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Weekend Stakes Action: Big Cap Edition

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It's a big Saturday of racing  - the Big Cap, Gotham, Santa Anita Oaks, Kilroe Mile - there's tons of great action around the country and it's another sign at the days of winter are in short supply.

I'm not really here.  Well, I'm here but this post was scheduled ahead of time.  In reality, I'm on a plane right now heading to Cabo San Lucas where I'll be spending the next week enjoying a lot more sunshine than I've seen in the last five months (along with a few Coronas...or Dos Equis...or Patron...or...well, you get the point).   It's unlikely that I'm going to be able to catch any of today's racing live, although I'm hoping that my Alaska Airlines flight will have wireless internet access. It it does, I'll be able to gamble in the air (God bless technology).  If not, I'll have to wait until I get to the condo to watch the replays.

Day / Post Time Track Race Age/Sex Surface Distance
Sat. / 5:10 PT SA G1-Santa Anita Handicap 4up Dirt 10.0
Sat. / 5:12 ET AQU G2-Gotham Stakes 3yo Dirt 8.5
Sat. / 1:40 PT SA G1-Santa Anita Oaks 3yo, f Dirt 8.5
Sat. / 4:40 PT SA G1-Frank Kilroe Mile 4up Turf 8.0
Sat. / 2:52 ET AQU G3-Tom Fool 3up Dirt 6.0
Sat. / 5:25 ET GP G3-Honey Fox 4up, f&m Turf 8.0

UPDATE #1: WiFi on the flight, but no power.  My laptop rages through battery power so my in-flight browsing will likely be short-lived.

Race 7 and 10 at Gulfstream will have a 72 foot rail, while races 9 and 11 will have a 12 foot rail.  All four of those turf races are part of today's Pick 5.  Gotta love that.

Aqueduct Changes
Gulfstream Changes
Santa Anita Changes


-The field size for the Gotham is nice, but I don't know that I'm that enthused about any of the colts in the field.  4-Toby's Corner (5/2) looked very good winning the Whirlaway in early February and deserves favoritism.  The place horse in the Whirlaway, J J's Lucky Train, came back to win the listed Miracle Wood at Laurel on February 26th.

Class-wise, 5-Stay Thirsty (9/5) is the only Grade 1 placed horses in the field (2nd in the G1-Hopeful to Boys At Tosconova), although this will be his first race since the Breeders' Cup.  The Juvenile was his first attempt at two-turns and you have to be a bit leery with what you saw in that spot.  Not only did he finish well behind Uncle Mo (like everyone else), but he was easily beaten by Boys At Tosconova, Rogue Romance, and Biondetti.  In terms of pedigree, the distance shouldn't be an issue (by Bernardini, out of a Storm Bird mare), but it's tough to overlook the fact that he regressed when stretched out to two turns. 

-The Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks drew five runners.  Five.  At least it's a pretty competitive five, but I have a hard time drawing many conclusions from a race where the pace is likely to be non-existent and the depth of the field is completely lacking.  I wouldn't even know which filly to pick in this race if I had to bet it. 

It's hard not to be impressed with the late move 2-Zazu (2/1) made when she won the Las Virgenes last time out; horses just aren't wining from off-the-pace that often at Santa Anita this meet. 

What do you do with 5-A Z Warrior (4/1)?  She runs well in the Frizette and then throws in the worst race of any horse not named Life At Ten at the Breeders' Cup (beaten 43 ¾ lengths in the Juvenile Fillies).  Considering she's 4/1 on the ML, do you throw out the Breeders' Cup debacle and hope for improvement off the layoff?  That might be the only way to come up with a price in this spot. 

-Race 5 at Santa Anita is the listed Clocker's Corner Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs on the downhill turf course.  I always go for the "horse for course" angle in these races and will again in this spot.  8-Unzip Me has won five straight races on the Santa Anita downhill course, including four at 6 ½ furlongs.   It's doubtful that he'll be available at decent odds but he appears to be the standout of the field.

-I don't think the mile distance is really his preferred length but I absolutely love 6-Sebastian Flyte (GB) (8/1) in the seventh race Grade 1 Kilroe Mile.  This colt isn't going to run a lick in the early going but he can absolutely bring it in the final furlongs. 

In Sebastian Flyte's last race, the G2 San Marcos, he ran the final ¼ of the 10 furlongs in a blistering 23.67 seconds.  In the Hollywood Derby, also at 10 furlongs, he came home in 23.39.  In the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby, a race where he had a trouble filled trip, Sebastian Flyte closed the final 1/8th in an incredible 10.94.  And in his first start in North America, a one-mile OC 80k/N1X affair at Del Mar, he clicked off a 22.47 final quarter mile.  That is a serious closing kick.

It's certainly possible that the Kilroe is shorter than Sebastian Flyte prefers, but I'll take a shot to find out.  In fact, I'm willing to play Sebas all the way down to 4/1 in this spot.

-The Big Cap drew a nice eleven horse field but it's tough to find a horse that will really challenge 5-Twirling Candy (4/5), assuming he's on top of his game.

If we're looking for an upset play in this spot, I think 10-Aggie Engineer (6/1) makes the most sense on paper.  He's in pretty good form right now (although his last effort was a bit flat) and he's got the tactical speed to put him in an excellent spot within the first quarter mile.  There's not a ton of speed in the Big Cap and all of it has drawn to Aggie Engineer's inside - that should be a "plus".

While the pace situation might come up perfect for Aggie Engineer, that's not the only hurdle he'll need to overcome in order to win.  The key question for this colt is: can Aggie Engineer get a mile and a quarter if he's got to do all the dirty work on the front end?  It certainly doesn't hurt that the Santa Anita main track has favored speed since day one of this meet.  But is that enough?

Looking at the pedigree, there's not much to glean from the dam's side of the equation as to whether Aggie Engineer wants 10 furlongs.  His dam, Papalma, raced in France for two years but didn't win a single race in nine tries (presumably all on the lawn).  And Aggie Engineer's siblings are a combined 2-for-35 lifetime, with single wins in a dirt sprint and an undetermined turf race.  That doesn't give us much to go on.

E Dubai sits atop the male line of the pedigree, a presence that doesn't really clear up the distance questions anymore than the dam's side.  E Dubai displayed a good amount of staying power in his career by winning the Dwyer and the Suburban, and featured second place finishes in the Travers (to Point Given), Super Derby (to Outofthebox) and Peter Pan (to Hero's Tribute).  His off-spring, however, have been a bit of a mixed bag of routers and sprinters, and his Bris average-winning-distance is 6.9 furlongs.  Pedigree-wise, it could go either way with Aggie Engineer.

If I'm going to think "outside-of-the-box" for the Big Cap, I suppose there is something to at least consider about First Dude: the new Baffert trainee is the only non-Santa Anita based horse running in this race ("non-SA based" meaning the only one that hasn't raced at the track recently).  I wonder if that might be a bit of advantage in this spot?  There's been a lot of talk about the ultra-fast times occurring on the SA main track and what impact, if any, those will have on horses going forward.  In some corners there's a belief that horses will not be able to hold up physically for long stretches of time under those conditions.  Could there possibly be any advantage to First Dude running his first race over the surface as opposed to others in the field running their second or third?  I don't know, but it might be something to watch.

Even if the surface is taking a toll on horses at Santa Anita, I'm not sure that would be enough to make First Dude a play ahead of a horse like Twirling Candy.  Twirling Candy has proved that he loves to win races, something severely lacking in the history of First Dude.  It's probably going to take more than a change of scenery to propel First Dude into the winner's circle.