Forty-nine days until the first Saturday in May and the race for graded earnings picks up steam in Tampa Bay, Arkansas, and Southern California.
Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes
Santa Anita Park
1 1/6 Miles
Post time: 4:39 Pacific
The field for this year's San Felipe might lack size but it makes up for it with some talented three year old colts and geldings. The morning line favorite is the 7-Caracortado (5/2), the undefeated Cal-bred who will attempt to run his record to a perfect six-for-six with a victory. He draws outside the field which should allow him to once again put himself in the perfect stalking position going down the backstretch. He proved his talent last time out in the Lewis, now it's time to show he can put top efforts back-to-back.
1-Stephen's Got Hope and 3-Erbeia both enter the San Felipe race right off of maiden races and will have to improve very quickly to handle this group. Stephen's Got Hope is not only coming in right off a maiden race but he has yet to break his maiden...not a recipe for success in this spot.
The early pace of the race should come from the 4-American Lion, who will throw the shades on for the first time, and the 5-Sidney's Candy. Sidney's Candy took advantage of a middling pace in the San Vicente to win going away; it's doubtful that he gets such a nice set-up this time around.
6-Dave In Dixie powered home to take second in the Lewis back on February 13th, running the final 3/16 of a mile in 29.93, fastest of the field. He's done all his running from well back of the field and he might not have a tremendous pace to run at. I could go either way on his chances.
This race really could see any one of five horses win: Caracortado, Dave In Dixie, Sidney's Candy, American Lion, and 2-Interactif. The race appears to set-up well for the stalkers, Caracortado and Interactif, with the edge to Caracortado due to his familiarity with the track.
Grade 2 Rebel Stakes
1 1/16 Miles
Post time: 5:47 Central
An extremely deep field will line-up for this year's version of the Rebel Stakes with the headline grabber being the re-emergence of Champion Juvenile Lookin At Lucky in what will be his debut on a traditional dirt surface. At 7/5 on the morning line, I'd want to be really sure that he'll take to the track before I toss any money in his direction. Other Santa Anita three year olds have shipped successfully so far this season so the plastic-to-dirt concern might not be as big of a hurdle. Still, Lookin At Lucky hasn't even put in a published work over a dirt surface and that just doesn't give me enough information to bet a horse at 7/5.
While the Baffert colt will draw most of the attention, my focus will be on the three year old debut of Uh Oh Bango, a colt that displayed an incredible amount of talent while running at Delta, Churchill Downs, and Prairie Meadows last fall. He's chased a fast pace, a slow pace, and an average pace, and each time this colt shows up with a top notch effort. It's his first start off the bench, however, so he may need this one. A slow breeze over the Oaklawn surface last week is a little disconcerting.
Noble's Promise is the second California invader in the Rebel field, where he will also make his debut on dirt. Second to Lucky in the CashCall Futurity, 3rd to Vale of York and Lucky in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and a winner at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity, Noble's Promise has run well at every track he's been at. He's been working well on the main track at Gulfstream and might finally have the chance to get the best of his California rival.
The goal is simple for 7-Dublin in the Rebel: break well. The D. Wayne Lukas trainee had a bunch of trouble last time out after he broke poorly, got bumped, and was shuffled far back in the early stages of the Southwest. Given his ¾ length defeat to Conveyance, you could argue that his early trouble cost him the win. A good break, and an extra 1/16th of a mile could make all the difference in the world this time around.
Where to go in this one? Royal Express should be the leader at the half mile mark given that he's the only true blue front runner in the field. What the horses running behind him will look like, however, is a little bit of a question. Should he take to the dirt track (and given the addition of blinkers), we'd expect Lookin At Lucky to be right up near the pacesetter, along with Noble's Promise. Uh Oh Bango probably wants to be close but I won't be surprised if he's sitting fourth after they come off the first turn.
As long as there is an honest pace, even if it's not a brutally fast one, I think Dublin's the horse to beat. He comes off a very good race in his first start off the bench and he's been logged a couple of huge works in the interim. This will be a tough race to win for any horse in here but Dublin looks like the best of the bunch at this juncture.
Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby
Tampa Bay Downs
1 1/16 Miles
Post time: 5:30 Eastern
This race, for me, comes down to three horses: 5-Schoolyard Dreams, 6-Super Saver and 7-Odysseus. When we last saw Super Saver he was blowing away the field in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in late November. He won that affair in wire to wire fashion and will attempt to do the same thing to this field at Tampa, although he'll have to do it without his regular rider, Calvin Borel, who will be in New Orleans to ride Rachel Alexandra.
To Super Saver's immediate outside will be Odysseus, winner of an N1X race on February 17th by 15 lengths. His performance that day was quite impressive but he never faced much of a challenge during the final quarter of the race and it's doubtful that he'll have that luxury in this spot. Still, if you watched the replay of that race you can't help but be awed with this colt's acceleration on the turn. An even more impressive fact: Odysseus was only a second off of the tracks record set by Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense...and the rider had him geared down at the wire. That's not bad company to be in.
The sleeper in the Tampa Bay Derby might just be the runner-up from the Sam F. Davis, 5-Schoolyard Dreams. This colt stepped up out of allowance company last time to run a big race against Rule but weakened badly in the stretch drive. He's returned to record back-to-back bullet works over the Tampa main track and should be right in the mix with the others when they turn for home.
Local hero 1-Uptowncharlybrown is listed at 5/2 on the morning line, which looks like much too short of a price for this colt. Trainer Alan Seewald will add the blinkers for this race and that's probably the best shot he's got ion here; he needs to show a lot more speed than he did in that last one. If he can keep touch early and uncork a strong finishing kick he might have a shot. I'm not too sure at 5/2, though.
"How good is Odysseus", isn't that the overriding question surrounding this race? If he can replicate the performance of his last race it's doubtful that the rest of these can keep up. If he's not quite up to the task then Schoolyard Dreams would be my pick to chase down a tiring Super Saver in the lane. And while I think Super Saver is the more talented colt, he might need a race after 3+ months away from the track.