Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Super Six Derby Pix

The Super Six Derby Pix will look a little different this week, since former #1 Algorithms was scratched out of Sunday's Fountain Of Youth at Gulfstream Park with a popped splint and he is now officially off the Derby Trail. That left the race to pretty much two horses, Union Rags and Discreet Dancer. Clearly, one of those will be listed in the Pix this week. Also this past weekend, El Padrino was given all he needed from Mark Valeski in a stirring stretch duel. Here are this Pix for this week:

#1 Union Rags- There really isn't anyone else to put in the top spot right now. He absolutely dominated the Fountain Of Youth at Gulfstream and since his only loss was by a nose in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after swerving through the stretch all the way. He is far and away #1 in the Derby rankings at this early date.

#2 El Padrino- He is the top Todd Pletcher trainee on the list so far and since Pletcher is likely to have a multitude of horses in the gate on Derby Day, the winner of the Risen Star is rightly ranked this high. I am curious if he will end up remaining at Fair Grounds to run in the Louisiana Derby or return to Gulfstream to run in the Florida Derby for his next prep. A story on ESPN.com is reporting that the co-owners are trying to answer this same question.

#3 Alpha- Has been the dominant horse in New York over the inner track at The Big A so far, but how far will that take him? His lone effort outside the state of New York was a disaster, an 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last autumn. The plan that I have heard for him was to run in just the Wood Memorial over the main dirt at Aqueduct and then head right to Kentucky. I don't know if this will leave him short in the Run For The Roses, but those old Derby cliches have been falling fast in recent years.

#4 Hansen- He is still the Champion Two-Year-Old from 2011 and the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile over the Churchill Downs track last fall. However, his return race at Gulfstream in the Holy Bull was a sound defeat to the horse that was formerly #1 (Algorithms). He has now left Florida to run this coming weekend in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct. I still tend to think his front-running style could get compromised in the Derby itself, but we all thought that would happen to War Emblem too, didn't we?

#5 Creative Cause- He finished third in his last two tries, behind Hansen and Union Rags in the BC Juvenile, and then behind Drill and American Act in the San Vicente. His is the first name from Southern California to be on the list. He will be racing on March 10 in the Grade 2 San Felipe and then the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby after that. Since the California contingent just is not as strong as I originally thought it was going to be, I am interested to see how forward he moves in these prep races.

#6 Gemologist- Two years ago, WinStar and Todd Pletcher teamed up to win the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver. Could this colt be a return engagement for those connections in the Winner's Circle at Churchill Downs? He is undefeated in three starts so far and two of those wins were over the track in Louisville. However, he has not raced since November, so his first start of 2012 is expected to be on St. Patrick's Day in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn.

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

Friday, February 17, 2012

The $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup

Turf Paradise will host one of its marquee events of the season on Saturday with the $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup. A field of ten will go six furlongs in what promises to be a blazing fast race, featuring three stakes winners from earlier this season at Turf Paradise. Here is the analysis:

I think there is quite a speed duel promising to set up in the Gold Cup with Swift Stakes winner, #9 Derive, and the Mike Chambers trainee, #3 Danzip. Danzip is one of two Chambers horses in the field of ten, along with the winner of the Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile, #1 Saratoga Boot. Saratoga Boot was the runner-up to Derive in the Swift Stakes, in what was essentially this gelding's first sprint try in some time. The horse that ran third in the Swift, #7 Absolutely Cool, could be looking at getting a garden trip in here, sitting off the pace battle that might develop. There is a most interesting horse in this field coming in from New Mexico, #10 Ducky Drake. The 10-year-old gelding's last win came in September in an optional claimer at Remington Park in Oklahoma. The winner of the Hank Mills Sr., #2 Hezamazing, didn't fare so well in the Fitzsimmons, but he did win his last sprint try over the dirt back in November. So, what the Phoenix Gold Cup boils down to is whether or not the speed merchants can survive battling each other to hold off the closers and who will be the first on the scene if the speed should collapse in the stretch.

THE PICK: #2 Hezamazing

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012


One of the greatest finishes in Kentucky Derby history (pictured) actually was the finish for the career of one of the participants. In 1996, it appeared that trainer Bob Baffert was on his way to his first Kentucky Derby win with Cavonnier. Cavonnier had been the hot horse all week long leading up to the Derby off his victory in the Santa Anita Derby about a month earlier. As the field for the Derby moved through the stretch, Cavonnier had control of the race and led the field of nineteen into the final stages and was apparently on a procession to the Roses.

Cavonnier had put the favorite, Unbridled's Song (who had an unfortunate post draw of nineteen in the field of nineteen and was also dealing with a quarter crack), away in midstretch and Chris McCarron had his third Derby win in his grasp. However, rallying from way off the pace was the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Grindstone. Grindstone had the riding services of Jerry Bailey that day. For my money, Jerry Bailey was the best big race rider of all-time. He had won the Derby three years previous with Sea Hero for Paul Mellon and trainer Mack Miller. Now, he was in the silks of Overbrook Farm, as was Gary Stevens, riding Grindstone's entrymate, Editor's Note. Grindstone had negotiated his way through the big field and was in position to steal it in the final strides. Grindstone gained on Cavonnier with every stride and right at the wire, the two horses were so close together it would take a photo finish to settle it.

Hard as it may be to believe in that cacophony of noise that Churchill Downs can become during a thrilling finish, Bailey and McCarron asked each other if the other one won. Neither knew, of course, but when the numbers were finally posted on the tote board, Grindstone's #4 was posted first and Cavonnier's #3 was second. The incredible effort had taken everything out of the winner, unfortunately. Grindstone was retired within a week of winning the Derby with chips in his knee. Cavonnier did continue on the Kentucky Derby trail, finishing fourth in the Preakness (behind Louis Quatorze, who had run 16th in Louisville) and 14th in the Belmont Stakes (behind Grindstone's Derby entrymate, Editor's Note). Bob Baffert, of course, would go on to win the Derby in 1997 with Silver Charm, 1998 with Real Quiet, and 2002 with War Emblem.

It is interesting to note that Grindstone continues to be a major player in the Thoroughbred industry. He is the Sire of Birdstone, who won the 2004 Belmont Stakes and spoiled the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones. Birdstone is, of course, the Sire of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, and 2009 Belmont Stakes winner, Summer Bird. The Grindstone lineage that was so important to protect following that Derby win has come through time and time again to be a factor in the classic races of recent vintage.

Here is the link to watch the 1996 Kentucky Derby win of Grindstone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8x5JRxVWmtg. Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Photo courtesy of thomastobin.com

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Grade 1 $500,000 Donn Handicap

The Donn Handicap will feature two of the three Triple Crown race winners from last year. Preakness winner, Shackleford, and Belmont winner, Ruler On Ice, will both be a part of the field of eleven. Also part of the day it appears will be wet weather and wet track conditions. The rain has been pelting South Florida for a while and the forecast calls for it to continue into tomorrow. Hopefully, that will not be a damper on the proceedings at Gulfstream Park. Here is the analysis:

Of course, the rain and what is expected to be a sloppy track might significantly alter how this race will be played out. The horses I expect to go to the front in here include, of course, the Preakness winner, #9 Shackleford. Shackleford went right to the front of the field with Flashpoint at Pimlico and still had enough to hold off the late charge of the Derby winner, Animal Kingdom. However, it is worth noting that Shackleford has not won since that day in Baltimore. I would also expect #2 Mission Impazible to be up top as well. It has been nearly a year since he has been in the Winner's Circle, taking the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds on March 11. The Rick Dutrow-trained, #4 Redeemed, also might contend for the front end in the slop on Saturday. As opposed to the other two I think will be among the pacesetters, Redeemed has not been out of the first two finishers in any race since October 2010. Finally, I think #8 Trickmeister will be flying early, since his past performances in nothing but a list of ones. That also includes the finished products of his five starts, all wins.

Clearly, the wet racetrack will allow some others to become factors in the Donn. #3 Ruler On Ice won the Belmont Stakes over an incredibly wet racetrack last June. Like Shackleford, he has not been a winner since his Triple Crown score. He did run third in the Breeders' Cup Classic in the interim. The Shug McGaughey trainee in this field, #10 Hymn Book, has an impeccable record over wet racetracks with three wins and a third in four starts over off surfaces. #1 Where's Sterling, #5 Soaring Empire, and #7 Flat Out also are 1 for 1 over wet tracks. To me, it appears this race is going to come down what the pace setup will be and who handles the sloppy surface the best.

THE PICK: #3 Ruler On Ice (6-1)

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

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Super Six Derby Pix

Well, this last weekend seemed to toss the Super Six Derby Pix into a bit of a frenzy because the horse that topped the initial list, Liaison, ran poorly in the Robert E. Lewis. He was already well-beaten by the time he unseated his rider. So, I don't consider that as a factor in his defeat. Alpha also strengthened his case with a win in the Withers and Battle Hardened took the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs. With all that happened this past weekend, there are some changes to the Pix this week:

#1 Algorithms- He defeated the two-year-old champ, Hansen, in the Holy Bull and did it somewhat impressively as a matter of fact. He is trained by Todd Pletcher, who will have a wealth of contenders for the Derby it appears. His Sire is Bernardini, who won the Preakness in 2006. There appears to be a lot to like in this corner.

#2 Union Rags- Yet to return to the races after the disappointing loss in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Trainer Michael Matz was a Derby winner with Barbaro in 2006, so he is well-equipped to get a horse to get the Roses. Regular rider Javier Castellano might be the best in the business right now.

#3 Alpha- He won the Withers over the inner track at Aqueduct this past weekend and seems to just keep doing everything he is supposed to be doing to this point. His Sire is also Bernardini (do you seem to be sensing a theme here?). This might be Godolphin's best chance to get that elusive Derby they crave in quite some time.

#4 El Padrino- This is another Pletcher possibility who won at Gulfstream the same day that Algorithms established his credentials. His win in an Allowance race was certainly impressive. His next start is expected to be the in the Grade 2 Risen Star, which means he might be taking either the Louisiana route or eventually the Arkansas route to Louisville.

#5 Hansen- The defending two-year-old champion loses a couple of spots on the list, but since he did suffer his first loss to the top horse on the list, he should continue to be included. Those in the know seem to doubt his ability to go the classic distance of the Derby. He might be one to watch in say, the Dirt Mile at Santa Anita in November.

#6 Creative Cause- You cannot underrate his effort in running third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and he avoided the carnage that the Robert Lewis turned into in the wake of 43-1 upsetter, I'll Have Another. His return effort is expected to be the Grade 2 San Vicente on February 19.

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

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Grade 2 $200,000 Strub Stakes

Saturday is a potentially big day on the Road To The Derby with three big prep races, including the Grade 2 Robert Lewis at Santa Anita with #1 on the Super Six Derby Pix, Liaison. However, I have elected to focus on another race on the Southern California program, the Grade 2 Strub Stakes. Here is the analysis:

I think the field of eight in the Strub is very interesting with some early obvious speed present in 6-5 morning-line favorite, #7 Tapizar, and #4 Ultimate Eagle. Clearly, Tapizar is the more appealing of this speed, but if Ultimate Eagle can keep up with the Asmussen horse, then it might turn into a crapshoot in the late stages. #2 Prayer For Relief could be sitting right off the pace and the winner of three Derbies last year already finished behind two of his competitors in here in the Grade 2 San Fernando. However, just two weeks after that try, Prayer For Relief posted a bullet workout, five furlongs in 58 3/5 seconds. #6 Indian Winter is adding blinkers for this go and he has hit the board in only one of three lifetime graded efforts. He also has been working well lately, but this would be a big step up for him to get the lion's share. Bob Baffert has a horse in the fight, of course, with #1 Jaycito. He has been on the shelf since August, but has a recent bullet workout himself. The Sire is former Belmont winner, Victory Gallop. He should be coming from way downtown here if he is fit, which I am sure Baffert has him. #3 Beer Meister scored a win I was close to last year in the Turf Paradise Derby at odds of 40-1. After that victory, he tried to step up with graded company twice and finished 5th in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby and 7th in the Grade 2 Peter Pan. After the Peter Pan, he took some time off and came back with another strong win in Phoenix in the Luke Kruytbosch on New Year's Eve. I expect him to be coming late also and he might even sneak up for a piece. As with Jaycito, #5 Clubhouse Ride is coming back from off the shelf here. However, in this case, we are talking about a layoff of more than a year. He has not been to the Winner's Circle since a restricted stakes win at Fairplex Park in September 2010. I don't expect there to be a repeat trip on Saturday. Finally, there is #8 Balladry, the Darley horse who will be among those coming after the leaders late. He didn't catch up to Tapizar in the San Fernando, but if the pace is more contested on Saturday, he just might get there.

THE PICK: #2 Prayer For Relief (7-2)

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

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Super Six Derby Pix

It is the beginning of February and that means that the Kentucky Derby picture starts to get closer to clarifying somewhat. To that end, They Are Off will unveil the first edition of the Super Six Derby Pix, which details the top six candidates to this point for the Run For The Roses. Here is the initial set of picks (or pix):

#1 Liaison- I will say that the best race I have seen to this point of any of the races involving either two-year-olds at the end of last year or the three-year-olds so far this year is the CashCall Futurity. The winner of that race was Liaison, who also won the Real Quiet before that to make it a total win streak of three for this colt. He is expected to return to the races this weekend in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis.

#2 Union Rags- In all reality, this horse should have won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He ran all over the racetrack through the stretch at Churchill Downs and still lost by a mere nose to Hansen. It is completely understandable that he would have run a tad erratically on the big stage, considering he was still somewhat inexperienced, so I think this is still a major player on the Derby scene. He is taking the traditional Florida route to the Derby: the Fountain Of Youth and Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

#3 Hansen- Suffered his first loss this last Sunday in the Grade 3 Holy Bull over a sloppy track after an awkward start. The bad start essentially prevented him from getting right to the lead, as is his custom. I still think he deserved to win the two-year-old champion honors, but it was a less than stellar debut to his three-year-old season. Of course, he will get tested right back with races against #2 on the list in those two Florida preps.

#4 Rousing Sermon- Was the runner-up in that CashCall Futurity and if he had another 16th of a mile, I think he might have been the winner. He is the most-experienced of the horses so far on this list with six starts. He won the Cal Cup Juvenile, but has already finished behind Liaison on two separate occasions. He again faces Liaison in the Grade 2 Robert E. Lewis this weekend.

#5 Algorithms- This is the horse that snapped the champion's unbeaten streak. He won the Grade 3 Holy Bull this weekend, but as I said in the Hansen discussion, I think he had some excuses. Of course, that does not take away from the effort of Algorithms, who has progressed nicely from a maiden-breaking win to an Allowance/Optional Claimer to a graded stakes win. In the final analysis, he might end up being one of the strongest candidates out of what promises to be a very strong Todd Pletcher contingent.

#6 Creative Cause- Has already won two graded stakes in his brief career, the Grade 2 Best Pal and the Grade 1 Norfolk. He finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile behind Hansen and Union Rags, less than two lengths away from a win. He is part of a strong Southern California selection of horses. The way the season is shaping up so far, I am tending to think that the Derby winner might come from the West Coast.

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