The Breeders' Cup Classic rematch is upstaged by a runaway gelding, a SoCal three-year-old colt produces one of the best performances from his crop this spring, a strange race down in the Tampa Bay Derby, a successful return to the track for Belmont winner Palace Malice, and an unfortunate defections from the 2014 Road to the Kentucky Derby.
All that AND MORE!
Tampa Bay Derby & San Felipe Stakes
I'm not sure what to make of yesterday's Tampa Bay Derby win by Ring Weekend after the rest of the field have major troubles keeping up with the Tapit colt in the middle parts of the race, and none of the contenders made any serious dent in his lead through the stretch drive.
The Tampa Bay Derby wasn't really loaded with top Kentucky Derby prospects going into the race, and it's hard to make a case that any of these are major players on the trail at this point. Perhaps Ring Weekend is coming into his own at this point in his career but, given what will certainly be a major logjam of speed in Louisville, I can't get real excited about his prospects.
Out in California, California Chrome put up one of the more impressive prep runs this season, both visually and according to the figures, as he steamrolled the San Felipe field. Like the Tampa Bay Derby, the rest of the field looks a bit "meh". Midnight Hawk seems to have the most room for growth behind California Chrome, but Kristo was pretty much a non factor and didn't build off of his nice effort in the Sham.
The best aspect of California Chrome is his ability to do something other than run up near the front of the pack. While he employed gate-to-wire tactics in the San Felipe (thanks to a fantastic break from the gate), he's been successful running from a bit further back in other races, a trait he will almost surely have to tap into if he's in Louisville on the first Saturday in Many.
Big Cap Recap
It's a pretty simple equation for Game On Dude at this point in his career: get a clear, early lead = big effort. Don't get a clear, early lead = no big effort.
I'm not going to call it getting an "easy lead" cause Game On dude really didn't get an easy lead in yesterday's Big Cap. What he got was a clear lead, and one that required him to put up sprinter-like early splits in order to secure. It's pretty clear what the recipe is for a Game On Dude flop at this point: the last two Breeders' Cup were the result of not breaking well from the gate (2012), and engaging in a three-horse duel for the lead (2013). When he gets a clear lead, as he did in the 2011 Classic and in yesterday's Big Cap, he's dangerous. Game On Dude can stalk a lead horse (as he did in the Clark, the CT Classic, and other races earlier in his career) but that's clearly not a recipe for producing his best efforts at this point in his career.
About the only thing the other connections in the Big Cap field could have done to prevent Game On Dude from grabbing the lead yesterday was to enter a sprinter. Hear the Ghost tried but he's not pure early speed as not once in his career has he lead a race after at the first or second call.
If he makes it to the Classic again this year (and considering he's now seven, that's no guarantee), Game On Dude will likely face a field with more legit early speed than Hear The Ghost, and that will once again make him vulnerable to a poor effort.
Derby Trail Defections
The Derby trail took a hit with the defection of Top Billing yesterday after the Shug McGaughey trainee cracked the cannon bone in his right front, according the a report at BloodHorse.com. The loss of Top Billing takes out one of the few true-blue closers from the ranks of the Derby contenders. A quick perusal of the major players on the current leader board reveals a potential field (once again) loaded with speed and stalking horses but extremely lean on anything resembling an off-the-pace runner. Just take a look at the current points standings and their corresponding Bris run-style designation prior to yesterday's races (below). And while a run-style designation is certainly not set in stone, it does help to illustrate the potential pace scenarios.
|Horse||Pts||Bris Run Style||Lengths Back at 2nd Call in Wins|
|Intense Holiday||53||P 1||3.25|
|California Chrome||50||E/P 6||2.00|
|Ring Weekend||50||E/P 6||0.50|
|Wildcat Red||50||E/P 8||1.00|
|Midnight Hawk||32||E/P 7||1.00|
|Uncle Sigh||24||E 8||n/a|
|General a Rod||20||E/P 8||6.00 (S)|
|Vicar's in Trouble||20||E/P 5||n/a|
|Cairo Prince||14||P 5||1.00|
|Honor Code||14||E/P 3||22.00|
|Tamarando||12||S 0||5.75 (S)|
|Bond Holder||11||S 0||5.75|
|Ami's Holiday||10||P 2||5.50 (S)|
|Candy Boy||10||P 3||1.50|
|In Trouble||10||E/P 8||3.00|
|Noble Moon||10||E/P 5||n/a|
|Rise Up||10||E/P 6||0.10|
|Surfing USA||10||E/P 8||0.10|
|Tanzanite Cat||10||E 8||0.10|
|We Miss Artie||10||E/P 4||5.50 (S)|
An (S) in the lengths back column indicates the race was run over a synthetic surface. An 'n/a" indicates the horse has never trailed at the second call of a race they ended up winning.
While they are still officially on the trail, Bond Holder and Havana are tenuous, at best, given their recent injury troubles. Bond Holder is still trying to recover from his brutally bad flight to the Fair Grounds.
With still a month of prep races on the horizon, the list of Derby contenders is subject to major changes. But at a minimum, it sure looks like we'll have another year of exceptionally testing fractions carved out by the speed of the speed. If you want the lead in the Derby, you're going to have to earn it.
Had Top Billing remained in on the trail, his "S 0" designation and wins when trailing by 4.5 and 11 lengths at the second call would have stood out amongst the contenders.
Speaking of the Derby trail, Honor Code will finally make his 2014 debut in an allowance race at Gulfstream on Wednesday afternoon. A winner of the G2-Remsen last fall, Honor Code still sits in the Top 20 on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leader board, but you got to wonder how ready he'll be for the toughest race of his life is his prep season contains an allowance race and the Florida Derby. Sounds a bit like Uncle Mo preparations to me.
Tuesday marks the start of the four day 2014 Cheltenham Festival featuring the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Thursday morning (well, morning for us here in the States. Afternoon for those of you on the other side of the Atlantic). I don't know a lot about jump racing except 1) the races are much longer than flat racing, and 2) the horses have to navigate jumps and obstacles during the event. I know even less about actually handicapping a jump race but I enjoy watching this fantastic festival from England every year.
Sadly, television coverage of the Festival here in the U.S. is at a minimum these days; Gold Cup Day will air on HRTV on Friday but the rest of the Festival is only viewable via on-line streaming.
Other News & Notes from around the horse racing world:
Archaeology Students Lend a Hand to Exhume Native Diver Remains | Paulick Report – Thoroughbred Horse Racing News
Efforts to relocate the remains of Native Diver from the grounds of Hollywood Park got some extra help from USC archaeology students.
Cairo Prince, General a Rod work for Florida Derby - Handicappers' Edge
Cairo Prince, likely favorite for the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 29, took another step toward the race with a half-mile work on Saturday.
Tampa Bay allowance win sets Bobby's Kitten up for Blue Grass - Handicappers' Edge
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Bobby's Kitten led the way home in the 6TH race at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, taking command from his rail post when the gates opened and setting all the pace under jockey Javier Castellano.
Expanded State-Bred Incentives at Arlington | BloodHorse.com
The plan, co-authored by Arlington Park and the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation, includes bonus money, expanded state-bred races, and promotional efforts.
"Horseplayers" and Pioneer Days - Hangin' With Haskin
"Horseplayers," mainly Team Rotondo (Peter Rotondo Sr. and Jr. and Lew Davis), brings me back to a time long ago in my life; a time of smoke-filled busses and a cacophony of thick Brooklyn accents moaning about the double they almost hit and how "da faw hawse is a lock in da toid." OK, that was a bit exaggerated, but effective nonetheless.
Royal Ascot on the agenda for Fiorente | Horse Racing News | Racing Post
A return to Britain for a tilt at Royal Ascot looks on the cards for Fiorente Gai Waterhouse Damien Oliver after the Emirates Melbourne Cup winner produced another top class display to win the Darley Australian Cup.
GAME ON DUDE, CALIFORNIA CHROME HEADLINE WORLD-CLASS RACING ON SANTA ANITA HANDICAP DAY; TOTAL HANDLE OF $22.5 MILLION IS 23 PERCENT INCREASE OVER LAST YEAR, ON-TRACK HANDLE UP 11 PERCENT | Santa Anita Park
With veteran 7-year-old gelding Game On Dude and 3-year-old superstar California Chrome headlining a blockbuster 11-race program on Saturday at Santa Anita, total Santa Anita Handicap Day handle was $22,589,082, a robust 23 percent increase over last year.
Keeneland Catalogs 125 Horses for 2014 April Two-Year-Old Sale | Keeneland Thoroughbred Racing and Sales
Keeneland has cataloged 125 juveniles for its 2014 April Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale on Monday, April 7, at 4 p.m. (ET). A Preview Show is scheduled for Thursday, April 3, beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Palace Malice Rallies to Win $250,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap | Gulfstream Park South Florida Horse Racing, Casino
Palace Malice Rallies to Win $250,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap - Bet on horse racing,play poker and slots,see live music at Gulfstream Park,South Florida's premier race track and casino.