Friday, March 30, 2012

The Grade 2 $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby

New Orleans will be hopping this weekend (as opposed to any other usual weekend in The Big Easy) with the Final Four on Saturday and the NCAA Title Game on Monday. Of course, the intervening Sunday will feature the 99th running of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. Here is the analysis:

The early speed might very well be put forth by #6 Cigar Street, #9 Comisky's Humor and #12 Hero Of Order. I also happen to think that part of the favored entry, #1a Mark Valeski, will be quite close to whatever pace happens to develop. #3 Windsurfer, #8 Arm Force, and #10 Z Dager will also be in what I think will be the second flight of runners. #7 Shared Property is adding blinkers tonight. #13 Afford will need to overcome the #14 post position to be a factor here, but his running style is such that the post position might not affect him to much. The deep closers in the field appear to be #4 Finnegans Wake, #5 Flashy Sunrise, and #11 Rousing Sermon.

Cigar Street was awesome in his maiden-breaking win at Fair Grounds on March 10, when he posted a field-best Beyer figure of 99. He went to the front, sent relaxed fractions, and widened out to a convincing win by over 13 lengths. I just don't think this race will set up the same way, since there appears to be a good amount of pace. The question becomes who will be the ones to pounce on the pacesetters late and what will the end result become? I think that Cigar Street's inexperience might play a factor against him here and while Mark Valeski is the logical choice after him, the price just won't be there for the entry, so I will be going with another horse that should be in a similar spot with a better price.

THE PICK: #13 Afford (15-1)

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Super Six Derby Pix

There are two major Kentucky Derby prep race this coming weekend, the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Saturday and the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on Sunday. That means this weekend will go a long way to crystallizing the picture for the Kentucky Derby just five weeks out. Here are this week's Super Six Derby Pix:

#1 Union Rags- He will be part of the field in that Florida Derby on Saturday and will likely be the favorite. If he is the winner, then he will likely be the big favorite come Derby Day. His only misstep came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. If he comes through on Saturday, the hype will kick in almost immediately for the big showdown with him and the horse that vanquished him in the Juvenile, Hansen.

#2 Hansen- First, it appeared that he would be going the Florida route, but he lost to the now-departed Algorithms in the Holy Bull. He then went north and rocked the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Therefore, it was assumed he would stick in the Big Apple and run in the Wood Memorial. Not so fast, as he is now scheduled to run in the Blue Grass Stakes over the polytrack at Keeneland. This movement has affected the plans of other runners, but since Hansen is one of the big dogs, his connections can do what they want to.

#3 El Padrino- The first Todd Pletcher trainee on the list has been a vagabond of sorts as well. He flashed on the scene this year after a flashy Allowance win at Gulfstream Park on January 29. From there, he went to Louisiana and eked out a victory in the Risen Star, just withstanding the challenge of Mark Valeski, who will be one of the favorites in the Louisiana Derby this weekend. Meanwhile, El Padrino has gone back to Florida and will be part of the field in the Florida Derby.

#4 Creative Cause- He has been the top dog on the West Coast this season. Yes, he ran third in the San Vicente, but he followed that up with a strong score in the San Felipe on March 10. He will likely be the big favorite in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, which will likely be his last start before heading to Kentucky. Remember, he was not that far behind Hansen and Union Rags in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, so the deficit to make up really isn't that much.

#5 Alpha- This is the horse that trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has been waiting to see where everyone else was going to go before he decided what to do with him. He might be the best chance Godolphin has had for that elusive Derby win that they want so badly. After all the thrusting and parrying with the schedule, he will go postward in the Wood Memorial on April 7. Granted his Breeders' Cup Juvenile was disappointing, but he has been solid as a rock in two wins over the inner track at the Big A. It will be interesting to see how he does over the main dirt surface there.

#6 Prospective- He was the best of the bunch at Tampa Bay Downs this winter season. He overcame a horrible post draw to run second in the Sam Davis and then withstood a stern challenge from longshot Golden Ticket to win the Tampa Bay Derby itself after drawing the rail. He might be facing off with Alpha in the Wood Memorial on April 7 in New York. However, if you are going to denigrate Alpha for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, then Prospective deserves demerits for the race also since he finished 13th.

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

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Grade 2 $500,000 Rebel Stakes

The lone major Kentucky Derby prep on St. Patrick's Day takes place in Hot Springs, Arkansas at Oaklawn Park. The Grade 2 Rebel Stakes is final tune-up for a field of thirteen hopefuls who wish to progress to the Arkansas Derby and then on to the Kentucky Derby. Bob Baffert brings Secret Circle back to test the distance waters again at 1 1/16 miles following an impressive win in the 1 mile Southwest Stakes. Here is the analysis:

Clearly, #8 Secret Circle will be the main speed threat in this race. Granted he sat slightly off the pace of #3 Scatman in the Southwest on February 20, then rallied to get a win by a half-length. Both horses eclipsed Beyer numbers of 100 in that division of the Southwest. It could very well develop into a speed battle between these two again in the Rebel. Of course, what will be the key factor is what happens behind them. Who might come and get them if they tire late? Delta Jackpot winner, #7 Sabercat, ought to be rolling late, along with the Charles Cella-owned #4 Cyber Secret. I think there is a myriad of possibilities as far as deep closers in here, especially with the extra distance. #5 Optimizer has plenty of experience with racing in tall cotton, having finished 3rd and 8th in two previous Grade 1 tries. Steve Asmussen sends out the lightly raced #1 Unbridled's Note and #11 Najjaar is a come-from-behind horse that has won two straight at Oaklawn and gets Calvin Borel up. Isn't Calvin kind of overdue to get a big win again?

THE PICK: #11 Najjaar (6-1)

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Super Six Derby Pix

The Kentucky Derby picture continues to sharpen its focus as we draw nearer and nearer to the First Saturday In May, when the issue will finally be decided underneath the Twin Spires. The big prep race on St. Patrick's Day will be the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Trainer Bob Baffert swept both divisions of the Southwest Stakes earlier this meet at Oaklawn with Castaway and Secret Circle. Here are the Pix for this week:

#1 Union Rags- He cemented his status as the early favorite after his convincing win in the Fountain Of Youth. The only question that remains after that effort is; "what did he beat?". Algorithms scratched and is now out of action, so while Union Rags remains at the top of the pops, I think he must put together another sterling effort in the Florida Derby to remain as number one.

#2 El Padrino- Trainer Todd Pletcher took this top candidate away from Florida for his last try in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. What he got was all he could handle. El Padrino won the Risen Star, but only after being extended to the limit by Mark Valeski in New Orleans. Now, Pletcher has elected to go back to Florida and Gulfstream Park for the Florida Derby on March 31. It could turn the Florida Derby into the biggest and best prep race of the season.

#3 Hansen- The Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner stole the title of New York's leading Derby candidate away from Alpha with his win in the Gotham Stakes on March 3. His race was maybe one of his best overall efforts, considering he had to overcome his outside post position, which essentially compromised his preferred running style of being in front all the way. Hansen ended up sitting just off the early leaders and stormed into the lead at the stretch call and went on to win by three lengths.

#4 Creative Cause- There was a time earlier this year when I thought the Derby winner would be a product of Southern California. Maybe I was right, but I wasn't necessarily thinking about this grey colt. Yes, he ran third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but he also ran third in the San Vicente at Santa Anita on February 19. He followed that one up with a nifty score over the relatively inexperienced Bodemeister in the San Felipe. The next stop if the Santa Anita Derby on April 7.

#5 Alpha- Admittedly, I have been high on this Godolphin colt for a while now. He really has never made a mistake throughout his early year campaign in New York. His lone poor effort, unfortunately, came on the biggest stage he has faced thus far, an 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in November. Now, there is uncertainty as to where he will race next, with the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, and Wood Memorial still under consideration by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

#6 Prospective- I thought quite a bit of his second place finish in the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay, considering he drew the outside post in the field of eleven. Conversely, he drew the rail post position in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 10. Needless to say, I also thought quite a bit of this effort, given that no one gave him his victory. He was given a taut battle by longshot Golden Ticket in the Tampa Bay Derby and managed to prevail nicely.

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

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Getting The Gate

Perhaps there is no group of people that are more underappreciated in the world of horse racing than the starting gate crew. There is quite a bit of inherent danger involved in being part of the crew. Frequent They Are Off contributor, Martha Claussen, has written a piece about the gate crew in Houston and here is the link to this excellent piece:

Thanks to Martha for putting the spotlight on this group and don't forget you can tune in later this week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Grade 3 $400,000 Gotham Stakes

Hansen, the 2011 Champion Two-Year-Old and winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, stumbled in his 2012 debut in the slop at Gulfstream Park. Actually, that is both literal and figurative. He stumbled at the start of the Grade 3 Holy Bull and was never able to get the lead, eventually running 2nd behind Algorithms. As a result, Algorithms was thrust right into the middle of the Kentucky Derby picture. Unfortunately, Algorithms is now off the Derby Trail after suffering an injury prior to the Fountain Of Youth. So, now the only blot on Hansen's record is no longer a threat. Is there another blot to come? Here is the analysis:

Clearly, #12 Hansen is going to be a prohibitive favorite in the Gotham on Saturday. Trainer Michael Maker is taking off the blinkers for the first time in five starts and Ramon Dominguez, fresh off being named the George Woolf Award winner, is aboard again. Dominguez was up for Hansen's moment of glory in the Juvenile. The lingering question about the Gotham is who can go with Hansen and make him work for the lead, especially considering he drew so far outside? One thought might be #9 King And Crusader, who has been on or right near the lead in the last three starts, all of them wins (although he was DQ'd from purse money in one of them). He posted a strong bullet workout on February 26 over the inner track at Aqueduct, five furlongs in 1:01 1/5. #1 My Adonis and #4 Pretension also might be forwardly-placed, based on their past performances. If there is a pace battle, who might come from just off the pace and who will be coming from the clouds? I think that #2 Stealcase, #5 Maan, #8 Raconteur and #13 Tiger Walk will be sitting closer to the pace than the deep closers and as far as those deep closers, they appear to be #3 Finnegans Wake, #6 Dan And Sheila, #7 Suns Out Guns Out, and #11 Done Talking. Are any of these good enough to run down the champion in here? Since I am not exactly thrilled with the price Hansen will be in the Gotham, I think you have to try and beat him with a decent-enough price and in this case, that is just what I will try to do.

THE PICK: #8-Raconteur (15-1)

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

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Chris Landeros

They Are Off contributor, Martha Claussen, returns today with a look at jockey Chris Landeros. Landeros has ridden before at my home track at Turf Paradise and impressed the locals with his riding abilities and he is now en route to ride in the big leagues at Gulfstream Park. Enjoy!

We wish Chris Landeros the very best of luck in his riding future. Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!