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The Calm before the Storm

Those post-Breeders' Cup blues, that dead-time of horse racing between the conclusion of the championships and the beginning of the race for the Triple Crown. Next weekend there is stakes loaded card at Aqueduct, featuring the Cigar Mile and the Remsen, but after that the calendar is fairly sparse over the next six weeks. Below are the final Grade 1 races for 2009:

Date

Race

Nov. 27th

G1-Citation (Hollywood)

Nov. 28th

G1-Cigar Mile (Aqueduct)

G1-Gazelle (Aqueduct)

G1-Matriarch (Hollywood) [Ventura's final start]

Nov. 29th

G1-Hollywood Derby (Hollywood)

Dec. 19th

G1-Cash Call Futurity (Hollywood)

Dec. 20th

G1-Hollywood Starlet (Hollywood)

From there it's a whole lot of nothing until January 1st when Gulfstream and Santa Anita open back up and the Triple Crown prep races slowly begin to heat up.

January 1st is also opening day for what I think is one of the best kept secrets in handicapping, Tampa Bay Downs. It's a great secret in handicapping because of the large and competitive Maiden Special Weight fields that are routinely carded at the track. I you like to play races with a great deal of pedigree and trainer angles, then Tampa Bay Downs is right up your alley. For me, I love their Maiden Special Weight turf races, of which there seems to be at least one a day. It's not top level racing but the large fields generate solid prices if you can ferret out some mid and long shot winners. And it's a great track to hold me over until Keeneland kicks off in April.

Another small track that offers some great value for the horseplayer is Sam Houston Park in Houston, Texas. Sam Houston offers a 12% takeout on all Pick 3 wages, one of the lowest takes you'll find at any track in the country. The Pick 4, unfortunately, is offered at an awful 25% take, but with a 12% Pick 3 why would anyone play the Pick 4?

Studs of the Studs

Birdstone has received the bulk of the breeding shed attention this year after siring both the Derby and the Belmont winner, but it's Medaglia d'Oro (sire of Rachel Alexandra) that leads the pack of second crop sires with 58 winners to Birdstone's 27. Some other breeding notes:

  • The Top 5 first crop sires for 2009 are Offlee Wild, Roman Ruler, Pollard's Vision, Kitten's Joy, and Wildcat Heir. Kitten's Joy, in particular, was well represented at this year's Breeders' Cup with five juvenile pre-entries, all of whom were owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey.
  • I think it's fair to say that former Derby winner Smarty Jones has been a little bit of a disappointment at stud. He sired the winner of this year's G2-Samford at Saratoga, Backtalk, but other than that it was a fairly quiet year in terms of stakes winners. Smarty Jones ranks 16th on the list of second crop sires, just ahead of Pleasantly Perfect.
  • Looking at the synthetic sire lists it should surprise no one that Zenyatta's sire, Street Cry (IRE), sits atop of the standings. What might surprise you is the #2 synthetics sire of 2009: Smart Strike, the sire of 2007 & 2008 Horse of the Year Curlin. Yep, the same Curlin that was defeated in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic over, tah dah, a synthetic track. All horses are different, even those from the same bloodlines, so we can't say that all Smart Strike horses will love synthetic tracks. But I do find it somewhat ironic that Curlin's connections essentially blamed his loss in the Classic on the Santa Anita ProRide surface when his sire is one of the top synthetic sires in America. And while this is far from "conclusive evidence" that Curlin's loss wasn't due to the track, I think it does add weight to the assertion that he simply wasn't the best that day regardless of surface. For comparisons sake, Smart Strike was the 9th ranked synthetic sire in 2008 and the 14th in 2007. At a minimum, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that Smart Strike's prodigy hate running on synthetics. He also ranked #8 among turf sires.
  • Giant's Causeway ascended to the top of the sire charts in 2009, with earnings of $10.5 million from 143 winners (including 12 Graded Stakes winners). Northern Afleet (sire of former Preakness and Belmont winner, Afleet Alex) sired 147 winners.