of the Arlington Million at Arlington Park in the Windy City. Hard to believe that it is already that long ago that John Henry fended off the gallant run of The Bart. That fantastic finish is immortalized with a statue at the Chicago track. Let's take a detailed look at some of the top contenders in this year's renewal of the Million:

#3 Hunter's Light (8-1) is the top pick here even though the last two efforts in Germany and Singapore weren't so hot. If you look back a bit in the PPs, this Godolphin runner won two of three starts over the Tapeta surface at Meydan in Dubai before finishing seventh behind Animal Kingdom in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup. This horse is bred to run on the turf forever with both Dubai Millennium and Barathea present in the lineage. Jockey Ryan Moore has four Breeders' Cup wins over the greenery and trainer Saeed Bin Suroor won the Million in 2003 with Sulamani.

#7 Indy Point (9-2) comes next with this year's Preakness winning jockey, Gary Stevens, looking to become the first rider to win the Million three times. Indy Point made a strong debut in the Wickerr at Del Mar with a win on July 24th. It is interesting that trainer Richard Mandella elected to ship in from California for this effort, so you have to believe that Mandella believes. An interesting note about this colt is that he has been to the post thirteen times in his career and hit the board in all thirteen of those starts. Granted, the first twelve of those runs were in Argentina, so it remains to be seen just how tough the competition he has faced was, and if that toughness will rub off in a really tough spot Saturday.

#10 The Apache (6-1) merits a bit of consideration in here with a similar pattern to the top pick's recent races. He ran three times at Meydan in the spring, winning one and running second twice. Following the Dubai campaign, he took some time off and came back in a Group 2 at York in Great Britain and ran fourth off the layoff, finishing behind the morning-line favorite in the Million, Grandeur. I must admit that I like The Apache a shade more than Grandeur despite this because in examining the trip notes of the favorite, I can see lots of trouble mentioned in those. With Grandeur deep closing running style, he might encounter some issues that could stymie his rally.

Good luck on the entire Saturday card at Arlington Park with plenty of excellent racing available including the Beverly D and the Secretariat.

Be sure to check out my Twitter page: @They_Are_Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, July 01, 2013

Wise Dan

The 2012 Horse Of The Year, Wise Dan, has now been to the post three times in 2013. His comeback effort off his Breeders' Cup Mile win was a score at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile five months after the win at Santa Anita. He followed that up with a Derby Day score in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, where he won easily by nearly five lengths. Finally, this past weekend, Wise Dan overcame somewhat of a troubled trip to win the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap in a driving rainstorm at Churchill Downs.

The impost of 128 pounds for Wise Dan wasn't the only obstacle that he had to overcome. If you watch the replay, which is available here:, you will notice that Wise Dan never had a step of clear running until he made the lead in the stretch. He was kept boxed in by Lea and Brian Hernandez Jr. all the way to the top of the stretch. Wise Dan finally simply bulled his way through an exceedingly narrow opening on the hedge (in fact, he made contact with the hedge itself while in the process of taking the lead) and moved away to win like the champion that he is.

So, with Wise Dan now 3 for 3 in his 2013 campaign, he will go on to Saratoga, according to trainer Charlie LoPresti. The DRF article on the win in the Firecracker says that one of two turf spots, the Fourstardave or the Bernard Baruch are likely for Wise Dan. However, LoPresti did not rule out trying the dirt in the Whitney or the Woodward.

In a season where there appears to be a dearth of likely candidates for Horse Of The Year at this stage, there are certainly very strong odds that Wise Dan could earn a repeat of that crown in 2013. LoPresti appears to think, and correctly so, that running in and winning one of the Grade 1 dirt races at The Spa would continue to enhance Wise Dan's resume' while allowing him to continue to point for the Breeders' Cup Mile in November, as opposed to the Classic.

Personally, I think in a year with not much else standing out on the HOTY front, as long as Wise Dan remains unbeaten, he will be almost a certainty to win the title again. If you think about it, there are no three-year-old stand-outs following the Triple Crown trail. Yes, Oxbow probably ran the three best races of the series, winning the Grade 1 Preakness, but he still has quite a long way to go to get into the HOTY conversation. Of the other likely candidates entering the year, Ron The Greek has only an ungraded win in four 2013 starts and while Game On Dude is 3 for 3 this season himself, how many times can you keep beating Clubhouse Ride before it gets tedious?

In a perfect world, yes, Wise Dan would run in the Breeders' Cup Classic and go head-to-head with Game On Dude to settle the score on the racetrack at the end of the season. However, how many times do we actually get to have that perfect world scenario? If Wise Dan elects to go in the Breeders' Cup Mile again and if he remains undefeated heading into that race, then I believe he should remain the once and future king should he win it again.

Be sure to check out my Twitter Page: @They_Are_Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Animal Kingdom

The final start of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom's, career did not go the way everyone thought it might. His final performance came at Royal Ascot in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes and he rumbled home 11th of thirteen in the field for a disappointing period to what has been an outstanding career.

If you watch the replay of the race, which is available here:, Animal Kingdom appeared to be quite headstrong early on under jockey John Velazquez, who had to take a firm hold of the horse while settling him into stride. With just under two furlongs to go, Animal Kingdom had given way and dropped right out of contention while Declaration Of War went on with it under Joseph O'Brien to score a nifty win. In watching the race, it just seems that Animal Kingdom never got comfortable for whatever reason (a hot pace, the turf course, or his own inability to settle) and was spent very early on.

So, Animal Kingdom's career comes to an end with just one of two non-top three finishes he will have on his record (the other being the 2011 Belmont Stakes, where he was seriously compromised at the start). I believe that this inglorious end is just a blip on the overall resume' though. He has been brilliant nearly every time he went to the post and he did it on all the different surfaces available these days. He scored his Derby win over the conventional dirt at Churchill Downs. He dominated the field earlier this year in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup over Tapeta at Meydan. He also put forth a tremendous effort over the grass while falling short in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita last fall. Animal Kingdom always gave his utmost, which is usually all you can ask of any champion. His career ended with a fizzle, but don't ever let that be your lasting image of him. The proper image of Animal Kingdom is of his lasting greatness. Hopefully, that greatness will be passed on to his progeny, both in Australia and North America.

Be sure to check out my Twitter page: @They_Are_Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, June 17, 2013


The 139th Kentucky Derby did not necessarily go the way it was expected to go for Verrazano, who had been one of the hot horses leading up to the First Saturday In May. Verrazano ended up being one of the victims of the hot pace set by eventual Belmont Stakes winner, Palace Malice, and finished a disappointing 14th in the race. In fact, he never really ended up being much of a factor at Churchill Downs, which also seemed to be part of the problem, since the track came up wet and sticky on Derby Day.

Well, this weekend, Verrazano rebounded nicely off that disappointment and scored an emphatic win in the Grade 3 Pegasus this Sunday at Monmouth Park. Verrazano took the lead in the race right out of the gate and never looked back, eventually recording a nearly ten-length victory. Of course, part of that result came because Itsmyluckyday, another Derby fizzler, was pulled up by jockey Mike Smith just as he was moving to challenge Verrazano's lead. The hope is that Itsmyluckyday's injury won't be a serious one. Even with that, you cannot discount Verrazano's win in the Pegasus, because he did what he was expected to do and win, while essentially controlling every aspect of the race. It was a dominating performance and hopefully, will be a large springboard to getting Verrazano back into the three-year-old picture this summer.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has already said that he is planning on Verrazano pointing to the next big three-year-old event at Monmouth Park, the Grade 1 $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational on July 28. The Haskell is always the highlight of the summer on the Jersey Shore and this year's edition should prove to be another classic, especially with the inclusion of a rejuvenated Verrazano. For a video of the Pegasus, click on this link:

Be sure to check out my Twitter page: @They_Are_Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Grade 1 $1,000,000 Belmont Stakes

The dynamic behind the 144th Belmont Stakes changed abruptly on Friday morning with the scratch of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, I'll Have Another, due to what is being called severe tendinitis. This has, of course, taken almost all the drama out of the race since the Triple Crown try we were all hoping for is now not a possibility. However, we must be thankful that any possible injury to the horse was detected in advance of the race and now we must get on with the task at hand, which is analyzing the eleven horses remaining in the race. Here is the analysis:

Closers don't usually fare well in the Belmont Stakes for some reason. Rational thought would suggest that the longer distances would tire out the front-runners, allowing the come-from-behind horses to be more of a factor. However, history shows that just is not the case. The pacesetters in this Belmont Stakes appear to be #2 Unstoppable U and #9 Paynter. Unstoppable U is a lightly-raced colt that has won both lifetime starts over the New York tracks. Paynter was a cruising winner of his last race, an allowance start at Pimlico on Preakness day. He also was part of the Santa Anita Derby field, running 4th after not getting a good start. The next flight ought to include #3 Union Rags, #6 Ravelo's Boy, #7 Five Sixteen, #8 Guyana Star Dweej, and #12 My Adonis. Of these, Union Rags and My Adonis appear to be the only real contenders. Union Rags had a horrible time of it in the Kentucky Derby and there has been a rider switch to John Velazquez in the interim. My Adonis ran second behind Hansen in the Grade 3 Gotham earlier this year. As far as those deep closers, you have #1 Street Life, #4 Atigun, #5 Dullahan, and #10 Optimizer. Dullahan was the hot horse during Derby week and ran third at Churchill Downs. closing stoutly to gain that position. Street Life is well-considered off his third in the Grade 2 Peter Pan on May 12. Optimizer has been in the gate for both the Derby and the Preakness, running 11th and sixth respectively. Here are the selections:

MICHAEL'S TOP FOUR SELECTIONS: Paynter, Unstoppable U, Union Rags, Dullahan

They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again soon for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Grade 1 $1,000,000 Preakness

The middle jewel of the Triple Crown takes place on Saturday at Pimlico in Baltimore and both of the main Derby combatants, I'll Have Another and Bodemeister, will be on hand to try their luck again. Bodemeister has been made the morning-line favorite over his conqueror from Louisville. They Are Off will be joined this time for the Preakness by Dr. Reid McLellan, my former fellow handicapper from Houston, offering his selections for the Preakness in addition to my own. Here is the analysis:

#7 Bodemeister appears for all the world to be lone speed in the Preakness. However, it must be asked how much did the grueling fractions that he set in the Derby take out of him? It must also be asked if he is capable of returning to the races just two weeks off such a test when he has always had his previous races spaced out by approximately a month. Can he win the Preakness? Of course, I am just not sold on whether or not he will. On to #9 I'll Have Another, who has run only one bad race in six lifetime appearances. That came over a sloppy track at Saratoga in the Hopeful last September. His Derby performance was quite nice and the ride he got from Mario Guiterrez was pretty much perfect. He's three for three in 2012, winning three graded stakes races. Will he make it four? I think that #8 Daddy Nose Best is capable of a bounce-back effort off a 10th place finish in the Derby. He was the "hot horse" in Louisville to many observers and didn't come through there. Isn't it possible that he might step forward on Saturday and inject a price into the proceedings. Take note that Julien Leparoux returns to the saddle to ride here after not riding this colt in the Derby. There is always a "new shooter" that gets into the mix in the Preakness. My choice for that title this year goes to #1 Tiger Walk. He is owned by the local legends of Sagamore Farm. It would be nice for Maryland if that owner could once again be prominent in the Preakness. He is adding blinkers for this try and worked a bullet half-mile over the Pimlico track on Sunday, covering the distance in 47 3/5 seconds. I think that #2 Teeth Of The Dog, who finished ahead of Tiger Walk in the Wood Memorial, and #5 Went The Day Well, who closed outstandingly in the Derby to be fourth, also merit consideration.

Michael's Top Four Selections: I'll Have Another, Daddy Nose Best, Bodemeister, Tiger Walk

This year's Preakness handicapping task is a simple, straight-forward, logical puzzle of interesting pieces. #7 Bodemeister is now the "darling" of the racehorse media world. His Derby performance is being tabbed as the "best ever" by a front-runner- oh, except he LOST the Derby!! I don't see a single horse in this field that is fast enough to run with him early, so it will be his to lose. #9 I'll Have Another won the Derby, so he will be well-supported and has looked good so far in training at Pimlico. Plus, I like that trainer Doug O'Neill took him over to "Old Hilltop" for his pre-Preakness training. My Derby selection was #6 Creative Cause, who went back to California then flew across the country this week. This grey colt was in perfect position to strike in the Derby and flattened out. He has yet to show me that he has the necessary grit for a winning stretch move. The horse I thought made the best run in the Derby was #5 Went The Day Well. With the smaller field in the Preakness, he will not have to weave in and out of as much traffic and I think I will like his odds at post time better than the other three. I don't see any reason in the past performances to like any of the "new shooters", though a post parade impression might move one of them onto the bottom of the trifecta and superfecta plays.

Reid's Top Four Selections: Went The Day Well, I'll Have Another, Bodemeister, Creative Cause

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again soon for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!