The trio of Derby preps aren't the only quality races on tap this weekend across the country. Tampa Bay Downs, Aqueduct and Santa Anita are all featuring multiple grade stakes races, while Gulfstream will run the G2-Hutcheson in addition to the ungraded Gulfstream Turf Sprint.
Let's take a high-level look at a few of these races:
Perhaps the most intriguing race of the weekend is the G2-Arcadia at one mile on the Santa Anita Park turf course. A couple of well-intentioned Europeans found their way into the field -- Vagabond Shoes (IRE) and Strong Suit -- and each one could find the firmer ground in Southern California to their liking.
Strong Suit is a three-time group winner in England (G3-Jersey Stakes, G2-Lennox Stakes and G2-Khalifa Challenge Stakes) but he hasn't tasted victory since a win at Newmarket in October of 2011. He took on Frankel in the G1-Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer and predictably lost by 19 lengths. He's run well on firmer ground in the past, but he's also just as likely to toss in a major clunker. And while normally I don't attach much attention to weight, it's hard to ignore that his horse was routinely carrying 129 to 131 pounds in England and will drop to 118 at Santa Anita. The Arcadia will be the first time Strong Suit has carried less than 120 pounds since... never. Yep, that's correct, he's never carried less than 120 pounds in any of his races in Europe, even his debut at the maiden stakes level.
Strong Suit is 4/1 on the morning line and, based on his races in Europe over the past couple of years, I think the comparison of his chances to those of the other European, Vagabond Shoes, is a little off. Vagabond Shoes is 8/1 on the morning line but combines a whole lot of goodness in this six-year-old gelding's body. First, he's a more recent winner of a group stakes in Europe - the G3-Prix du Chemin de Fer du Nord at Chantilly last June. Second, like Strong Suit, he'll be carrying the least amount of weight in his career as he's never carried less than 123 in Europe. Third, he gets Julien Leparoux in the irons for his U.S. debut and that's all kinds of good in my book.
Of the American runners in the Acadia, 8-Willy Conker (12/1) was in great form at this time last year but has struggled to regain his winning ways after his victory in the G1-Kilroe Mile on March 3.
The most intriguing of the local runners to me is 7-Silentio (6/1), a lightly raced son of Silent Name (JPN) that won the G2-Sir Beaufort on Dec. 26.He's three for four in his young career, all on the lawn, and he's possesses an excellent combination of tactical speed and a strong final kick.
If the morning line is any indication as to where the betting is headed in the Arcadia, we're probably in store for some tepid favorites at post time. I'm going to roll with Vagabond Shoes as my top pick along with a strong exacta play with Silentio.
In the G2-Stub Stakes, 2-Feb Biz (2/1) makes a quick turnaround from his score in the G2-San Fernando and looks to build towards a strong spring and summer campaign. There is plenty of tactical speed in the Strub but I don't know if any horse possesses the raw gate speed to challenge Feb Biz in the first quarter to half mile.
Graham Motion ships 7-Stephanoatsee (4/1) out to the West Coast after a fairly solid three-year-old campaign out east in 2012. He won the ungraded Barbaro Stakes at Delaware Park and was second in the Count Fleet at Aqueduct way back on Jan. 7 of 2011. It's not crazy to think this colt could find his way into the mix if he's developed a bit physically over the winter. He likes to come from off-the-pace, which can be an awfully tough proposition at Santa Anita depending on how the track is playing but if some of the others in this field can get up and challenge Fed Biz in the early stages, perhaps Stephanoatsee can make a run at the top prize in deep stretch.
Stephanoatsee is by the fabulous broodmare Oatsee, a dam that's produced Baghdaria, Lady Joanne, Afleeting Lady, and a little colt named Shackleford. Oatsee is headed to England this year for a blind date with Frankel (GB). I guess that's called breeding the best to the best and hope for the best.
Out at the Big A for the G3-Toboggan Stakes, it's tough to get away from 1-Johannesbug Smile when you consider the fact that he just loves running on the Aqueduct inner dirt track (5-3-0-1). As you can see on the PPs, he was claimed out of his last race for $100k and will make his debut for the Repole-Pletcher combo in this race.
If Aqueduct ends up with a wet track on Saturday, I'll be looking strongly at 4-P J's Magical Wink (12/1), as he's a 3-2-0-0 for his career on the slop including a couple of big time blow out wins at Belmont and Saratoga over the last year. This is a major class jump for this gelding so it'd be nice to have some surface help to give him a chance to move up.
There is very little in the way of true "need to lead" speed in the Florida Oaks field which may set things up perfectly for Joel Rosario to take 6-Tapicat (3/1) gate to wire for the victory. 9-Mariel N Kathy (9/2) should get a perfect stalking trip behind Tapicat which could set up for a bit of a merry-go-round situation in deep stretch. Mariel N Kathy is putting the shades on for the first time so perhaps we'll see her challenging Tapicat for the lead.
The Endeavour field contains one of those South American shippers with a gaudy string of wins, this one is 4-Old Tune (BRZ), a five time group winner in Brazil at distances from one mile to a mile and a half. This mare ships to America and goes right into the barn of Todd Pletcher, so we certainly can't toss her in the bin right off the boat.
7-Awesome Bell (8/1) is in fine current form and should be the speed of the speed in this race. She's won four straight in gate-to-wire fashion (two over turf, one over dirt and one over dirt rated "good") and she's a threat to make it five straight if she's left along early.
G2-San Antonio Stakes
Sunday's G2-San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita marks the return of Game On Dude in his first start of 2013 and his first since winning the G3-Native Diver at Betfair Hollywood on Dec. 1.
Sometimes with jockey changes, trainers don't get what they probably wish for. Prior to the Breeders' Cup, Bob Baffert took Chantal Sutherland off of Game On Dude in order to put his top rider, Rafael Bejarano, on his No. 1 Classic contender. Then the Classic happened and for some reason Game On Dude didn't get into the race, something the trainer pinned on the jockey after the race. Speaking to the Blood-Horse after the Classic, Baffert stated:
"They all got beat in the first quarter-mile," he offered. "It was all about position. If you don't get position, you are in trouble. And none of my horses seemed to get that.
"Game On Dude (in the Classic) was a good example of that. The rider (Rafael Bejarano) wasn't aggressive in getting a spot for him early and he was done. He's a one-dimensional horse and he's got to be near the front. I told him you better not let them come over on you or you'll be in trouble, and that's what they did. When that horse can't be near the front, that's it for him."
So Bejarano is out and Mike Smith is called in to take the reins in the Native Dancer and keeps the mount for Sunday's San Antonio Stakes.
|2/2/2013||AQU||1:26p||Correction||Dirt||3up||f&m||6.0||Cluster of Stars||$5.40|
|2/2/2013||GP||1:41p||GP Turf Sprint||Turf||4up||5.0||Varsity
|2/2/2013||AQU||1:54p||Busher||Dirt||3yo||f||8.5||Princess of Sylmar||$2.50|
|2/2/2013||AQU||3:48p||Toboggan||3||Dirt||3up||6.0||Head Heart Hoof
|2/2/2013||SA||5:03p||Robert B. Lewis||2||Dirt||3yo||8.5||Flashback||$3.00|
|2/2/2013||TAM||5:23p||Sam F. Davis||3||Dirt||3yo||8.5||Falling Sky