With the start of the second half of 2012, it's time to start taking a deep look at horses and races with an eye towards this fall's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. Many horses aiming for the Breeders' Cup will only have two or three start between now at November, at most, given the typical light training and race schedule that many barns utilize in the sport today. The barns of many top class horses will use the next couple of months to prepare for an championship-level effort in November.
Another aspect of summer racing is the development of the three-year-old crop as they begin to step in open company for the first time. Some trainers will elect to keep running their colts and fillies against their own age for a variety of reasons. But some will make the jump in order to "see what they got" and it will likely provide us with clues as to which horses are ready to step into the spotlight this fall. The intermingling of the age groups has yet to begin but it's an important factor to watch over the next three to four months.
A full schedule of stakes races is on the docket this Saturday, including the G1-Hollywood Gold Cup, G1-Princess Rooney, G1-United Nations and G2-Suburban Handicap.
Below is a look at some of the major stakes races this weekend.
G2-Royal Heroine Mile
Betfair Hollywood Park
1 mile, Turf
Fillies & Mares, 3&up
Ron McAnally's 4-All Star Heart (5/2) is the morning line choice, but I love the looks of 5-Quiet Oasis (IRE) (3/1) in this race. She's shown enough versatility in her North American starts that she can sit anywhere from the lead to several lengths back and still run a credible race. After a tough second to Belle Royale in the G1-Gamely, Quiet Oasis gets a cut back in distance to her more preferred route of ground.
6-Briecat (6/1) might offer some decent value in this race given the presence of the fillies to her inside. The seven-year-old mare has run well at the distance (10-2-3-1) and over the course (6-2-2-1). She's probably going to be on the lead in the early stages and this looks like a tough field to try and win gate-to-wire, but she's run well against both of the favorites in her last two starts and could be a strong play in the exacta or trifecta.
A year ago 8-Nereid (4/1) won a soft renewal of the G1-Amercan Oaks and she's struggled to find the winner's circle ever since. She's failed as the favorite in her last two starts and it doesn't appear that she's moved forward in her development over the past 12 months.
G1-Hollywood Gold Cup
Betfair Hollywood Park
1 ¼ miles, Cushion Track
Bob Baffert has dominated the current meeting at Betfair Hollywood and the odds-on morning line favorite, 6-Game On Dude (4/5), looks incredibly tough to beat in this spot. With the exception of his flop in Dubai (a race that he bounced back from in the G2-Californian), Game On Dude has been a model of consistency over the last two years. In his past 12 starts in North America, he's only finished worse than 3rd two times (G1-Pacific Classic and G1-Belmont Stakes); in the other 10 races he's sported a record of 6-3-1 with a pair of Grade 1 victories (G1-Goodwood and G1-Santa Anita Handicap). Long story short, Game On Dude has been good and consistent for the better part of two years.
What to make of 2-Richard's Kid (5/2) in this race? He struggled mightily during his year in Dubai, failing to finish better than 4th in any of his five starts but he got right off the plane and won the ungraded Prove It at Hollywood on June 8th, so perhaps he needed some Lasix (he was also regularly racing on Bute prior to shipping to Dubai).
In his first race back in America, Richard's Kid displayed a completely different running style than the one he displayed in any of his previous 32 starts. In truth, he didn't face much in that last race, so perhaps the change in styles was the result of the small, overmatched field going a mile and three eighths. But it was still surprising to see him display a desire to run near the front in the early stages.
If the failures of Richard's Kid in Dubai were the result of no Lasix, then we can probably be confident that he'll run a strong race and is clearly the "next best" compared to Game On Dude. When you consider how consistently this horse has performed throughout his career, I think it makes sense to toss his Dubai races as an aberration.
1 1/8 miles, Main Track
I've been very impressed with the way 2-Endorsement (12/1) has run since coming back from a long injury break in early December. Trainer Eoin Harty got his feet wet with a series of races against OC allowance company and then speed him up to face better with excellent results. He was impressive in winning the G3-Texas Mile, sitting off the pace and stalking the early speed, and then ran his heart out when finishing third in the G3-Pimlico Special on Black-Eyed Susan Day. This is clearly the best field he's face since his comeback (and in his career), but I think this horse could be sitting on a big effort in this spot... and at very generous odds.
7-To Honor and Serve (9/5) is a deserving favorite given his performances so far this season but I wonder if his price is a touch short given the depth and strength of this field. He should the perfect stalking trip from his outside post position.
6-Mucho Macho Man (4/1) finished a distant 3rd to Successful Dan and Fort Larned in the G2-Alysheba on Derby day in a race where he simply wasn't good enough to keep up. He'll need to improve off that effort to beat a horse like To Honor and Serve.
There is a good amount of speed and stalkers in this race, something that could set-up 4-Hymn Book (6/1) for a strong run in the final quarter mile. This gelding has enough class to compete with this field and he's run some of his better races at Belmont over the course of his career. If some of the others take a good deal of cash at the windows, Hymn Book could be available at a decent price come post time.
6 furlongs, Main Track
While we won't find out how good 1-Agave Kiss (2/5) really is until she begins to take on older fillies and mares later on in the summer, there is no doubt that she's the best three-year-old female sprinter at this point in the season. Undefeated in six lifetime starts, Agave Kiss hasn't had a rival get within sniffing distance once the gate opens.
3-Jamaican Smoke and 4-Tu Endie Wei will attempt to keep pace with Agave Kiss in the early stages but their margin for error is extremely small; if Agave Kiss is able to get a length or two lead in the first quarter mile, this race is over.
5-Gypsy Robin (5/1) has displayed a great deal of talent and class in her brief career but there's got to be a bit of a concern with the surface she'll be running over in this spot. While this filly is capable of running a good race on conventional dirt, she appears to be just a tick or two better on synthetics. She scratched out of a minor stakes race on Thursday morning, so it looks like the barn is confident she can run big in this spot.
G1-Princess Rooney Handicap
Calder Race Course
6 furlongs, Main Track
Fillies & Mares, 3&up
On paper, the Princess Rooney looks like the perfect spot for 5-Musical Romance (5/2) to get back into the winner's circle after a couple of disappointing races at Keeneland and Churchill Downs; the field is big but it's not incredibly deep and any kind of tough trip could hamper Musical Romance's chances. This is a field that she should handle given the consistency she's displayed throughout her career but perhaps there's better value to be had.
9-Nicole H (3/1) ships in from New York after losing by a neck to C.C.'s Pal in the G2-Vagrancy Handicap last time out. She's shown flashes of talent in prior races but has been a little inconsistent over the course of her career.
I like the looks of 7-Bouquet Booth (6/1) as a possible upset play. While this four-year-old Flower Alley filly has struggled for much of the past year, the cut back in distance to six furlongs (and a return to a conventional dirt surface) seemed to "wake her up" in her last start. She's run with some pretty good fillies over the past year and if she is truly better sprinting than routing, then perhaps she's worth a play at decent odds.
1 3/8 miles, Turf
The key to the United Nations appears to be whether or not 5-Freud's Honor (30/1) can exert enough early pace pressure on 1-Turbo Compressor (2/1) in order to break down the favorite in the later stages. That might not prove to be that tough of a task given the fact that Turbo Compressor is untested at the mile and three-eighths distance.
2-Brilliant Speed (5/2) ran a credible 3rd in the Breeders' Cup Turf last fall and should be able to sit just off the early leaders in a perfect stalking position throughout the early portion of the race. It's likely that Brilliant Speed and 3-Slim Shadey (GB) (3/1) will battle for the win inside the final furlong.