A trio of graded stakes races for three-year-old colts dot this weekend's graded stakes action, along with some nice races for older colts and fillies at Aqueduct, Santa Anita, Tampa, and Gulfstream Park. The three-year-old races will capture much of the attention but strong fields in the G2-Strub, G2-Arcadia, and the G3-Endevour make for a very nice start to Super Bowl weekend.
Let's take a look at some of the top action this weekend.
There isn't a whole lot of speed in the Stub, which should greatly benefit the 6/5 morning line favorite, 7-Tapizar. After running a lackluster race in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, Tapizar rebounded nicely to dominate the G2-San Fernando at Santa Anita on Jan. 14th. He's run well at this track in the past (3-2-0-0) but will be trying nine furlongs for only the second time in his career. His other attempt at this distance was a 5th place finish in last year's Robert Lewis Stakes. If Tapizar is able to shake free of 4-Ultimate Eagle (9/2) in the early stages he will be awfully tough to catch.
1-Jaycito (4/1) has yet to show that he can run a big race on conventional dirt and, even more important, he's hasn't recorded a victory since winning the G1-Norfolk in October of 2010. He's coming off of another extended break suggesting that this colt has trouble staying in top physical condition. Those 4/1 morning line odds seem awfully low for a colt with as many questions as Jaycito.
2-Prayer for Relief (7/2) notched four straight wins last summer/fall before falling slightly off-form in his last three. He got a trough trip when finishing 3rd in the Ohio Derby, didn't show up at all in a 9th place finish in the G1-Clark, and came back to run a good 3rd in the San Fernando. He's got two speed horses to his outside which should allow him to settle just off the pace in the early stages, giving him every opportunity to make a run at the top of the stretch.
8-Balladry (8/1) closed nicely to grab the 2nd spot from Prayer for Relief in the San Fernando and will try to run down the leaders once again in the Strub. This colt really needs Ultimate Eagle to put some pressure on Tapizar in the early stages if he's going to have any chance to get to the wire first.
8-Mr. Commons (Even) has really come into his own after returning to the turf last July. He was an interesting prospect last year, finishing 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby before a weak 8th in the Preakness. After that race at Pimlico trainer John Shirreffs decided to put this son of Artie Schiller back where he belonged - the grass. He won the ungraded Oceanside on Del Mar's opening day, followed by a couple of runner-up finishes in the G2-Del Mar Mile and G2-Oak Tree Mile. He was overwhelmingly the best in winning the G2-Sir Beaufort last time out, when he split horses in mid-stretch and blew away his rivals by 3 ¼ lengths.
2-Pathfork (5/2) won the Group 2 Futurity Stakes and the Group 1 National Stakes at the Curragh as a juvenile but hasn't seen competitive action since finishing 26 lengths behind Frankel (GB) in last year's 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. It's hard to evaluate this colt when his last race was almost nine months ago and came against an absolute freak of nature. Even harder when you consider that his juvenile form, while excellent, occurred almost a year and a half ago. He obviously had some kind of physical problems last year given the extended time away from the track. I usually like to play the underbet European horses in the first time they race in the U.S., but this colt carries some serious questions into this race and will likely be overbet on the board. If he were to drift to 4/1 or 5/1, I might tempted to take a shot. That doesn't seem to be a likely scenario.
3-M One Rifle (10/1) has turned in some strong performances on dirt and synthetics but will make his first start on the lawn in an awfully tough field. Over the last five years, trainer Bruce Headley has only twice attempted to run a horse for the first time on the grass in graded stakes race, with neither horse finishing in the top three. Overall, Headley is 2-for-39 with the first time grass move in the last five years. Those aren't very encouraging numbers.
G2-Robert Lewis Stakes
|1||Isn't He Clever||C. Nakatani||H. Dominguez||6/1|
|2||Liaison||R. Bejarano||B. Baffert||9/5|
|3||Groovin' Solo||V. Espinoza||M. Cho||12/1|
|4||I'll Have Another||M. Gutierrez||D. O'Neill||12/1|
|5||Sky Kingdom||M. Garcia||B. Baffert||6/1|
|6||Rousing Sermon||J. Talamo||J. Hollendorfer||5/2|
|7||Empire Way||J. Rosario||M. Harrington||6/1|
|8||Chips All In||A. Quinonez||J. Mullins||6/1|
2-Liaison (9/5) rolls into the Lewis off of three wins in four races, including a score in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park in his last start. The Bob Baffert trainee has made a wide move in all four of his starts but will likely find his trip a little easier in this spot. His rival 6-Rousing Sermon (5/2) will once again line up in the same gate after finishing second in each of the last two stakes races. Rousing Sermon likes to do his running from the back of the pack, so he'll likely need some help up front in order to soften things up for his stretch run. There isn't a ton of speed in this field which may complicate things for the Hollendorfer trainee.
The second of the two Bob Baffert entries is 5-Sky Kingdom (6/1), a nice looking winner of an N1X Allowance race at Santa Anita back on Jan. 12th. It would be an understatement to write that Sky Kingdom won that race ‘easily"; it was ridiculously easy as Martin Garcia hardly asked him for any run as he cantered home by four and a half lengths at the wire. He had way too much work to do in the stretch when he finished fourth to Liaison and Rousing Sermon in the CashCall Futurity but displayed a lot more early speed in his last effort. This colt seems to be improving at just the right time for a big, big effort.
3-Groovin' Solo (12/1) is a bit of a wild card in the Lewis after a nice maiden score at Santa Anita on Dec. 30th. He also ran in the CashCall Futurity but his race was over before it started after breaking a rein in the early going. That maiden race has come back very strong; 3rd place finisher Castaway came back to win a MdSpWt at Santa Anita on Jan. 21st with a 89 Beyer, and 4th place finisher Cloud Hopper came back to score in a MdSpWt on the lawn on Jan. 16th with an 80 Beyer. The 2nd place horse, Candy's Jewel, has yet to return to the track but could be a strong play in his next start.
G3-Sam F. Davis Stakes
|1||State of Play||A. Garcia||G. Motion||4/1|
|2||Holy Highway||A. Serpa||D. Ryan||20/1|
|3||Battle Hardened||J. Leparoux||E. Kenneally||12/1|
|4||Ecaboni||J. Castellano||T. Pletcher||7/2|
|5||Moroccan Brew||R. Feliciano||D. Ward||30/1|
|6||Neck n' Neck||J. Lezcano||I. Wilkes||5/1|
|7||Fox Rules||H. Villa-Gomez||M. Ferraro||30/1|
|8||Ravelo's Boy||J. Sanchez||M. Azpurua||15/1|
|9||Burning Time||L. Goncalves||D. Fawkes||12/1|
|10||Reveron||F. Jara||A. Bezara||3/1|
|11||Prospective||L. Contreras||M. Casse||6/1|
The graded stakes program for three-year-old colts at Tampa Bay Downs kicks off on Saturday with the Grade 2 Sam F. Davis Stakes at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track. Of the three-year-old stakes races scheduled for this Saturday, the Davis drew the deepest and most competitive field.
1-State of Play (4/1), winner of the G2-With Anticipation last fall at Saratoga, makes his dirt debut and draws the rail for the Sam F. Davis. He finished well behind Wrote (IRE) in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf after getting jostled around at the start.
3-Battle Hardened (12/1) has yet to break his maiden but he's put in some decent efforts at Churchill and Gulfstream and he's not facing an overwhelmingly tough field in this race.
10-Reveron (3/1), the morning line favorite at 3/1, has won three straight races including the ungraded Gulfstream Park Derby on January 1st. This colt possesses a good deal of early pace and is drawn outside of the other speed horses in the field, which should provide him with every opportunity to get a good trip around the track.
Todd Pletcher's 4-Ecabroni (7/2) is the second choice on the morning line off of a strong win against Maiden Special Weight company at Gulfstream Park.
Tampa Bay Downs will feature a nice line-up of older fillies and mares going a mile and a sixteenth on the grass, led by 4-Zagora (FR) (2/1) and 10-Keertana (5/2).
Zagora made a nice transition from France to North America last year en route to winning the G1-Diana at Saratoga, and finishing 2nd in the G2-New York and G3-Hillsborough. Both of those loses came by less than a length. She threw in a clunker in the G2-Canadian at Woodbine (her last start of 2011) after getting bumped around a bit at the start.
Keertana won three graded stakes races in 2011, including the G3-Louisville Handicap, G3-Bewitch, and G3-Very One. This race is a little shorter than what she normally prefers, although she's a solid 6-3-1-2 in her career at 8 ½ furlongs.
The Italian-bred filly 9-Master Shade (ITY) (8/1) has performed well against allowance and ungraded stakes competition over the last year but will face a stern test in her debut against graded company. This filly has a good deal of early speed and will likely try and steal this race on the front-end.