Friday, February 24, 2012

A Visit with Tiffany Catledge, Solidify, and High Level

- Sarah Andrew

Much to my delight, the Retired Racehorse Training Project's Trainer Challenge has developed quite a rabid following. It seems like every time I visit a barn, one of my friends asks if I have seen Eric's latest video (which is FANTASTIC), or Kerry's newest blog post (which is so much fun!). Links are being shared all over forums, Facebook, and through emails. We all have our favorite horses and our favorite trainers. We all beam with pride when the horses learn something new, and we all study the trainers' methods.

This week, I had the pleasure of catching up with trainer Tiffany Catledge and her two trainees, Solidify and High Level, at her barn in Middleburg, VA. Tuesday was the first time that I saw the horses since the beginning of the Challenge in January (you can read my accounts of Day One and Day Two, and my wrapup of the training progress so far). Solidify, the tall bay from MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, has blossomed in Tiffany's care. He has gained weight and muscle from the training, and the farrier did a fantastic job with his newest set of shoes.

Here's Solidify at the MD Horse World Expo on January 20:

And here he is on Tuesday after a month of work:

His topline, neck, and hind end all show great improvement. How does Tiffany build this muscle? Through a carefully-planned regimen of under-saddle work, with a focus on developing strength, suppleness, and a happy, forward attitude. She is careful to keep the training regimen varied, both to keep the horse mentally stimulated and to keep the horse from feeling overfaced. Her rotation consists of one day of dressage work, one day of stretchy work, one day of poles/jumps, one hack day, a day off as needed, and some "field trips" off the farm property.

While Tiffany rode Solidify in the outdoor arena, I noted the different ways that she used to guide and reward him. He was perfectly in tune to her voice, hand, seat, and leg aids. He has quite the work ethic- as soon as they were in the arena, he had his game face on. I saw a marked improvement in the rhythm of Solidify's gaits. He was more free in his shoulder at all three gaits, and he was learning how to engage his hind end.

Lateral work provided Solidify with the balance and power he needed to do more precise transitions and relax over his topline.

The Pennsylvania Horse World Expo is this weekend, and Tiffany is schooling Solidify's mind is as well as his body. Nothing spooked him during her session, and he remained very focused on Tiffany throughout the ride. This weekend, in a strange arena full of spectators, he will need to focus on Tiffany in order to do his job and maintain his confidence.

One of my favorite things about visiting Tiffany was seeing her beam with pride at the horses' progress. We discussed how much both horses improved, and some of the video highlights that she has on her trainer blog. 

Not only has Tiffany worked diligently on the horses' under-saddle skills, but she has also worked on their barn manners. Both Solidify and High Level were perfect gentlemen around the barn.

Adaptability is one of the key attributes of a good trainer. Overnight, High Level had bonked the side of his muzzle, and as a result, he was tender on his cheek where the bit rests. No worries, Tiffany went into her tack room and produced a hackamore. Her confidence radiated to her horse, and High Level worked hard to learn about his new tack. I could see his mental wheels turning as he figured out that he could stretch into the contact just like he could with a bit in his mouth.

At the Maryland Horse World Expo, High Level had the misfortune of getting a sole bruise. While his hoof healed, he was out of training, and missed out on a few weeks. Tiffany had to play catch-up with him, and the game Thoroughbred that he is, he is doing his best. His latest jumping video shows his excellent attitude and style.

Both Solidify and High Level are tremendously athletic horses. In Solidify, I see the potential for collection and lift, both in dressage work and over fences- his canter is lofty and round. In High Level, I see a forward personality with good natural tempo. He was able to keep his trot rhythm as they worked on bending and changed directions. If he was confused, he did not rush or balk, he kept going as he figured it out.

Since High Level was not ridden at the Maryland Horse World Expo, this was the first time I saw his lovely, sweepy canter in person. His athleticism allows him to progress through the training steps with confidence.

Unfortunately, I don't have a conformation photo of High Level from the Expo, but I can see excellent muscle development on him. He looks strong and balanced. Like Solidify, this horse has a very bright future as an athlete.

One of the goals of the Trainer Challenge is to show owners of racehorses the progress that a horse can make with a month of quality training, and how the value as a sporthorse can increase well above the horse's claiming tag. I hope that hunter/jumper/dressage/eventing trainers take note as well, and use the work of Tiffany, Kerry, and Eric as an inspiration for their own projects.

Thank you, Tiffany, for letting me visit and watch your training sessions, and best of luck to all the horses and trainers this weekend. I know it will be a great success.

I don't envy the task that the judges of the Trainer Challenge face this upcoming weekend. Every time I watch a training video, I have a new favorite horse. Be sure to tune in on the RRTP's website this Saturday, where they will be streaming the PA Horse Expo events live. Keep track of up-to-the-minute news on their Facebook page. All of the horses participating in the Trainer Challenge are available for sale or adoption, so be sure to contact the RRTP if you are interested in taking the next step with one of these promising athletes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sophomore Spotlight: Risen Star and Fountain of Youth Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

GII Risen Star S. - El Padrino (Pulpit) is certainly the horse to beat here. The 100 Beyer Speed Figure he earned for his optional claiming score last out at Gulfstream Jan. 29 towers over this bunch--nobody else in the field has ever even broken 90. He’s hard to go against, and I certainly wouldn’t invest much trying to beat him, but there are a few reasons why he might not run as well as he did at Gulfstream. For starters, his race in Florida came on a track with moisture in it, and his Beyer represented a 21-point improvement to a new top. The sharp figure increase could be attributed partly to the surface, and those who subscribe to the bounce theory could certainly make a case for an expected regression. Also, while conditioner Todd Pletcher has been on an other-worldly tear at Gulfstream again this year, there have been past instances when Pletcher horses don’t run as well in subsequent efforts outside of the Sunshine State. El Padrino’s a solid and deserving favorite, but he’s far from invincible.
   If someone’s going to take down the heavy favorite, I’m betting it’s Shared Property (Scat Daddy). While last term’s GIII Arlington-Washington Futurity winner was narrowly beaten by both Mr. Bowling (Istan) and Z Dager (Mizzen Mast) in the G3 Lecomte S. here last time Jan. 21, he had by far the toughest trip of the three (video). He was parked out extremely wide on both turns, while the one-two finishers each saved significantly more ground. Shared Property looked like he still might run on by in the long Fair Grounds stretch, but he hung a bit--perhaps because he was so far out in the track and couldn’t see Mr. Bowling and Z Dager battling inside him. Shared Property’s previous company lines also bolster his form--he beat GIII Iroquois S. winner Motor City (Street Sense) to break his maiden at Ellis, and bested Take Charge Indy (A.P. Indy) at Arlington. The latter gave El Padrino a run for his money last time, coming up two lengths short with a 96 Beyer despite moving a bit too soon. While El Padrino’s a very likely winner of the Risen Star, Shared Property will still offer value at around 6-1 or better.

GII Fountain of Youth S. - There seem to be enough reasons to go against both Union Rags (Dixie Union) and Algorithms (Bernardini) here. The former was a very good, precocious 2-year-old, but he shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt that he has trained on at three. Obviously, if he has improved since he was last seen, he’ll be hard to handle. But at a low number, you have to let him beat you. Algorithms has done nothing wrong in three starts so far, but his five-length, 105 Beyer-earning romp in the sloppy GIII Holy Bull S. seems a bit inflated. He’s from a female family that loves mud, and Consortium (Bernardini)’s last-place finish in that race didn’t exactly flatter the form of their previous showdown. 
   It would have been hard to imagine Discreet Dancer (Discreet Cat) ever going off as a relative overlay in any race for the rest of his career after his first two head-turners, but he should be a decent enough price in this spot simply because he can’t take as much action as the aforementioned pair. He has done absolutely nothing wrong in his first two starts, scoring by a combined 15 1/4 lengths with 98 and 96 Beyers, respectively. Those figures compare very favorably with Algorithms’ first two figures and hold a slight edge over Union Rags’ if he hasn’t improved. Something like 7-2 or 4-1 seems fair on a horse with unlimited upside at this point.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Keeping up with the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge

- Sarah Andrew

Life moves pretty fast. It’s time to sit down with a cup of coffee and catch up with the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s Trainer Challenge. We’re already in the final week. It seems like 5 weeks flew by in the blink of an eye, and I’m sure the horses’ trainers would agree.

You can read my accounts for the Thoroughbred Daily News and see my photos of Day One and Day Two of the trainer/horse evaluations and introductions at the Maryland Horse World Expo at these links: 

And here’s an RRTP video of the horses at the Expo.

Brazilian Wedding (Milwaukee Brew--Lady In Tails, by Black Tie Affair {Ire})
Trainer: Eric Dierks
Owner: Pat Dale

The elegant grey mare’s education continues to improve in leaps and bounds. Eric Dierks’ training videos are excellent in quality and in content. I’m so impressed with his riding and with his teaching style. He always has a plan and a logical progression to his training sessions. I ride a Thoroughbred, and I have watched each of his videos several times as training tools. I’ve learned more watching these videos than I have at some riding clinics.

Here’s an interview/ride video with Steuart Pittman during Week Three (check out that mare’s lateral work!): click for video

Dierks writes in his blog for the Retired Racehorse Training Project:

 “My workouts are very concentrated in perfecting the little things, that make the more advance moves easier and more logical. There is always a reason for every action I take, and it is to complement the biomechanics that make the horse balanced. My advice is to study the horse out in the field, under saddle, jumping, etc. Study what makes them tick, how they are on their feet, how they use their top line, what are they thinking. Don't be a follower and use the same terms as everyone else like, coming from behind, or rocking back if you are not seeing it. Anyone can train a horse, it's just a matter of whether you are training the horse to do something you want. So educated yourself what you want and be clear to your horse. One thing I'm committing to myself, is to always keep my eyes open and learn from others. The equine world is a fascinating one, regardless of discipline, there is something to learn.”
The icing on the cake is the latest video, in which Brazilian Wedding begins work over fences with a one-stride grid: click for video

Four X The Trouble, aka Tempyst (Domestic Dispute--Rynot, by Caveat)
Trainer: Kerry Blackmer
Owner: Robin Coblyn

Half the battle of training a young horse is having a plan for each ride. Kerry Blackmer has done a masterful job of staying one step ahead of the clever and athletic Tempyst, and by doing so, has brought him along beautifully. Some days, they do dressage work. Some days, they take field trips. Some days, they desensitize him to clapping hands. Tempyst’s quick mind seems to appreciate a trainer like Blackmer. He looks like he’s the kind of horse who would take charge if his rider was not in charge. In the videos, you can see how game and relaxed he has become- his trainer's confidence encourages his own confidence. Blackmer seems to be perfectly in tune to his mental and physical limits, and she can keep him engaged without ever overfacing him.

Here's a video of Tempyst going for a hack in some wide open territory, and some schooling- sometimes, he tends to curl behind the bit, so Blackmer works on keeping him forward and straight: click for video

The next week, a snowy ride with some big improvements in his connection to the bit: click for video

And the best video of all, a video of Tempyst enjoying his “field trip” to visit High Level and Tiffany Catledge. Check out how much his canter has improved and how he handles hopping over some little logs. He seems to actually ride best when he’s challenged by new things: click for video

Kerry’s interview with Steuart Pittman- some great discussion about the sale value of a horse fresh off the track: click for video

High Level (Mutakddim--Maria's Crown, by Maria's Mon)
Trainer: Tiffany Catledge
Owner: Jim Falk 

Solidify (Alajwad--Kali Dearest, by Dearest Doctor)
Trainer: Tiffany Catledge
Owner: MidAtlantic Horse Rescue

Since Tiffany Catledge is training both horses, I’ll address them together. On her farm’s website, she’s keeping her own blog,  plus her regular RRTP blog. High Level was Catledge’s selection at the Expo, but he ended up with a sole bruise. Catledge ended up keeping both Solidify and High Level, and training both, but Solidify has gotten more rides.

Here’s a video of Solidify, early in the training process: click for video

And here you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth: click for video

On February 8, Solidify takes his first attempt at a cross rail and some trot poles- you can see how his rhythm at the trot has already improved: click for video

The second week in February, High Level was back in action, and braved a mini-blizzard: click for video

Solidify graduates to a dressage saddle, and shows how elastic and balanced he is now: click for video

High Level practices in a busy indoor arena in preparation for next week’s Expo: click for video

Not to be outdone, Solidify takes a few little jumps like a STAR. Check out how powerful he is: click for video

Tiffany’s interviews with Steuart Pittman: Interview One, Interview Two

You can read more discussion on the Chronicle of the Horse forum and on the Retired Racehorse Blog.

So what is next? There will be several blog and Facebook updates this week from the trainers. The Pennsylvania Horse World Expo is this weekend. If you want to see these horses and trainers in person, be sure to check out the Expo. These horses are all for sale. Please contact the RRTP folks if you’re interested. 

You can also donate directly to the RRTP (it’s a 501(c)3 charity) if you’d like to see challenges like this in the future. Join them on Facebook, and visit the RRTP website. Tell your friends, and share these links and videos. It's a fantastic project, and watching the progress videos is addicting! It seems like every time I visit the barn or my friends' barns, someone always has a comment about the latest video or their favorite horses. Join the fun!

Thursday, February 16, 2012


--Gary King

Kentucky appears to be one step closer to joining the party and introducing an expansion on gaming. I refrain from using the word bandwagon, as this would imply a knee-jerk reaction. People have worked long and hard at bringing this to the table, and their tireless endeavors should be appreciated whether or not you believe in the cause.

For those of you who don’t know, the following transpired in the Bluegrass on Monday. Governor Steve Beshear and state senator Damon Thayer introduced a bill in the Senate that, if approved, would put the issue of expanded gaming before Kentucky voters in November. The pros and cons of expanding gaming in Kentucky have been bandied about for almost two decades, but having the right to vote on it cannot be questioned. If that’s what the people of Kentucky want, then that’s exactly what they should get. We live in a democratic society, afterall.

The short-term benefits to the horse industry are self-evident, but the long-term ramifications are difficult to predict. As mentioned previously (click here), using gaming/slot money as a crutch is not necessarily a bad thing but it’s far from a permanent solution. Right or wrong, when an economy starts to struggle this subsidy will be number one on the chopping board. This is not a startling revelation and has been played out in places like Indiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Although not exactly the same, this reliance is comparable to what occurred in Ireland over recent years. I am more familiar with this than the places mentioned above, so will elaborate upon it to highlight my point. Irish racing/purses were largely funded by government grants during the economic boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. This era was dubbed the Celtic Tiger, as the country experienced unprecedented growth across almost all performance indicators. However, when Ireland started to experience a sharp downturn in fortunes, for reasons beyond this discussion, this subsidy got heavily criticized by certain politicians, the mainstream media, and the general public to some extent. As a result, the grant has been drastically reduced and purses have been slashed. The quality of racing has not necessarily deteriorated, but it cannot be a positive thing going forward. Strong and sustainable purses are the lifeblood of the racing industry, and there is no point in having one without the other. 

It’s interesting to note that on the day of the Kentucky announcement, revenue received by racetracks generated by VLTs in Ontario, Canada came under fire. Ontario’s Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said it was time the province look at the approx. $345 million tracks get annually from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming’s slots, particularly in light of a $16 billion budget shortfall. Duncan believes that his government should decide whether or not the money would be better spent elsewhere. This simply adds credence to the above argument.

When times are tough, any subsidy to racing will be questioned. Who wants to fund the Sport of Kings, at the expense of schools and hospitals? I fully agree that a strong Thoroughbred industry supports the rural community, creates jobs and can increase tax dollars. However, it doesn’t really matter what I think and the general public will never agree--especially in times of recession. Horse racing would be best served moving beyond this short-term aid, and coming up with new ways to sustain its future. Otherwise it will resemble an old gunslinger, living off a reputation before ultimately fading into the sunset...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Reflections on the Big A

--by Christina Bossinakis

   Still fairly fresh off a whirlwind trip to Australia which featured sales, racing and farm visits to blow your mind, the natural progression from that, of course, would call for a trip to one of America’s jewels in racing, Aqueduct Racetrack, situated in Ozone Park, New York. Ok, that’s probably a little exaggeration (read as a HUGE exaggeration). In any case, I was excited at the prospect of heading to Queens to get my first look at the Big A, since its latest facelift and addition of the Casino. Featured on Saturday’s card was the GIII Toboggan H. and the GIII Withers S. The latter was of particular interest to me, because it is one of the early tests for newly turned 3-year-olds, some of whom might continue on the Triple Crown trail over the next few months.
   Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a well patronized parking lot as well as a couple of guys, one of whom uttered to the other as they walked by, “ 'These' women sure like to gamble.” This statement entertained me endlessly, with my laughter carrying me right up to the front door. It was very apparent to me that these hardcore New Yorkers thought I was going to the casino and not the racetrack. If they only knew.
   I took a trip over to some of the racetrack/media offices in the basement of the facility, including a run over to the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association office to check in on a former TDNer, and current NYTHA media stalwart, Andy Belfiore. We headed over to the paddock to take a look at the Tobbogan field, and quite frankly, the winner (at least on appearances) was Mike Repole’s Calibrachoa. He is one handsome son-of-a-gun (still talking about Calibrachoa; no offense Mike). The big man himself, trainer Todd Pletcher, was in the house to oversee the 5-year-old’s facile victory, and for the record, he was back at Gulfstream to saddle a pair of inspiring 3-year-old winners Sunday afternoon; Ender Knievel and Wait Til Dawn. I'd swear the man is super human.

Adam Coglianese Photo

   The equine beauty pageant carried through to the Withers itself, and Alpha, by Bernardini, definitely made an impact on those in attendence. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who also calls Southern Florida his winter home, was onhand to saddle the lovely and ultra-refined colt, who on first glance, is not very reminiscent of his sire. Bernardini was without a doubt a powerfully built horse, while this colt is so much lighter in bone and body. However, the one thing that both father and son possess in spades is class and quality. Not only did that quality come through with Alpha’s impressive 3 1/4 length victory, but it really gave the impression that this Godolphin runner should get better with time and distance. A couple of side notes: Speightscity (by Speightstown), who was runner-up at 44-1, also caught my eye in the paddock prior to the race. Trained by Gary Contessa, he might be one that will come in under the radar and jump up for a big win later in the season. Definitely keep an eye on him. In my opinion, however, the individual offering the most intrigue was third-place finisher Tiger Walk, a son of Tale of the Cat. The Sagamore team was out in force Saturday, including the trouser-clad bloodstock advisor Bob Feld (minus the shorts and baseball cap--I almost didn’t recognize him!). The colt, who has a bit of a reputation for being keen and pretty headstrong, became a little hot in the saddling enclosure, but he appeared to relax a bit by the time he set foot on the track. Well back and eager in the early going of the race, he rallied late to get third. His connections were very pleased with the effort, and this colt could be poised for bigger and better things if Ignacio Correas can get him to relax and rate.

   Soon after the day’s feature, the focus, at least on my part, shifted to California racing. Much to my surprise, and chagrin, I was informed that there wasn’t a single TV showing horse racing in the casino (really???). In an effort to find something similar to Gulfstream’s upstairs bars (you can be sure to find me up there late in the card whenever I’m at the Hallandale oval), Andy and I (accompanied by NYTHA’s long-time office manager Dionne {aka Dee} Johnson), found our way to the Big A’s version, tucked away on the second floor of the clubhouse. Let me clear up any misunderstandings up front, this bar is nothing like any of those at Gulfstream. I must admit, I usually enjoy and appreciate any place that offers some local ‘flavor’, however, Aqueduct’s version is very outdated (it supposedly used to be a dining room) and the atmosphere is reminiscent of a cafeteria rather than a lounge or sports bar. Ripping up the carpeting, changing the lighting and adding some appropriate seating would be a cheap and easy fix for an area that is in all likelihood has not reached anywhere near its maximum earning potential. Over drinks, Dee and I realized we share a birthday (if you happen to stop by or call the NYTHA office on the 9th be sure to give Dee a shout out!), and after polishing off our sole cocktail (it was a slow day), the bar issued its final call and was fully shuttered by 6p.m. With some really good racing still going on at other tracks across the country, this was just another example of how racing often fails to adopt a more global view of its product and clientele. Because the bottom line is, when promoting other venues and racing events, individual tracks help support their own fundamental products--horse racing and wagering.

   For anybody visiting Aqueduct for the first time since its latest renovation, I would also suggest a brief run through the new casino. The new facility, which was bigger than I had originally imagined, had a pretty healthy-sized crowd (roughly 2/3 of the slots were occupied) and featured a very impressive central bar (you see a pattern here?). The ambiance around the enormous circular bar, quite honestly, screams nightclub rather than casino. Four tele-theater screens headed the bar area, creating plenty of bling to an already flashy setup. Now, if they can only get some horse racing playing on one of those jumbo TVs, we’d be all set..

   My trip to Ozone Park concluded with dinner at the well-known ltalian restaurant, Don Pepe’s, situated right around the corner from Aqueduct. For those of you who have never been there, be warned, the wait is a killer. We arrived there a little after six and ended up having to wait an hour for a table, although it appeared from my perspective that having some connections would really expedite the process. The local Italian community was out in full force Saturday night, and it seemed like we might be the only non-paysans in the entire establishment until we saw Hall of Fame jockey Jorge Velasquez walk in. The place is family style, so the bigger the group, the better. And don’t go looking for menus--it’s just a menu board at the far end of the dining room, so bring your reading glasses! Other things to note: hats are not permitted (Can somebody please notify John Fort and Kelly Breen?) and forget your credit cards; cash is king here. Despite the less than warm service (these guys don’t seem to have the time for patience or niceties), the food was worth it and very reasonably priced at that. Parting words of advice: just be decisive and assertive but never rude, and you’ll be Ok.

   At the end of the day, it wasn’t the day of racing in summertime Australia I enjoyed less than a month ago, but it is an integral part of the framework that makes up our local racing industry, so I genuinely appreciated it nonetheless.
   Next stop on the line, sunny Florida for the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth S. at Gulfstream Park. Hope to see some of you there!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sophomore Spotlight: Withers, Bob Lewis and Sam F. Davis

--Brian DiDonato

GIII WITHERS S. - While Alpha (Bernardini) is a worthy favorite off his win in the Jan. 7 Count Fleet S., Sagamore Farm homebred Tiger Walk (Tale of the Cat) should give him a run for his money. The dark bay broke his maiden by five lengths over the Laurel sod Nov. 3, but showed quite an affinity for the main track when he annexed an optional claimer going a mile at that Maryland oval Dec. 14 (video). He earned an 83 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort--just two points off Alpha’s Count Fleet--and ran an extremely impressive race from a trip and set-up perspective. Hung out three to four wide throughout behind a glacial pace (17 Moss Pace Figure points below par early), Tiger Walk kicked it into high gear in the lane--covering his final quarter in an extremely quick :23.48 and pulling clear by 1 1/4 lengths while moving very well at the wire. Trainer Ignacio Correas has done well when he ships into the state of New York, and Tiger Walk shares many similarities with last year’s Count Fleet winner Monzon (Thunder Gulch), who scored impressively at 6-1 in that event for these connections.

GII ROBERT B. LEWIS S. - GI CashCall Futurity S. winner Liaison (Indian Charlie) deserves to be favored and is definitely a contender in this event, but his price will be deflated off a perfect ground-saving trip behind dueling speeds last time (video). I’ll use a trio of contenders in Pick 3s looking to beat him, will box the same three in exactas and will play trifectas with Liaison in the second spot sandwiched by my picks.
   The first of the three is Liaison’s stablemate Sky Kingdom (Empire Maker). The Westrock Stables representative broke his maiden on the stretch-out with an 84 Beyer at Hollywood Nov. 24 before finishing fourth in the Futurity while coming from completely out of the clouds. He showed improved speed in a track-and-trip allowance Jan. 12, and scored by 4 1/2 lengths over a short field (video). He only earned a 73 Beyer last time, but has run quicker before and should be right there at the line if he improves at all on his best races.
   Empire Way (Empire Maker) is a tough read, but cannot be completely dismissed. The full-brother to Royal Delta was very visually impressive when overcoming a slow pace to break his maiden sprinting at Hollywood Nov. 13 (video), but the 68 Beyer he earned put a damper on that performance. He never contended, but was again well of a slow pace in the seven-furlong GIII Hollywood Prevue S. Nov. 24, improving his Beyer by seven points. Empire Way took another step forward on the Beyer scale last time in the CashCall, earning an 86, but again while not threatening for the top slot--he was fifth. He has the action of a horse who should prefer dirt, however, and may get an advantageous set-up if Isn’t He Clever (Smarty Jones), I’ll Have Another (Flower Alley) and Chips All In (North Light {Ire}) hook up early--assuming the lightning-quick Santa Anita surface doesn’t hurt him too badly. Empire Way probably won’t offer much win value because of the hype surrounding him, but he still has upside in this spot and going forward on the Triple Crown trail.
    Myung Kwon Cho sends out Groovin’ Solo (Bob and John), a half-brother to Premier Pegasus (Fusaichi Pegasus), the impressive 7 3/4-length winner of last term’s GII San Felipe S. The homebred overcame a slow pace to break his maiden going a mile here Dec. 30 with an 83 Beyer (video), and was subsequently flattered by two good-looking next out winners exiting that heat. Groovin’ Solo spots some seasoning to his foes here, but he has been working bullets over this track since his last race and his savvy owner/breeder/trainer’s runners always deserve a second look.     

GIII Sam F. Davis S. - Tampa Bay is a very quirky surface, and it's often difficult to handicap races there when there are a number of shippers because it's impossible to determine which horses will show up (see Royal Delta, War Pass, etc.). Prior experience over the track, therefore, is very important. While Burning Time (Burning Roma) doesn't have a win at Tampa, his fourth-place finish in the seven-furlong Pasco S. Jan. 14 came with a very odd trip (video). The son of the 2001 Sam F. Davis winner dropped back sharply at the start, and was as many as 12 lengths back in dead last, but came with a wide, sustained run to get fourth. His win in Calder's Foolish Pleasure S. over an extended mile Sept. 17 fits well with these, and his double-digit odds will offer nice value.