Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Trainer Steve Asmussen worked the Derby runner-up, Nehro, this weekend, going six furlongs in 1:12.20. Nehro worked in company with another horse and while actually finishing a length behind the other horse, who is also trained by Steve Asmussen. This workout actually took place at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. The drf.com website is reporting that Asmussen plans to ship Nehro to New York on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Preakness winner, Shackleford, arrived in New York on Monday morning for trainer Neil Howard and will likely have a workout of his own on Saturday morning to determine whether or not he will participate in the Belmont.
It is the hope here that Shackleford's workout goes well and he does indeed enter the Belmont Stakes. It would be extraordinary to have a two-horse rivalry with the Derby and Preakness winner, of course, develop. But, if you throw in the Derby runner-up and consider that all three are trained by some of the top conditioners in the game (Graham Motion, Steve Asmussen, and Neil Howard), we could be looking at a very promising summer as far as the racing scene goes. How tremendous would it be for these three to all be there at the end of the Belmont and then go on to run in some of the bigger three-year-old races on the calendar this summer? A three-way battle at the Haskell Invitational or the Travers Stakes would be a monumental step forward into the spotlight for racing. If this trio were to continue on through this year and (dare I say it) into 2012, it could be something to start generating national interest again outside of the Triple Crown or the Breeders' Cup.
Just watch the NBA Finals starting tonight, there will be plenty of interest in this series. Why? The Miami Heat were everybody's villains at the start of the season with the way Lebron James left Cleveland for South Beach, taking his talents with him to play with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Now, the media is all agog over how the Heat have magically put it together and "The Heatles" are on the cusp on a championship. On the other side of the ledger you have the Dallas Mavericks with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd longing for an elusive championship to validate their greatness.
What do all these men I have mentioned have in common? They are all "stars" in their respective sport. "Stars" sell in the "here today, gone tomorrow" world of media coverage we live in today. Horse racing, like any other sport, needs "stars" to become more and more prominent beyond the usual $2 bettor that visits the track anyway or the occasional pretty face that comes out only for the Derby. It is possible we are looking at some equine stars right now that could pick up the baton from Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra and carry it into the immediate future.
It is, of course, impossible now to have a Triple Crown winner this year, but racing might get something out of this that is just as important: relevance for more than five weeks in the spring or two days in the fall.
Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Friday, May 27, 2011
The Grade 2 $150,000 American Handicap
I think the biggest think working against the favorite in this spot is the presence of plenty of pace to run with him on the front end. I expect Ryehill Dreamer and Liberian Freighter to be winging along the front end with Sidney's Candy to create quite a fast pace scenario here. I am, therefore, going to go with what I think is the most interesting horse in the race, #6 Goldwaki. He is making his 2011 debut here for new trainer Ron McAnally. If you look at the distances this horse ran in 2010, you will see that the shortest race he tried was at 1 3/8 miles. He has not been as short as one mile since October 2009, before he broke his maiden. He lost his last three races in 2010, but finished behind some fine runners, like Bekhabad, who went on to run in the Breeders' Cup. It's a long layoff, but I think his workouts have shown he can go fast when he needs to. For second, I will go another I expect to lay off the pace a bit in #4 The Usual Q.T., who will have Victor Espinoza aboard here. He finished third behind the two pacesetters I expect to run with Sidney's Candy in the Grade 3 Inglewood on April 24. In fact, he has hit the board in his last five efforts, but has not been a winner since the Grade 1 Eddie Read at Del Mar in July 2010. He has won five of seven tries at one mile on the turf in his career. I will put #7 Sidney's Candy in the third spot. He is clearly the best overall horse in the field, but I think the circumstances will conspire against him in this spot. Plus, his price will be so short, he is worth a bet against. I will use one of the other pacesetters to round out the top four with #1 Ryehill Dreamer. He could very well hang on for a minor piece of this one after posting back-to-back Beyers in the low 100s. His last workout on May 20 was a five-furlong bullet, covering the distance in a scorching 58 3/5 seconds. Here is the play for the Grade 2 American Handicap:
$5 WP #6
$1 EX 4-6-7 with ALL
$1 TRI 4-6 with 4-6-7 with ALL
The blog is now MINUS $506 for the year. I think we might be in the midst of a resuscitation, though, as we try to make our way back to even for the year. Remember, They Are Off does not accepts 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, May 24, 2011
Lucky Number Thirteen
The connections of the three-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner invigorated the racing public when it was announced after her record-setting win at Churchill Downs last November that she would be returning to try and make it four in a row. The first step on that arduous journey to immortality was taken this weekend in France, while the North American racing public was centered on the Preakness Stakes and Animal Kingdom's try to become the twelfth Triple Crown winner. That effort ended up falling just a bit short, but Goldikova's effort was another of her classic performances.
From the article on the race on Racingpost.com, trainer Freddie Head described her win as "a brilliant and courageous seasonal debut". She won the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp in France over 1 1/8 miles, holding off the charge of Cirrus Des Aigles and won at generous odds of 3-5 on the French Tote system. Those odds are generous if you consider the greatness of the horse we are talking about here. Head refused to commit to Goldikova's next race, which many are hoping would be the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot. Wherever they elect to return her, the six-year-old Goldikova emphatically drove home the point this weekend that she is finest horse in training in the world right now, we now have a baker's dozen of examples as to why that statement is true.
Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Monday, May 23, 2011
He also has more guts and determination than any other three-year-old in the class this year. He first displayed it to us in the Florida Derby, where he nearly pulled off an epic upset at long odds and made Dialed In work every inch of the way to get past him. He showed a glimmer of it on the First Saturday In May, when he led in the stretch of the Derby and made it tough for the first three finishers all the way to the end. It finally paid off in victory in the Preakness, where Shackleford just continued to demonstrate why internal fortitude is just as important a factor in who wins a horse race as who the fastest horse is.
Let us not forget the fine effort of the Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, in running second in Baltimore. He fell much further behind the front-runners in the early stages behind the speed duel that was going on. He and Dialed In were so far behind at one point, it made one think they were in a separate race. However, John Velazquez nearly pulled off a great come-from-behind ride aboard Animal Kingdom, missing by what turned out to be a very thin margin. It is the second time in three years that the Derby winner almost came from the clouds to run down a front-running Preakness champion. Don't forget that Mine That Bird was this close to Rachel Alexandra at the finish of the 2009 Preakness and she ran with the pace all the way that day, much the same way Shackleford did on Saturday.
So, where does this leave us? I think it could set up an epic edition of the Belmont Stakes in nineteen days. If both Animal Kingdom and Shackleford go on to New York (and the early indications are that they will), we could be seeing a fine rivalry develop. Throw in the return of Derby runner-up, Nehro, in the Belmont, along with Peter Pan winner, Alternation, New Yorker Mike Repole's Stay Thirsty, and maybe more Mucho Macho Man and we could be in store for a ringing rendition of the 143rd Belmont Stakes in a few weeks. I know that a lot has been said about the lack of quality of the three-year-old crop this year, but after the first two legs of the sport's most important series, I think those labels of inadequacy are misplaced.
Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Friday, May 20, 2011
The 136th Preakness Stakes
Yes, I think, we will have a chance at a Triple Crown winner in 2011 becuase I am picking #11 Animal Kingdom to win the Preakness on Saturday. I will allow that he likely won the Derby mainly because John Velazquez was on him two weeks ago, but Johnny V returns to the saddle here. The colt has never been worse than second in five lifetime starts and Derby-winning horses usually give a good account of themselves in the second leg (Super Saver being the exception). Barry Irwin certainly did himself no favors with his bitter statements after the Derby, but his current trainer, Graham Motion, seems to have everything in motion for a shot at history in three more weeks. For second, I will go with #9 Mucho Macho Man, who closed so impressively at Churchill Downs to get third. While he was closer to the pace than the eventual winner, he didn't get uncorked until late in the stretch and by then, it was just too late. He has the speed figures to be a factor in here and as has been said before, the horses that run in the Derby always appear to have a bit more two weeks later. He did post a bullet workout on May 17 over the training track at Belmont, covering four furlongs in the slop in 49 1/5 seconds. I will inject a "new shooter" in the third spot with #8 Dance City. I expect him to be close to the pace in this race (along with Flashpoint and Shackleford), but I don't think Flashpoint is suited for this distance and Shackleford gave so much two weeks ago, he might be a little weaker here. Dance City pressed the pace in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and survived to end up third, behind Archarcharch and Nehro, neither of whom are here. His price of 12-1 is also attractive. I will put the Derby favorite, #10 Dialed In, next. He did not run at all in the Derby, especially since the pace was much slower than was expected. He rallied past some tiring horses to get up to eighth. I think he will benefit from a little quicker tempo here, which I expect to happen. Don't forget, Nick Zito has won the Preakness before after a disappointing Derby run with Louis Quatorze in 1996. I will go five-deep here with #6 Sway Away, who could be a price pick to upset the apple cart in the Preakness. He was the last horse left out of the Derby field and the extra rest could be to his benefit off two subpar performances. His Sire, Afleet Alex, won this race in 2005 despite being manhandled at the top of the stretch by Scrappy T. Garrett Gomez gets the call. Here is the play for the 136th running of The Preakness:
$1 TRI 8-9-11 with 6-8-9-11 with 6-7-8-9-10-11-14
10-cent SPR 6-8-9-11 with 6-8-9-11 with 6-7-8-9-10-11-14 with 5-6-7-8-9-10-11-13-14
The blog did have the winner of the Peter Pan last week to get off the losing streak, but we are still MINUS $425 for 2011. 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, May 19, 2011
Martha Claussen's Preakness Analysis
Unlike someone I know, I will not jump on the Animal Kingdom bandwagon after completely disregarding him in the Derby. Nice run, but Super Saver won the Derby and finished eighth in the 2010 Preakness. Lots of interesting angles. Will Dialed In get some pace to run at so he can collect his $5.5 million bonus? Will Martin Garcia make the difference on Midnight Interlude and win back-to-back Preakness Stakes for Bob Baffert? What about the "new shooters" like Astrology, Sway Away, Flashpoint, and Dance City? Dance City intrigues me and will not get a lot of action. History says the Derby horses do best. I am throwing "history" and "dosage" into the swollen Mississippi River after seeing a horse win the Kentucky Derby in his dirt debut. So, I will take a few chances in my selections and go for a Pick 3 as I feel I can single Paddy O'Prado in the Grade 2 Dixie Stakes.
Martha's Top Four Selections: Dialed In, Dance City, Midnight Interlude, Astrology
Suggested Preakness Plays:
$14 WIN #10
$2 EX ALL with #10
$5 WPS #8
There are a few nice horses in the tenth race, the Grade 3 William Schaefer Memorial, so I will go five-deep. Graham Motion may win with Icabad Crane. I will single Paddy O'Prado in the Grade 2 Dixie and throw in some price picks in the Preakness.
$1 PICK THREE 2-3-5-7-8 with 4 with 1-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11
TOTAL PREAKNESS PLAYS- $100
Reid McLellan's Preakness Analysis
#11 Animal Kingdom came from my "not fast enough" (NFE) category in the Derby, which meant I threw him out of even a superfecta possibility. His breeding was the only thing I liked about him, but I did not consider his non-dirt efforts good enough, even in this year's "evenly matched" group of three-year-olds. Now he gets a chance to "prove" that he is as good a dirt horse as any in this crop and he will get to do it without the burden of my money riding with him. Two horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby that came to Baltimore made impressive late moves along with "AK", #9 Mucho Macho Man and #10 Dialed In. It is interesting to note that only ONE of the fourteen entered had their final breeze at Pimlico (#2 Norman Asbjornson who is in my NFE group).#5 Shackleford doesn't have much competition for the lead all the way to the stretch unless the trainers of #4 Flashpoint (Wesley Ward) or #8 Dance City (Todd Pletcher) decide to challenge. Flashpoint trained super for Ward on the Polytrack at Keeneland, so I question his ability to stay the distance. I won't overlook the Steve Asmussen trained #1 Astrology either. That son of A.P. Indy has never been worse than third in seven starts and has three improving Beyer speed figures coming into this classic. Michael picked #7 Midnight Interlude in the Derby and he'll be sad if he doesn't pick him in the top three. Martha stayed with her buddy, Nick Zito, and I am going to stay with my sentimental horse "3M".
Reid's Top Four Selections- Mucho Macho Man, Dialed In, Shackleford, Astrology
Suggested Preakness Play
$20 WIN #9
10-cent Superfecta 5-9-10 with 1-4-5-9-10 with 1-4-5-9-10-11 with 1-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11
TOTAL PREAKNESS PLAYS- $62
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
No No Nehro
Of course, this idea didn't work last year for Zito, when he skipped the Preakness with Derby runner-up, Ice Box, and waited for the Belmont and he was never a factor at all. It will be quite interesting to see how this all falls out, especially if Animal Kingdom is able to come through on Saturday in Baltimore and set us up for a Triple Crown chance by winning the 136th running of the Preakness. It makes one long for the days when there was a healthy bonus in the millions of dollars that further connected the races and made it financially sensible for connections to try and run in all three races rather than cherry-pick their spots.
The draw for the 136th Preakness will be conducted later today. Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!
Friday, May 13, 2011
The Grade 2 $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes
My top pick will be #6 Alternation, who had to scratch out of the Rebel at Oaklawn Park with starting gate issues and then started badly in the Arkansas Derby before finishing a closing fifth. He has been working quite well since the Arkansas Derby with back-to-back bullets at Arlington at five and six furlongs, respectively. Ramon Dominguez will ride for trainer Donnie Von Hemel. I called my second pick to a victory in the Turf Paradise Derby on February 26 and that is #3 Beer Meister. He is a stone closer and there should be plenty of pace for him to run at in this one. He caught a hopelessly wide trip in the Sunland Derby on March 27 and still rallied to finish a strong fifth. His 20-1 morning line price makes him a very attractive longshot in this race and he could definitely get a piece of it. For third, I will use Charles Cella's #2 Uncle Brent. Of course, Cella is the man at Oaklawn Park and that is where this horse has raced exclusively until Saturday. Uncle Brent has two wins and a second in three lifetime efforts in Arkansas and will have the riding services of the Derby winner, John Velazquez. As I referred to earlier, I believe there is quite a bit of pace in this race and I will use one of the speedsters, #10 Joe Vann, to round out of the top four. He was a front-running winner of the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 9 and is currently working a three-race win streak. I just think he might have too many challenges up top to sustain any bid once the closers get in gear. He should be good enough, though, to hang on for a chunk of the action. Here is the play for the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes:
$5 WP #6
$1 EX BOX 2-3-6-10
$1 TRI 3-6 with 2-3-6 with 2-3-4-6-9-10-11
We continue to take it on the chin after the Derby and now the blog is MINUS $418 for the year. However, we will persevere. Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions.
I must pass along belated congratulations to Lone Star Park announcer, John Lies, who became the first "voice" to successfully pick the winner of the Kentucky Derby as part of "What The Voices Think". Unfortunately, I continue the oh-fer streak that has gone on since Go For Gin in 1994. Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Friday, May 06, 2011
The 137th Kentucky Derby
My top pick for the Derby will be the Bob Baffert trainee, #15 Midnight Interlude, who was the winner of the Santa Anita Derby on April 9 despite having to alter course in the stretch. The rider will be Victor Espinoza, who teamed with Baffert for Derby glory in 2002 on War Emblem. The horse has been working lights-out at Churchill Downs, with two bullets on the docket. I even think he might like a wet track should there be one on Derby Day. One of the bullets was over a sloppy strip and he broke his maiden on a track listed as wet-fast. I am usually loathe to consider the "wiseguy" horse in the Derby, but will do so with #19 Nehro, trained by Steve Asmussen. Asmussen has done just about everything in Thoroughbred training except win the Derby. He is in the same boat that Todd Pletcher was in last year, when Super Saver got him off the Derby donut. Quite simply, Nehro's last two races have been outstanding. He ran second in both of them, but had he had another furlong to run at the winner, which he gets here, he would have more than that one win. I will put #13 Mucho Macho Man in the third spot. He had shoe issues in the Louisiana Derby and he still managed to run a credible third at Fair Grounds. Trainer Kathy Ritvo will have the sentimental angle in this Derby, given all that she overcame to get to this point. Rajiv Maragh will be aboard. The longshot I will be including is #3 Twice The Appeal. Calvin Borel is aboard and he has only won three of the last four editions of the Derby. He might get the trip he wants after drawing the inside slot and if it is a wet track, this horse's chances increase exponentially. Since this is the Derby, I will include a bonus fifth horse with #17 Soldat. He was high on my Derby list until the Florida Derby fiasco. He is another that could benefit from some rain falling in Louisville. Alan Garcia has the riding assignment on a horse that should be a part of the pace set-up in here. Here is the play for the 137th Kentucky Derby:
$10 WP #15
$1 EX BOX 3-13-15-17-19
$1 TRI BOX 3-13-15-17-19
Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. There will not be any blog posts until Friday next week in the aftermath of the Derby, as I head to my summer station of Lincoln Race Course. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Thursday, May 05, 2011
Getting The Band Back Together
Martha Claussen's Derby Thoughts
Always a pleasure to reunite with my former colleagues, Michael and Reid and I will try not to be too crabby about this less than stellar group of 3-year-olds!
I have been a fan of Dialed In since the Holy Bull in January and although I am disappointed that he is the favorite, I cannot get off the Nick Zito bandwagon. Dialed In has a huge closing kick and quality pedigree as his sire, 2003 Horse of the Year, Mineshaft, is a son of the incomparable A.P. Indy. My last Derby winner, Monarchos, won the Florida Derby, so I have always loved the Florida road to the Derby. This will be Zito's 25th Derby starter and his third win. Go Nick Go! Soldat flopped in the Florida Derby, but is the only horse in the field with a Beyer Speed Figure over 100 (no joke!). I had my doubts about Master of Hounds, believing he was more of a turf specialist than a true Derby contender. This year, obviously, the standards have changed and the Aiden O'Brien charge has as much of a shot as the rest of the 30-1's. He did run last November at Churchill Downs, finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2). His prep for the Derby was the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) on the Meydan polytrack, where he ran second. I dissed the chances of Paddy O'Prado last year and he ran third, so why not go turf again for a nice price. Nehro ran a huge race in the Arkansas Derby, closing gamely for second. Might be peaking right at the right time.
Martha’s Top Four Selections – Dialed In, Soldat, Master of Hounds, Nehro
Suggested Derby Play:
The Woodford Reserve precedes the Derby and is wide-open, but I am going to narrow it to four runners: Little Mike, Prince Will I Am, Doubles Partner and Expansion. Will wheel over eight Derby horses (my top four and four more longshots) and finish it off with a single in race 12, Streakin' Mohican.
Pick 3 - Race 10-12
1-5-8-14 with 1-7-8-9-11-15-17-19 with 9
Dr. Reid McLellan's Derby Thoughts
This was without doubt the most difficult Derby field to handicap since I started handicapping before my announcer buddy was born. If this was a non-winner of THREE allowance race, THIRTEEN of these would be eligible to enter, with three being non-winners of TWO. One of my favorite Derby winners (and to be a favorite Derby winner it had to be my top pick for that race) was a non-winner of two, 1987 winner Alysheba. So in 2011 I am going back to that well one more time and pick #11 Master Of Hounds as my top pick in what could be one of the most exciting Derby finishes in a long time. This son of Kingmambo looked impressive training at last year's Breeders' Cup at Churchill and I think his breeding is the best of this bunch. Then what do I do? Another of the N2L runner, #19 Nehro, has the co-best last race Beyer Speed Figure, sharing that (lowly) number with #1 Archarcharch. I have a special connection with #13 Mucho Macho Man as his trainer, Kathy Ritvo (and her husband Tim) are big supporters of the Groom Elite program at Gulfstream Park. The Ritvo Stable pony that escorts "3M" to the track in Florida each morning is my demonstration horse in the afternoon. I wonder if Martha picked #7 Pants On Fire and his female rider, Rosie Napravnik, a good young rider that has an outside shot to be the first female rider to win the Derby. But what do I do with #18 Uncle Mo, impressive as a two-year-old but enters the race with a lot of questions. And, it was #4 Stay Thirsty that looked the best to me on the track during morning gallops last weekend. If everyone takes back and lets either #6 Comma To The Top or #14 Shackleford get loose on the lead, they may prove tough to catch. But I think we will see a mad dash to the front, Uncle Mo will get caught up in it and the race will go to the mid-pack closer that gets the best trip.
Reid's Top Four Selections- Master Of Hounds, Nehro, Mucho Macho Man, Archarcharch
PURPLE POWER DERBY PLAY: $10 WIN #11 and $1 EX BOX 1-11-13-19 and $1 SPR 11 with 1-13-18 with 1-4-7-13-19 with 1-4-7-8-13-18-19
My thanks to both Martha and Reid for their contributions to the blog and we will certainly try to bring them both back for the remainder of the Triple Crown races. My selections for the 137th Kentucky Derby will be posted on the blog tomorrow. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
What The Voices Think 3.0
Pete "The Anchor" Aiello (Hialeah and River Downs)- Twinspired
Craig Braddick (Yavapai Downs)- Dialed In
Tom Harris (Retama Park and Houston)- Midnight Interlude
John Lies (Lone Star Park)- Animal Kingdom
Dan Loiselle (Woodbine)- Archarcharch
Don Stevens (Delta Downs)- Dialed In
Travis Stone (Louisiana Downs)- Midnight Interlude
James Witherite (Harrah's Chester Harness)- Dialed In
As I said, this post will be updated with more picks as they come in to the home office. Tomorrow will feature Derby selections from my old Houston co-handicappers, Martha Claussen and Dr. Reid McLellan. Friday will be the big day with this voice's selections for the 137th Kentucky Derby. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!