A good Saturday morning to everyone (or afternoon, depending on you time zone). I was out of town for a several days this past week but am finally back home and ready for a good weekend of racing action from around the country. The weather has started to turn to spring in the Pacific Northwest - warmer days, a switch to less bulky jackets, later sunsets - and with it comes the knowledge that we are rapidly picking up pace on the 2014 racing season.
Today's racing action centers around Hot Springs, Arakansas and Oaklawn Parks trifecta of graded stakes races: G2-Azeri, G2-Razorback, and G2-Rebel. It looks like the weather could be a bit touch and go for today's card as there is a strong chance of rain and thunderstorms on the horizon. Fortunately, it looks like the forecast is calling for the wet stuff to roll in later tonight so, hopefully, today's card will take place under dry condition.
Some assorted thoughts and observations on today's racing action:
Close Hatches makes her first start since finishing second to Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff when she faces six rivals in the G2-Azeri at a mile and a sixteenth at Oaklawn. A winner of five races from eight lifetime starts, Close Hatches has really only tossed in one dud in her career - a seventh place finish in last year's Kentucky Oaks.
On Fire Baby is part of the Azeri field and perhaps a trip back to Oaklawn will get her going in the right direction. Last year's G1-Apple Blossom winner is 3-2-0-1 at Oaklawn and 9-3-1-0 at all other tracks. Her last two races were pretty much complete disasters; if she throws in another stinker on Saturday I think there's a good possibility that her bet days may be behind her.
Don't Tell Sophia love running at Oaklawn (6-4-1-1) but I wonder if her stone-cold closing style will leave her with way to much ground to make up on Close Hatches considering there just isn't a lot of top notch speed in here to challenge the favorite early.
- I don't really love any horse in the G2-Razorback, but I'm definitely interested in taking a shot with Street Spice (8/1) as one off the few horses in the field that can sit back off the early speed and make one run in the latter stages. Front runners have dominated races at 8.5 furlongs this meet but this might be as good of a spot as any for an off-the-pace runner to notch a victory.
- If I was going to take a flyer with a bit of a price in the Rebel, I'd definitely go in the direction of 7-Street Strategy (8/1). Given the action that should go in the direction of Tapiture, Strong Mandate and (most likely) Kobe's Back, there's a good chance at snagging odds of 10/1 or better on this colt.
- Bourbon Courage, winless since his G2-Super Derby score back in early September of 2012, looks to find his way back to the winner's circle in an allowance event in Oaklawn's sixth race on Saturday.
- I've been waiting almost a couple of months for Miz Lee to show up for her second career start and the wait is over on Saturday in the 11th and final race on the Gulfstream card. Sent to post at odds of almost 9/1 in her debut back on January 25th, Miz Lee broke poorly, spotted the field about nine lengths, and then made a big late move to finish third by a half-length at the wire. She's 6/1 on the ML, she's drawn wide in the field of 11, and she gets a no rail inner turf set-up which should be perfect if she again displays an off-the-pace running style.
- Speaking of maiden special weight races on the lawn at Gulfstream - favorites hit at about 19% for those kinds of races at Gulftream this meet, with a whopping 26% of the winners scoring at odds of 10/1 or better (only 48% at 5/1 or less). They might be tough races to handicap but you'll typically get a decent price if you end up on the winner.
- How is the 4-Rachel's Ticket, only 20/1 on the morning line in the opener at Gulfstream on Saturday? O-for-11 lifetime combined with losses by 28, 19, 12, and 21 lengths versus this same class in her last four starts screams odds of higher than 20/1.
- The birdhouse commercials on HRTV - better or worse than the ear wax removal and flex-seal? They HAVE to be better than the Joe Theissman prostate one!
- The opener at Santa Anita on Saturday is a maiden claimer on the downhill turf course for three-year-old males, and the field sports two first time starters: 2-Fardan and 8-The Prime Mover. Looking at a couple of firsters on the downhill I got to thinking: how weird is it for a horse to debut on the downhill? Seems like a quirky configuration to toss a horse into for his first racing action.
- The field for the second at Santa Anita contains a shipper from the Pacific Northwest - Morning Line Wiz - a three-year-old gelding who is a two-time winner at Portland Meadows sandwiched around two races at Emerald Downs. He's making a major class jump into $50k open company claimers, a far cry from the small allowance races he's faced in the past. Good luck, big guy.
As an aside, I've read debates in the past as to whether to refer to a horse as "who" or an "it", or something else entirely. I suppose technically, a horse isn't a "who" but I prefer that over "it", even though in this situation, "it" might be better suited to a gelding. Anyway, sure a horse probably isn't a "who" but that's what I'm gonna go with.
- I'm guessing it will be an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" strategy with Iotapa in the G1-Santa Margarita. She went right to the front en route to a gate to wire victory in the Santa Maria last time out, and that strategy would appear best suited to a victory in this race given the pace composition of the field. On the other hand, perhaps the connections of Yahilwa will allow their filly to dictate terms this time out, rather than trying to stalk the pace. The trip notes are pretty clear for this filly in her two domestic starts: "pulled". They either need to just let her go to the lead, or shorten her back up to the seven panels she ran at in England.
- Di Giorgio (ARG) appeared to be crying out for more ground in his first two starts in the U.S., and he'll get some more today as he'll cover nine furlongs in against allowance company on the lawn in race 8 at Santa Anita on Saturday. Looking at his South American form, I gotta wonder if a mile and an eighth might still be on the short end for this horse. Despite morning line favoritism, Di Giogio is going to have to work for it against this ground as he'll face a pretty tough customer in Si Sage (FR), a colt that's been knocking on the door at the graded stakes level in his last two starts.