Thursday, March 31, 2011

Welcome Woodbine

Saturday afternoon will be a very important one in The Great White North as the McKenzie Brothers used to call it. Woodbine returns to Thoroughbred racing starting on Saturday. I think it is some of the finest racing on the entire continent. You get high-quality racing over two excellent racing surfaces (Woodbine's Polytrack is among the very best and the E.P. Taylor Turf Course ranks highly as well). The simulcast signal is tops as well. The presentation is always eye-catching, the analysts are extremely informative, and of course, you get the race calls of Dan Loiselle. I consider Dan one of the very best (if not THE very best) track announcers in all of North America.

The featured event on the Opening Day card is the aptly-named $100,000 Debut Stakes. The season will last 167 days in all, running until Closing Day, which is Sunday, December 4. The highlight event of the early part of the season will be the 152nd running of the Queen's Plate, the first jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown. The Queen's Plate is scheduled to be run on June 26. You might remember that the 2010 winner, Big Red Mike, was selected on this very blog. Woodbine also host the third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Breeders' Stakes, which is run at 1 1/2 miles on the E.P. Taylor Turf Course. The 2010 winner was Miami Deco, who until that race, had been a maiden. The Breeders' Stakes is scheduled for August 7.

Tune in again on Friday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Super Six Derby Pix

The Kentucky Derby is now less that forty days away. It is hard to believe, but that is certainly the case. The preps from this past weekend produced some upset winners, especially in the Louisiana and Sunland Derbies. The main headline this coming weekend will be the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Sunday. That race is expected to produce several horses that will be in the gate come the First Saturday In May. Here are the Pix:

#1- Soldat- I know I am being premature with this move to the #1 spot for the Fountain Of Youth winner. I know he will not be allowed to get the easy lead he seemed to have in that earlier race in the Florida Derby. I just honestly think that this horse is now the best of the three-year-old crop and I also honestly think he will be wearing the garland of roses come May 7. Do keep in mind that I have been wrong about this every year since 1994, but that is my opinion.

#2- Uncle Mo- Well, I have stated already here that I was wholly unimpressed with the Timely Writer, be it the competition, the race itself, and even the champion's performance. That being said, no one has beaten him yet and the last time the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was run at Churchill Downs, the winner came back to win the Derby six months later off of two less than stellar preps. History might be poised to repeat itself.

#3- Dialed In- The Nick Zito trainee had absolutely no pace to run at in his last race and it showed as he was unable to close into the dawdling fractions and finished second. I think we can safely say that he will get a pace in the Florida Derby and in the Kentucky Derby both. If the pace in either race is blistering, he will certainly be a horse to reckon with when they turn for home in Louisville.

#4- Santiva- I really think he is improving his form the closer we get to the First Saturday In May. Once again, I am less than crazy about the move to Keeneland to run in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes as the final prep over the polytrack in Kentucky. However, this horse might have more grit than anyone else on any of these Derby Contender lists and that will certainly matter come May 7. I fully expect him to be a part of any Superfecta in the Kentucky Derby.

#5- Premier Pegasus- The West Coast's best of the bunch right now. His next start is expected to be as the prohibitive favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 9. His Sire, Fusaichi Pegasus, won the Derby in 2000. He crushed the field in the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 12 by nearly eight lengths. It remains the standard by which all other Derby prep performances need to be measured so far this spring.

#6- The Factor- I am really still not sold on the Bob Baffert representative, but there is the fact that Baffert certainly knows what is necessary to get a horse ready for the Triple Crown. His speed will likely be compromised on Derby Day, but the great Laz Barrera won not just a Derby, but also a Belmont with speedster Bold Forbes in 1976. If anyone is going to steal this Kentucky Derby, it just might be Bob Baffert.

Tune in again on Thursday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Grade 3 $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral

There are three major Kentucky Derby preps this weekend, including the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and the Grade 3 Sunland Derby. I have elected, though, to tackle the Grade 3 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes over the Polytrack at Turfway Park. Here is the analysis:

I find it very hard to locate anyone in this field that can beat #2 Positive Response. He won the John Battaglia Memorial by seven lengths over the track on March 5 and did not humiliate himself in his last graded effort, the Grade 3 El Camino Real at Golden Gate, where he finished third. He worked a solid five furlongs on March 20, covering the length in 1:01.4. Going forward, of course, might be an issue since he has never raced on a true dirt surface, but worry about that later. I will put #10 Decisive Moment second. His last try in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds was OK. He set the pace and ended up fifth, within six lengths of Mucho Macho Man and Santiva, two horses that are currently part of the Super Six Derby Pix. He ran second behind Gourmet Dinner in the Delta Jackpot in November and while Gourmet Dinner is now out, he is still a strong horse to be in company with. #4 Animal Kingdom goes third in here after a bullet turf workout on March 21 and a second over the turf at Gulfstream Park in his 2011 debut. Trainer Graham Motion is very strong with horses making their second start off a layoff and this horse did get his only win in his only previous Polytrack start, at Keeneland last fall. Alan Garcia will ride. Finally, I will put #3 Thirtyfirststreet in the fourth spot. He ran past some tiring rivals to finish fourth in the Robert E. Lewis at Santa Anita and while he was no match for the winner, Anthony's Cross, keep in mind that Anthony's Cross is not here. His Beyers translate well into a contending position here and his last seven furlong work on March 18 was very speedy. Here is the play for the Grade 3 Vinery Racing Spiral:

$10 WP #2
$2 EX #2 with ALL
$1 EX ALL with #2
TOTAL- $53

We caught a bit of a break with last week's play in the Rebel Stakes with the scratch of Alternation at the gate. The play only cost $19 and drops the blog to a MINUS $121 for the year. Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Super Six Derby Pix

While The Factor was dazzling in going all the way in the Rebel Stakes this past weekend at Oaklawn Park, I am still not convinced he can go 1 1/4 miles on the First Saturday In May. I will readily admit I was wrong about his ability to get 1 1/16 miles last weekend, but that still doesn't mean he can get that extra 3/16 of a mile when it really counts. That being said, we move on to this week's edition of the Super Six Derby Pix:

#1- Uncle Mo- Again, I didn't find his Timely Writer win that demoralizing to the rest of the Derby contingent. He is supposed to be heading to the Wood Memorial to run in owner Mike Repole's home area. Should he go in the Wood and win, he would be undefeated, but only have five starts and only two of those around two turns. Is that enough of a resume' to install as the heavy favorite he will be? We'll see.

#2- Dialed In- Worked out this morning at Palm Meadows and went four furlongs in 47.55 seconds, including a final furlong of 11.04 seconds, at least on trainer Nick Zito's watch. He will be the favorite for the Florida Derby on April 3. However, he will face some tough stuff at Gulfstream that day, including the Fountain Of Youth winner, Soldat. Again, the experience factor will be crucial for this one. He will only have four starts behind him when he enters the gate at Churchill Downs, provided there is not another prep following the Florida Derby.

#3- Santiva- He has been my "under the radar" horse for Derby Day since his gritty win over Astrology in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs last fall. We'll see how Astrology does this weekend in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby in New Mexico. Santiva will have more starts on Derby Day than the first two, but he has won only that one race. I admire his tenacity, but winning matters more than determination when it comes down to brass tacks.

#4- Soldat- You want a resume', this guy has a resume'. He has been to the track seven times already in his career and has been first or second in all seven of them. He has more varied distances than the first three and more varied surfaces, having proven he excels now on both turf and dirt. Last week, I compared him to Barbaro. I still think that is an apt desciption, maybe he is the one to complete what Barbaro couldn't. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin needs that elusive Derby win for his record, just like Todd Pletcher needed it last year.

#5- Premier Pegasus- Likely is the best of what has proven to be a very weak crop of West Coast Derby contenders. I couldn't have been more impressed with his win in the San Felipe and based on that win, he should be the heavy choice in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 9. Others likely to be in that field include Anthony's Cross, Comma To The Top, and Silver Medallion. None of those tickle my fancy when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, at least not yet.

#6- Mucho Macho Man- He didn't frighten anyone away from the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby this weekend at Fair Grounds. There will be twelve other runners in the gate with him as he tries to complete the Risen Star-Louisiana Derby Double. He got drilled by Dialed In once already this season in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream, which prompted the move to Louisiana. Should he win the Louisiana Derby, he will have three wins in eight starts for his career thus far. He also will be trying to become just the third horse since 1924 to win the Louisiana Derby and then pick up the win in the Kentucky Derby.

Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dubai Doings

I know I promised the Super Six Derby Pix today, however, the draw for the Dubai World Cup and all those other wonderful races at Meydan was conducted today and my friend, Pat Cummings, was on hand for the proceedings.

His website,, has all the information as well as some excellent video interviews with some of the racing personalities you will be seeing (and wagering) on Saturday morning. Check it out and enjoy all the races from Meydan this weekend.

Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Carry Back

One of the more famous Kentucky Derbies of the 1960s came fairly early in the decade in 1961 when a horse that always came from far back named Carry Back (pictured) ran down Crozier to win the Roses. Carry Back was certainly "The People's Horse" in 1961. He went off as the favorite on Derby Day under jockey Johnny Sellers. Carry Back was Sired by Saggy and was out of Joppy, which one writer said wouldn't, "produce anything faster than a jalopy". Well, that writer was right for the first half of most races. However, in the latter stages of those races, Carry Back was plenty fast.

Crozier was no slouch either. He was the second choice of the bettors and was owned by Fred Hooper. Hooper had already been in the Kentucky Derby Winner's Circle once before with Hoop Jr. in 1945. After that race, winning jockey Eddie Arcaro told Hooper that is was the most expensive race he would ever win because he would spend the rest of his life trying to win it again. Crozier would be Hooper's best chance at getting that second helping of Derby glory.

Carry Back went the eastern route to Louisville. He ran third in the Fountain Of Youth, won the Flamingo and Florida Derby, and ran second in the Wood Memorial. In the Kentucky Derby itself, Carry Back was so far behind as the horses entered the stretch that you can hear the race caller on the video say, "Carry Back is too far back to make it unless he hurries." Well, it was right at that time that Carry Back started to hurry. Crozier had taken the lead from pacesetting Four And Twenty and Globemaster and appeared headed for Fred Hooper's elusive second Derby win. Carry Back continued to wear down Crozier through the stretch and not only made up a tremendous amount of ground, he went on to win by nearly a length. It was a performance that would forever put Carry Back into Kentucky Derby legend.

Carry Back would go on to win the Preakness at Pimlico as well. He would become just one of the many horses to have accomplished two links of the Triple Crown, but fall short in the third. He ran seventh in New York, finishing behind Sherluck, who had finished behind Carry Back in both the Derby and the Preakness. Carry Back would run 61 times in his career, winning 21, finishing second in 11 and third in 11. He totalled $1,241,165 in earnings for his career. Of course, he was voted Champion Three-Year-Old Colt in 1961 and he was elected to the U.S. Horse Racing Hall Of Fame in 1975. Calder still runs the Carry Back Stakes every year at six furlongs in his honor.

Here is a link to watch Carry Back's dramatic victory in the 1961 Kentucky Derby: Tune in again on Wednesday for a new edition of the Super Six Derby Pix. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Photo courtesy of

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Grade 2 $300,000 Rebel Stakes

The second step in the triumvirate of Derby prep races in Arkansas (Southwest, Rebel, Ark. Derby) takes place on Saturday with the Grade 2 $300,000 Rebel Stakes. It actually follows what promises to be an outstanding version of the Grade 3 Azeri with Blind Luck and Havre De Grace continuing what is currently the best rivalry in racing. Thirteen horses entered the Rebel for Saturday, but I believe there are going to be a couple of scratches after listening to "At The Races with Steve Byk" today. Nevertheless, we press on with the analysis:

I will put the California "invader", #5 JP's Gusto, in the top spot for this one. He ran second after a bit of a troubled trip in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, finishing behind Archarcharch. This will be his second start of 2011 and he comes in off of a five furlong bullet work of 59 2/5 seconds on March 13 over this track. Ramon Dominguez will likely be itching to get another Derby ride after what happened with Brethren last weekend in Tampa Bay. I will go with #9 Sway Away in the place position with Garrett Gomez getting aboard once again. Gomez was up for the second in the Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita last time out on February 20, when this horse narrowly lost to The Factor (who I will get to in a moment). You want a fast workout? How about seven furlongs in 1:23 3/5? That's not fast, that's ridiculous. The Sire, Afleet Alex, should have won the Triple Crown in 2005. We will have to see about Sway Away. The longshot I like in here, #2 Alternation, will go third. This colt is one of two Donnie Von Hemel trainees in this race and he is undefeated when paired with Luis Quinonez. Of course, this is the first step up to the bigtime, but he is 2 for 2 at Oaklawn Park this meeting. The 12-1 morning line certainly doesn't hurt either. Finally, we come to #6 The Factor. I think he is clearly the fastest horse in the race. I also just as clearly don't think he can go this far. There really isn't anything in the pedigree to suggest the distances he will be facing if he continues forward on the Road To The Roses. I know, Bob Baffert can be a miracle worker. This one might just take Edmund Gwenn in his Santa Claus suit and moving the race to Macy's on 34th Street to make me a believer. Here is the play for the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes:

$5 WPS #5
$2 EX BOX 2-5-9
$2 TRI BOX 2-5-9
TOTAL- $39

The blog is clearly taking on water after a couple of weeks of hitting nothing (and not liking it). Right now, we are MINUS $102 for the year. Therefore, we really need to get a winner here. Remember, They Are Off does not accept any responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Super Six Derby Pix

What a weekend we just had!!! Uncle Mo made his long-awaited comeback race in the ungraded Timely Writer at Gulfstream and won handily. Brethren disappointed (or rather his rider disappointed) in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. Premier Pegasus wasn't even part of the Derby Future Wager this past weekend (at least not on an individual basis) and he dusted the field in the Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita. How does all that shake out when we put it into the Super Six Derby Pix?

#1-Uncle Mo- Yes, he won in the Timely Writer and yes, he won by a comfortable margin. However, I really wasn't dazzled by the performance. I am interested to see what happens the next time he goes two turns, which will be the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 9. Keep in mind that this is still a relatively lightly-raced horse and that normally doesn't translate too well on Derby Day.

#2-Dialed In- Finally suffered a defeat in that allowance race on March 8 which was a prep for the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Granted he lost to his stablemate from the Zito barn, but the pace was sluggish and that compromised his "one big run" style since there was no pace to chase. Another thing to remember is that the Florida Derby is a week before the other big preps. The Florida Derby is scheduled for April 3, a full six days before other preps and an extra week out from the Kentucky Derby.

#3-Santiva- I am depressed with the decision that has been made by the connections here to go run on the Polytrack at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes for his last prep race before the Derby. The only thing I like about it is that the Blue Grass is actually a week later than the Wood on April 16. I think that is better spacing before the Derby on May 7, but I would prefer the final prep be on a surface similar to what he'll face in Louisville. He did run 2nd in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last fall and then went to Churchill and won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. Maybe they are thinking history will repeat itself.

#4-Soldat- Off of his big win in the Grade 2 Fountain Of Youth, he will part of what promises to be a very entertaining version of the Florida Derby on April 3. Does anyone else get reminded of Barbaro when looking at this horses past performances? Barbaro had the turf success before his crushing Derby score and appeared to be just as versatile as this guy appears to be. I still think that the turf will be where he really excels, but Barbaro did win the Derby after all and he could have been a turf ace too, given the chance.

#5-Premier Pegasus- Well, well, the West Coast finally has a legitimate Derby horse this season. It had been noted in an earlier version of the Super Six Derby Pix that not one West Coast horse was listed. That was because none merited consideration. That is no longer the case. His smashing win in the Grade 2 San Felipe did come against a pace that was suicidal and ridiculous. However, he still dusted Jaycito into the ground and he is poised to be the favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 9.

#6-Mucho Macho Man- Will benefit greatly from the decision to get Santiva out of Louisiana and will likely be one of the main favorites for the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 26. I would hope that they try to get one other prep race in before the Derby being that far out, but it is highly unlikely that is in the plans. His overall resume' is probably the weakest of anyone on this list, but he still deserves a spot until someone comes among and knocks him out of it.

Tune in again this week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, March 14, 2011


I would like to take this opportunity to say BRAVO!!! to John Shear, who is employed as a guard in the paddock at Santa Anita Park. Shear's job is normally to extend a rope to close off the opening in the paddock's walking ring. However, on Saturday, Shear went above and beyond his normal duties to save a situation that could have been a near-catastrophe. According to the report on, Shear put himself into harm's way when Sea And Sage broke loose in the paddock and headed straight for the opening Shear closes off. There was a young girl directly in the path of the loose horse and Shear inserted himself as protection for the girl and the horse collided with Shear instead of the girl, who was estimated to be around three or four years old.

Thankfully, Shear never lost consciousness and after receiving first aid on the scene was sent to a hospital in Pasadena for further evaluation. Shear was listed as stable on Sunday and appeared to be none the worse for wear. The girl was completely unharmed in the incident. Sea And Sage was brought back to the barn of trainer Gary Mandella was was also unharmed.

One little point I forgot to mention in this whole story is that John Shear is 90 years old. Yes, that's right 90!!! John Shear is also a former jockey and any jockey, former or otherwise, is one tough cookie. So, John Shear is a hero in every sense of the word. If you see him at Santa Anita at any time in the near future, be sure to tell him so. The girl's parents made sure to let the track know he was, it is certainly the least any of us could do. BRAVO John Shear!!!

Tune in again tomorrow from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Grade 2 $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap

There are, of course, important preps for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday afternoon. The Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs features another effort by Brethren, who won the prep for it with his victory in the Sam F. Davis. The Timely Writer at Gulfstream Park features the return of Uncle Mo, winner of the 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. However, I have selected another Gulfstream race to handicap for the blog, the Grade 2 $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap. Here is the analysis:

I think this race shapes up as a speedfest. For that reason, I will select a horse I expect to be travelling slightly off the pace, #6 Tizway. Tizway will be making his return to the races in this spot with Rajiv Maragh aboard. His last performance was a fifth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs. His last workout on March 5 was a speedy one, going a half-mile in 49 seconds flat. For second, I will go with the favorite, #7 Soaring Empire. He has a win and a second in two graded starts at Gulfstream Park this meeting, finishing behind Tackleberry in one of them. He has a bullet work on February 28 and is extremely well-bred with Sire Empire Maker and A.P. Indy on the Dam side. I will put #1 Rule in third position. He is winless thus far in three tries at Gulfstream Park this meeting, although he posted Beyers in the 100s in the last two of those. John Velazquez will be aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher. I just refuse to leave #3 Tackleberry out of a position here. He has won the last two at Gulfstream Park at a furlong less and a furlong more than this try at one mile. He has been ignored in both of those tries and I would be loathe to do that again here. Here is the play for the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap:

$5 WP #6
$2 EX 6-7 with 1-2-3-6-7
$1 TRI 6-7 with 6-7 with 1-2-3
TOTAL- $32

Right now, the blog is MINUS $70 for the year, so we are in need of a victory on Saturday. As always, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Super Six Derby Pix

This is actually a crucial weekend coming up for some of the top Kentucky Derby contenders. Uncle Mo will make his highly anticipated return to the racetrack in the Timely Writer at Gulfstream Park, facing five rivals. Brethren, the winner of the Sam F. Davis, tries to complete the Tampa Bay Double with a win in the Tampa Bay Derby. It promises to be a position-altering Saturday, March 12 for the Super Six Derby Pix.

#1-Uncle Mo- OK, now we get to finally see what we have got here. Do we still have the phenomenon that crushed the field in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in November or do we have a horse that peaked too early and now must make up ground on the Road To The Derby? While I think going one mile for the return is a smart enough idea, the one-turn mile might not help his limited experience dealing with two-turn races.

#2-Dialed In- Yes, I know he lost to his Zito stablemate on Sunday at Gulfstream Park in his tune-up for the Florida Derby. However, several things worked against Dialed In that day. There was absolutely zero pace in that pace, which stunted his ability to make that one big run he made to win the Holy Bull. He also had to be much closer to the lead as a result of that first problem, which became problem number two. I think that Sunday race at Gulfstream was just a glorified workout for Dialed In and I think confidence should still be high in his camp.

#3-Brethren- The full-brother to 2010 Derby winner, Super Saver, gets another chance to impress in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby this Saturday, where he will be the overwhelming favorite. Uncle Mo was entered, but we all know he is going in the Timely Writer a little further south in Florida. Too Experience, who was the runner-up at 31-1 in the Davis, is back for another try with Brethren. The one flaw in that earlier performance was the lack of decent competition for him. That might be turning into a trend after Saturday.

#4-Santiva- I will compare this horse to another member of the 2011 Derby fraternity, Gourmet Dinner. Both always seem to be there at the finish and both always seem to give you a completely gut-wrenching effort, making sure they do all they can to win. They are both very reminiscent of Hard Spun, runner-up to Street Sense in the 2007 Derby, who always had more fortitude than anyone else on the racetrack. Can Santiva or Gourmet Dinner win the Derby? I am not sure about that yet, but I can feel certain that one or both will be underneath in the exotics.

#5-Soldat- Still earns his position in the Pix based on his impressive win in the Fountain Of Youth at Gulfstream Park, turning the long-awaited return of To Honor And Serve into The Soldat Show. I still think his future lies on the greenery, but while the connections are currently nursing a case of Derby Fever, why not go for it full throttle? He has never been worse than second in seven starts and I like that experience factor for him as well. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has a Belmont win on his resume' with Jazil in 2006, but no Derby win yet.

#6-Stay Thirsty- His win in the Gotham last week was not the most impressive thing ever, but it certainly gets him in the discussion. His connections are the same as Uncle Mo's with owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher. Is he another in the long line of "second-stringers" that come into the Derby under the radar of a more fancied stablemate that ends up winning the Roses? Cannonade won while Judger did not in 1974, Thunder Gulch won while Timber Country and Serena's Song did not in 2995, and Real Quiet won while Indian Charlie did not in 1998.

Tune in again for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Wagering Weekend

Several weeks ago on this blog I wrote a piece titled "Call Me Ismael" where I documented my failures with the Pick Five wager at Turf Paradise at various junctures throughout the season. I detailed how close I had come to hitting the wager and compared myself to Captain Ahab and the Pick Five to Moby Dick. I also made a point of stating at the end of that article that I intended to hit the Pick Five before the end of the current season at Turf Paradise and that I didn't care whether the ticket paid $40 or $4,000.

Well, readers, today was finally the day. I hit the Pick Five wager at Turf Paradise for the first time on a $54 ticket for a total of $475. Believe me, it was an incredibly satisfying feeling for me. That satisfaction was heightened by the fact that a friend of mine visited the track today from California along with a friend of his and after I advised them of the carryover entering the day, they also hit the Pick Five with the help of my selections. It was a rare day of handicapping prowess for me since my top pick won six of the nine races on the card and my second selection won the other three. I can attest to the fact that this has never happened before.

Today came on the heels of an exciting Sunday that was created by the NHC Tour free handicapping tournament which awarded trips to the 2012 National Handicapping Championships to the first four finishers. For a fleeting few minutes, I was on my way to Las Vegas on Sunday. I correctly selected the winners of three of the first four contest races and was sitting in a tie for second place at that point of the contest. Unfortunately, I only managed a pair of decent priced seconds in the remaining races, but I still managed to finish a respectable T-209th in the contest with just over $55 in earnings from my picks. That was certainly a far cry from the brutal bagel I went through in the first free contest of the year, which I documented in another earlier blog piece titled "Behind The Bagel".

All in all, it was an excellent weekend handicapping-wise and wallet-wise as well. I am certainly encouraged by the last few days and hope to build on this success going forward. Tune in again tomorrow for the Super Six Derby Pix from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Grade 1 $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap

The 74th edition of the Big 'Cap takes place at Santa Anita on Saturday afternoon as part of a wonderful program that also includes the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile and Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. However, the Santa Anita Handicap is the featured event on the program and the feature features a strong field of eleven going postward led by the 4-5 morning line favorite, Twirling Candy. Here is the analysis:

Needless to say, I am going to try and beat the 4-5 favorite in here and I will attempt to do that with #3 Gladding, who could very well go right to the front and steal this race on the front end. I really don't see much else in here that will be a competitive speed position with this horse. He could do exactly what he did in the Grade 2 San Antonio, when he took the lead, set the pace, and went all the way in front. He beat several others in this field in doing so. The Sire is 2002 Belmont Stakes winner, Sarava. For second, I will go with #5 Twirling Candy, although I loathe the 4-5 odds on a horse that has yet to go this distance. I know he was awesome in winning the Grade 2 Strub at 1 1/8 miles last time out on February 5, but his lone loss came at that distance as well. Of course, that was over the cushion track at Hollywood in the Grade 1 Goodwood, so it was a different surface, but if there any doubts at all on a 4-5 shot, I think you have to look elsewhere. The horse that might be poised for a very big effort on Saturday is #10 Aggie Engineer. Joe Talamo has never missed the money in seven career pairings with this gelding, winning three of those races. He is also 7 for 8 in the top three at Santa Anita, again most of those efforts coming when the track was synthetic. The February works are very strong here, so Aggie Engineer could be peaking at the right time. Bob Baffert is entering four different horses in the Big 'Cap and the price to like in this race is his with #9 Tweebster at 15-1. He was second to Twirling Candy in the Strub and also race second behind Indian Firewater in the Grade 2 San Fernando. Mike Smith will be aboard and I think this one can really outrun his odds in this spot. Here is the play for the Grade 1 $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap:

$5 WP #3
$1 EX 3-5 with 3-5-8-9-10
$1 TRI 3-5 with 3-5 with 1-8-9-10
TOTAL- $26

The Fountain Of Youth was a complete wash last weekend, so the blog currently sits at a disappointing MINUS $44 for the year. Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Super Six Derby Pix

Even with the one-day delay to recognize the accomplishment of Vicky Baze at Turf Paradise on Tuesday, the Super Six Derby Pix cannot be stopped. Here is this week's list:

#1-Uncle Mo- He was nominated by trainer Todd Pletcher to the Timely Writer to be run on March 12, along with twelve other horses, including Travelin Man, who finished well behind Flashpoint in the Hutcheson last weekend. There was a total of 36 nominations for the race, but one gets the impression that Pletcher REALLY wants this race to go, so Mo can get on the Road To The Roses. I still find in unsettling that the connections are passing on the Tampa Bay Derby the same day, when that was their original choice to begin with.

#2-Dialed In- Also nominated to the Timely Writer, but more likely to run in the Florida Derby. The Florida Derby won't be run until April 3, which means it will be 63 days between races for this Nick Zito trainee if he doesn't go in the Timely Writer. It also means this horse will be tremendously inexperienced leading into the Derby with only two starts in 2011. I know that seems to be the way most people want to go these days, but that strategy doesn't fit every horse.

#3-Brethren- This horse, in all honesty, should probably be at the top of this list, but again, I would be anxious to see where he would go following the Tampa Bay Derby. If he runs the same race he ran in the Sam F. Davis, he should be 2 for 2 in 2011. It was maybe the best race run by a three-year-old around two turns this year, to the naked eye. However, the Beyer number was unimpressive, as was the field. We are still nine weeks away from Louisville, but this brother of Super Saver might be the favorite to make it two straight for WinStar and Todd Pletcher.

#4-Santiva- Santiva continues to make steady progress up this list. He was all heart and desire in the Risen Star and is now listed in the Derby Watch as likely for the Louisiana Derby or the Blue Grass Stakes next. I would hope the connections would stay on the dirt and run at Fair Grounds. His speed did improve considerably in the Risen Star off his efforts last year, but he did not win. The best reason I can come up with is that he was parked outside of Mucho Macho Man all the way around the racetrack and the trip cost him.

#5-Soldat- Yes, his performance in the Fountain Of Youth this past weekend was excellent. I know I also said last week that the pace might be lacking in the Kentucky Derby this year. There is no question this horse will be part of the pace if Saturday is any indication. However, you have to think that someone is going to go with him, don't you? It is possible he could run a War Emblem-style front-running race in the Derby. It is also possible that he packs it in at the quarter pole and runs 14th or worse after getting some pressure. I still think this horse will end up on the turf later this year, a la Paddy O'Prado in 2010.

#6-To Honor And Serve- No horse was more disappointing this past week than this one. He was only the second choice in his return to racing following the long layoff after the Remsen win, but he was clearly a short horse. He was no match for Soldat, a horse I don't think is as good as this one (even though he is just ahead on this list). Trainer Bill Mott has never won the Kentucky Derby, this might be his best shot to get the Roses. The first step was a rocky one, but I still expect this horse to come back now that he is racing and training in full force.

Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Viva Vicky!

Normally, Tuesday is the day for the Super Six Derby Pix here at They Are Off. However, today at Turf Paradise featured a milestone victory for one of our riders. It just so happens to be one of the female jockeys I featured in the "Here's To The Ladies" post last week. Vicky Baze collected win number 2,000 in the Tuesday finale at Turf Paradise aboard Decarchy Park, who was the favorite in the maiden event. Vicky positioned Decarchy Park nicely just behind the pacesetting longshot Vegas Tushy during the early stages of the race and made her move on the far turn to sweep to the lead she never relinquished. It was a textbook victory for an excellent rider and certainly worthy of being the milestone score. Ironic isn't it, that Baze collects her 2,000th win aboard a horse that collected her first win at the same time. Anyway, a very hearty congratulations to Vicky Baze on winning 2,000 races in her proud career!!! Here's hoping there will be many, many more.

Tune in again tomorrow when They Are Off returns with the Super Six Derby Pix for this week. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!