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Weekend Stakes Action: Hollywood Gold Cup, Man o'War and Million Preview Day (Updated)

YORK, ENGLAND - MAY 13: Cape Blanco ridden by jockey, Johnny Murtagh win the Totesport Dante Stakes at York racecourse on May 13, 2010 in York, England (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/ Getty Images)
YORK, ENGLAND - MAY 13: Cape Blanco ridden by jockey, Johnny Murtagh win the Totesport Dante Stakes at York racecourse on May 13, 2010 in York, England (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/ Getty Images)

UPDATE: Some changes and conditions to report this morning -

  • Belmont's main track and turf course is rated as GOOD. Nownownow has scratched out of the Man o'War (along with a lot of other scratches at Belmont today.)

    The softer turf course should be right up Cape Blanco's alley, as he's run well over similar surfaces in Europe. However, I still don't know if his form is right for this one (especially considering he'll likely be at short odds).

    A bit of an outsider that may move up on the softer ground is 3-Boisterous, a colt that has won his last three starts over turf courses rated Good or worse, including two at Belmont. This race is still a stern class jump for the McGaughey trainee, but perhaps the ground will give him a boost.
  • No major changes (so far) at Hollywood.  Turf course is FIRM.
  • Rush Now and Jack London have scratched out of the Long Branch at Monmouth Park.
  • No major changes at Arlington Park for their three turf stakes races.  Turf is FIRM.
  • Close It Out has scratched from the Carryback at Calder. The main track is SLOPPY and the turf is OFF.

ORIGINAL POST: Last night I returned from spending a few days camping on the Columbia River in Central Washington where I was finally able to subject myself to some 90+ degree days.  I got back just in time to pull up the old Racing Form to see another nice weekend of stakes action around the country, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup, and a quartet of graded turf races at Belmont and Arlington Park. 

Below is a snap shot of some of this weekend's stakes action, along with thoughts on a few of those races.

Day Race Track Cond. Dist.
Sat. G1-Man o'War BEL 3up 11.0 (T)
Sat. G1-Hollywood Gold Cup HOL 3up 10.0 (S)
Sat. G2-Smile Sprint CRC 3up 6.0 (D)
Sat. G2-Delaware Oaks DEL 3yo, f 8.0+70 (D)
Sat. G2-Carry Back CRC 3yo 6.0 (D)
Sat. G2-American Derby AP 3yo 8.5 (T)
Sat. G2-Swaps Stakes HOL 3yo 9.0 (S)
Sat. G3-Robert Dick Memorial DEL 3up, f&m 11.0 (T)
Sat. G3-Azalea CRC 3yo, f 6.0 (D)
Sat. G3-Modesty Hcp. AP 3up, f&m 8.5 (T)
Sat. G3-Arlington Hcp. AP 3up 10.0 (T)
Sat. Long Branch MTH 3yo 8.5 (D)
Sun. G2-Dance Smartly WO 3up, f&m 9.0 (T)


G1-Hollywood Gold Cup

In terms of looking ahead at the Breeders' Cup Classic this fall, I don't think it's premature to call tomorrow's Hollywood Gold Cup a key race.  We've already highlighted the fact that this year's Classic division is short on star power and even shorter on depth.

To me, this is a race that Twirling Candy absolutely needs to win. Sure, the Hollywood Gold Cup is on synthetic and not dirt, so the results of the race should be taken with a grain of salt when projecting to the Classic. But at the same time, Twirling Candy has become the top rated older horse in the country for many, and almost by default. He's won graded stakes races on turf, synthetic and dirt, as well as over distances ranging from six and a half to nine furlongs. Twirling Candy's been one of the most consistent and versatile horses in the country over the past year, and a win in the Gold Cup would secure him safely at the top of the rankings. On the downside, if the Gold Cup turns into chaos (like many of the stakes races for older horses this year), then the Classic division will remain as wide-open as it has been all year long.

The six-year-old mare 2-Miss Match (ARG) will take on the boys in the Gold Cup, and why not? When you've got a group of male horses without a clear-cut standout, you might as well take a shot with a classy filly like Miss Match. 

3-Setsuko finished up 2010 on a bit of a whimper but has come back strongly in his last two races with 2nd place finishes in both the G1-Santa Anita Handicap and G2-Californian. That Santa Anita Handicap was a real mess at the finish, with Setsuko, Twirling Candy and Game On Dude playing bumper cars down the lane.

7-First Dude has picked up back-to-back victories after coming oh-so-close for the better part of a year. He'll be making just his third career start on a synthetic surface and I'm not sure we know what to expect from him in his situation. In his other two synthetic tries (both on the Poly at Keeneland) he didn't show as much early speed as he has in his dirt races, something that puts him at a bit of a disadvantage, in my opinion. If that happens again in the Gold Cup, First Dude will probably have a tough time coming out on top.

If we're looking for a huge upset play from a relative unknown, how about 8-Dark Cove, a McPeek shipper that won an allowance race at Keeneland over the Polytrack on April 28th? Given the way that this year has gone, I don't know that I'd be shocked if this colt ended up in the winner's circle.

G1-Man o'War

Gio Ponti headlines the Grade 1 Man o'War at Belmont on Saturday as he looks for his third consecutive win in this 1 3/8 mile race on the turf course. He'll be challenged by some of the usual North American turf horses - Mission Approved, Bearpath, Boisterous, and Al Khali - along with an Irish invader for Aidan O'Brien, Cape Blanco (IRE).

Cape Blanco picked up a pair of Group 1 wins in Ireland in 2010 - the Irish Derby at the Curragh on June 27th and the Irish Champions Stakes at Leopardstown on Sept. 4th. He has been off-form since that last race and hasn't finished better than a pair of 4th place finishes at Meydan and Longchamp this spring. They tried him shortening him up to a mile at Royal Ascot last month but he was nowhere near Canford Cliffs (IRE) and Goldikova (IRE) in the G1-Queen Anne Stakes. A return to routing should suit Cape Blanco much better than the Queen Anne, and perhaps it will prepare him just a bit to show a little more speed in North America.

Cape Blanco is going to take a good deal of action due to his name and his connections, and he's got enough class to run much better in the Man o'War than he has in his last couple, but I'm not sure he's going to have much value next to his name. He's 5/2 on the morning line and you'd think that he might be in the range of 2/1 or lower at post time. If you believe that he'll take to the firmer Belmont turf course (and he's shown the ability to win over harder ground in Europe) then perhaps he's worth a play, but he's no lock. 

I've never been a huge Gio Ponti fan; he's been the most consistent of America's turf horses for a couple of years now, but he's never struck me as a great horse, but instead he's a very good one amongst a so-so group of turf horses. That being said, he is ultra-consistent and a very tough competitor race in and race out. His run in the Manhattan on Belmont day wasn't very pretty from a visual sense, but the ground that day was yielding and he's never shown himself to be a great horse on softer ground. That was also a day where speed played very, very well on the Belmont turf course, so I think we can toss that one in the garbage bin.

Belmont was Fast/Firm yesterday and if those conditions hold, Gio Ponti should find things a bit better for himself in the Man o'War on Saturday. Eh, I should probably had looked through all of yesterday's charts before typing that.  The track started the day as Fast/Firm but turned wet later on. Today the main track is "Sloppy/Sealed" with the turf course rated as "Good". Races 4, 6 and 7 are off the turf. 

We'll have to wait and see how things look tomorrow for the Man o'War.

Million Preview Day

G3-Modesty Handicap

The local prep for the G1-Beverly D. kicks off Million Preview Day at Arlington Park on Saturday with a field of eight fillies and mares going 1 3/16 miles on the turf course.

4-Fantasia (GB) (3/1) is back to (once again) try and win a graded stakes race in North America after finishing 2nd, 3rd and 2nd in her last three tries. I love the fact that this mare seems to always run a solid race every time out, but you just can't get past the fact that she doesn't seem to want to win. With morning line odds of 3/1 it's tough to have a lot of enthusiasm that she'll finally get over the hump in this spot.

6-My Baby Baby (5/1) comes into this race in fine form after winning the G3-Mint Julep Handicap on June 11th at Churchill Downs. The six-year-old Bernstein mare finished 2nd to Keertana in the G3-Bewitch at Keeneland; Keertana came out of that race to win the G3-Louisville Handicap on May 28th. The Bewitch was run at a mile and a half over yielding ground, and her performance in that race suggests she should have no problem with the 1 3/16th of the Modesty. (She also had a horrible break in the Bewitch and had to run the race as more of a closer than her preferred stalking style. Her ability to run a strong race without her usual running style should be looked at favorably.)

3-Wasted Tears (5/2) is the absolute lone speed in the Modesty and the deserving morning line favorite. In her last race she won the G3-Ouija Board at Lone Star in wire-to-wire fashion (her 3rd straight win in that race - all wire-to-wire), and she also holds gate-to-wire wins in the G2-Mabee, G2-Jeny Wiley and G3-Honey Fox. Despite all of her accomplishments, Wasted Tears has never run (let alone won) a race longer than 9 furlongs. If she's not able to carry her speed the extra sixteenth of a mile, then the rest of the field might have a shot to take her down. My Baby Baby will attempt to stalk Wasted Tears the whole way hoping for that very result.

G2-American Derby

1-Cannon Hill (IRE) (10/1) will make his first North American start for trainer Dermot Weld in the 1 3/16ths mile American Derby. Cannon Hill has spent his entire career in Ireland were he won a minor stakes race last time out at Navan going seven furlongs. He's never attempted to run as far as he will in this race although his one race at nine furlongs saw him finish a decent 2nd in a minor event at Tipperary in late April. It remains to be seen how this

Cannon Hill is a son of Holy Roman Emperor (IRE), who was a very nice juvenile back in 2006 and won the Group 1 - Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh and Group 1 - Prix Lagardere at Longchamp.

4-Wilcox Inn (3/1) won the local prep for this race, the listed Arlington Classic on May 28th, with an easy 2 ½ length victory over fellow rival 9-Suntracer (6/1). Wilcox Inn was 3rd to Pluck and Soldat in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last November.

Michael Maker's 6-Derby Kitten (4/1) looks to get back to winning after a 3rd in the Lone Star Derby last time out. 5-Close Ally (7/2), a Giant's Causeway colt trained by Neil Howard, finished 2nd ahead of Derby Kitten down at Lone Star. He's got a pair of victories to his credit but both came in races washed off the turf (one at Keeneland and one at the Fair Grounds). 

G3-Arlington Handicap

There are two first-of-the-plane foreign shippers in the G3-Arlington Handicap, 2-Interaction (ARG) (6/1) and 5-Sanagas (GER) (8/1).

Interaction comes to the U.S. after beginning his career in Argentina, followed by a race in France and two more in Dubai at Meydan. He was a Group 1 winner in Argentina but has yet to notch a win outside of his home county. He tried the synthetic surface at Meydan back on Feb. 3rd and ran his best non-Argentina race to-date, 3rd in the G2-Maktoum Challenge.  Trainer Christophe Clement knows what to do with international shippers (17-for-66, 26%, $2.50 $2 ROI), but it's tough to get a read on this one as to how he'll fit in at Arlington.

I'm not one that focuses a ton on weight (since horses rarely carry "significant" weight in North American anymore) but check out the pounds that Sanagas will shed in his North American debut. He'll carry 114 in the Arlington Handicap after carrying 141, 139, 130, 130 and 127 in his five races in Germany. Most handicap horses in North America will never even come close to carrying 141 or 139 pounds, even though (at one time) that was a common weight allowance.

Sanagas has only won some minor stakes races in Germany but he's got a ton of stamina and should fit in just fine at the mile and a quarter distance. After that, it's anybody's guess as to how he'll run at Arlington.

Trainer Graham Motion is 12-for-57 with international shippers over the last five years (21%, $2.71 $2 ROI) and has finished in-the-money 47% of the time. Only one of those 12 winners has done so against Graded stakes competition - Gypsy's Warning (SAf) in the G3-Eatontown at Monmouth Park on May 31st, 2010.

7-Juniper Pass (3/1) comes into the Arlington Handicap in good form following a pair of Grade 2 wins at Santa Anita this sprint. Two races back he took the G2-San Luis Rey in a race washed off the turf course at Santa Anita. His most recent victory came in the G2-San Juan Capistrano on April 17th at 1 ¾ miles. He fits the 10 furlong distance as well as any horse in the field and if 8-Amun Re can keep 9-Dean's Kitten (4/1) honest on the frontend of this race, Juniper Pass should have a nice shot at a win. However, given the volatility of the American turf division, and the unknown factor with the two international shippers, I'd want a bit more than 3/1 for a win price.