Monday, August 29, 2011

Second Chances II: Saratoga Maiden Watch

--Steve Sherack

TDN’s Steve Sherack reveals three juvenile maidens to keep an eye out for following promising debuts at Saratoga. To view the first installment of the Second Chances Aug. 18 blog, click here.

PENN’S GRANT (c, 2, Empire Maker--Mystery Itself, by Pulpit) stamped himself as one to watch from the Barclay Tagg barn with a well-beaten, rallying third-place finish behind “TDN Rising Star” Fire On Ice (Unbridled’s Song) on the GI Travers S. undercard Aug. 27 (TDN Video).

Not given much respect at the windows at 25-1 debuting for an outfit not known for having them fully cranked at first asking (8% striking rate with firsters out of a 53-horse sample entering the card, per DRF PPs), the Lael Stable homebred was in no hurry to exit the stalls, and trailed the field of eight by 10 lengths through an opening quarter in :22.29. With Cornelio Velasquez in the irons, the dark bay caboosed the bunch as they turned for home, but came alive in the stretch, weaving his way through traffic and blowing by rivals to just miss second by a neck, finishing 11 lengths adrift the promising winner. Fire On Ice earned an 88 Beyer; Penn’s Grant received a 60 rating. The final time for the six-furlong affair over the fast going was 1:09.67.

The Jacksons also bred and raced Penn’s Grant’s dam Mystery Itself, a daughter of multiple Grade I winner You’d Be Surprised (Blushing Groom {Fr}), to a stakes victory at Delaware Park and a runner-up finish in Belmont’s GIII Pebbles H.--both grass events going two turns.

More ground and possibly a surface switch to the green stuff should be right in Penn’s Grant’s wheelhouse. Curious to see if Tagg works him on the turf going forward; his 11 breezes entering his debut were all on dirt.

SWEET ZAPPER (f, 2, Ghostzapper–Sweet Symphony, by A.P. Indy), asked to tackle two turns and turf at first asking at the Spa Aug. 19 (TDN Video), broke slowly and was settled while last of seven through fractions of :23.67 and :48.68. Tipped out five wide into the lane by Jose Lezcano, she produced a sustained rally down the center of the course while never seriously threatening the winner to complete the exacta at 24-1, two lengths behind St Pancras (Scat Daddy). The final time for the 1 1/16 miles over the firm going was 1:44.05. Sweet Zapper was awarded a 68 Beyer Speed Figure.

Owned and bred by Kinsman Farm, the chestnut is trained by Bill Mott, who was connecting with only 6% percent of his firsters from a 124-horse sample (courtesy DRF) entering the day’s action. Mott also trained Sweet Zapper’s dam Sweet Symphony for the famed Steinbrenner operation, a dominating heroine of the 2005 GI Alabama S. at Saratoga. The 9-year-old mare has also produced an unraced 3-year-old filly by Awesome Again named Sweet Again, and foaled a Medaglia d’Oro colt earlier this year. Sweet Symphony never raced on turf during her 11-race career.

STREET SAVY (f, 2, Street Sense--Home Court, by Storm Cat), a granddaughter of champion older mare Jewel Princess (Key to the Mint), fired a best-of-84 four-furlong bullet in :47 at Saratoga Aug. 1, and was backed as the 6-5 chalk in her debut for trainer Chad Brown over a sloppy sealed track Aug. 21 (TDN Video).

Urged along in the early stages to race in a close-up fifth through a :22.70 opening quarter over the off going, she made her move on the outside to challenge for the lead at the head of the affairs, but was no match for the Phipps homebred Spare Change (Bernardini), who splashed her way home to an eight-length victory. Street Savy was second-best, 10 1/4 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher. She was given a 53 Beyer. The final time for seven furlongs was 1:26.48. The well-bred bay didn’t seem to be handling the off going from the get-go and deserves another shot to see what she can do over a fast track.

Street Savy’s owner/breeder AGS Thoroughbreds extended to $1.4 million to acquire her graded-stakes placed dam Home Court in foal to Gone West at the 2005 Keeneland November sale. The operation has done quite well selling her offspring since--$300,000 Gone West filly ‘07 FTSAUG; $500,000 Unbridled’s Song colt ‘08 FTSAUG; and $350,000 Bernardini filly ‘09 KEESEP. AGS decided to hold on to Street Savy after she RNA’d for $95,000 at last year’s Keeneland September sale.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Spa Watch: Travers Week

--Brian DiDonato

Race 9 - GII Bernard Baruch H., 3yo/up, 1 1/8mT
The result of this race will depend almost completely on the pace scenario--which is very muddled. If favored Get Stormy (Stormy Atlantic) is allowed to get loose, he'll win--he's just too good for his opponents without early pressure. But if the deserving chalk is pestered, it'll be a wide open affair late. While there are no other confirmed frontrunners in the Baruch (like there was last time when speedy Get Serious {City Zip} hounded Get Stormy into a third-place finish in the June 12 GIII Monmouth S.), there are a number of stalker/presser types who could keep things honest up front if their pilots realize they can't allow Get Stormy to waltz along on the lead. This race, therefore, is one to be played with conflicting race shapes in mind. Get Stormy is a must-use in vertical wagers (Pk3s/4s), but one should also include other runners whose chances of winning depend on a drastically different pace scenario than what will benefit the favorite. Under the pace collapse possibility, Paris Vegas (Maria's Mon), the longest shot on the morning line at 30-1, has a live look. A minor stakes winner in France last winter, Paris Vegas showed flashes of ability at varying distances and surfaces upon his arrival in the U.S., but only tried the grass once while under the care of Fabrice Chappet. That one turf attempt came when he was sixth of six in last year's GII Hall of Fame S. here while rank and unrate-able. The grey was privately purchased and turned over to astute horseman Tom Voss this spring, and after a very poor effort on the dirt at Pimlico in May, he has shown new life returning to the sod. The 4-year-old was a late-running second with trouble in a 7 1/2-furlong allowance at Delaware in June, and was the horse most victimized by a laughably run, merry-go-round renewal of the GII Fourstardave H. July 31 (TDN Video). Paris Vegas was in last place early behind a half in :50.49, and was pinned inside when trying to rally. He never found a seam, ducking in at one point and brushing with another rival before finishing sixth of seven. His finish was deceptively strong, however, and he covered the final five sixtheenths in :28.39--a fifth of a second faster than anyone else in the field. Paris Vegas still might not be good enough, and he might not get the set-up he needs, but he'll offer exceptional value on top and underneath.

Race 10 - $35K CLM, N2L, f/m, 3yo/up, 1mT
Demure Halo (Quiet American) will return to turf first off the claim for Mike Maker, and she has deceptively strong back class. The bay began her career last year at two with a fourth and two thirds over the lawn in Kentucky, beaten only 3 1/4 lengths by subsequent MGSW Kathmanblu (Bluegrass Cat) July 17 and two lengths by GII Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf fourth-place finisher Forest Legend (Forest Camp) Aug. 15 at Ellis. Neversaidiwassweet (Eurosilver), the sixth-place finisher from that Aug. 15 heat, would go on to score in the GIII Miesque S. over the Hollywood lawn that November. Demure Halo finished off her juvenile season with a sixth-place finish in a tough Polytrack route at Keeneland, and returned for trainer Eddie Kenneally to break her maiden sprinting on the main track at Churchill Downs June 26 for a $30K tag. Maker and Ken and Sarah Ramsey picked up the sophomore for $25K off a fifth-place run sprinting in the mud here Aug. 8. Her conditioner sports exceptional stats first off the claim--he's 31% with a $2.07 ROI over the past five years overall, and has connected at a 38% clip with a $3.47 ROI when switching his new acquisitions from dirt to turf. Tapaway (Tapit) broke his maiden easily at 6-1 despite serious trouble with very similar-looking form and the same trainer angle for the Ramseys last Saturday--a repeat seems much more likely than what Demure Halo's odds will reflect. I'll also use Frontaine (Lemon Drop Kid), who has a chance to go gate to wire.

Race 2 - MSW, 2yo, 6f
Mike Repole and Todd Pletcher, who unveiled Uncle Mo on this card last year, send out a well-bred coupled entry that could dip down below even money. Neither runner figures to be particularly precocious based on pedigree, however. Fire On Ice (Unbridled's Song) is a very intriguing alternative. The $160,000 FTKJUL yearling RNA'd for $190,000 at KEEAPR after working a quarter in :21 3/5, but the grey never looked completely comfortable over the Polytrack--he was spinning his wheels noticeably (Video)--and will probably prefer the conventional stuff. Fire On Ice is out of an expensive unraced Storm Cat mare who is a half-sister to champion sprinter Squirtle Squirt (Marquetry). He has been working steadily for John Kimmel, who co-owns the grey along with Eli Gindi, and appears to have prepped in company with Vexor (Wildcat Heir), a front-running winner here at second asking Aug. 10. Vexor earned an 80 Beyer for his graduation score--three points above par for this level--and Kimmel has hit the board with two of the four juveniles he has unveiled so far this meet.

Race 9 - GIII Victory Ride S., f, 3yo, 6f
Hot Summer (Malibu Moon), two-for-three at this distance last term, returns off a three-month break and turns back to her preferred one-turn trip. The David Fawkes trainee took the one-mile GIII Comely S. at Aqueduct two back in an effort that was subsequently flattered by her competitors. Runner-up Her Smile (Include) annexed the GI Prioress S. two starts later, and fourth-place finisher R Holiday Mood (Trippi) scored in the Miss Preakness S. over a good field next out. Comely show horse Ava K. (Dixie Union) won a pair of stakes two and three starts later. Hot Summer's last performance--a well-beaten third in the GII Black-Eyed Susan S. after setting a hot pace--looks better after the fact. Both winner Royal Delta (Empire Maker) and runner-up Buster's Ready (More Than Ready) are now Grade I winners. Hot Summer has worked well here in the interim, possesses a good stalking style in a race with some speed, and should be a generous price.

Race 11 - GI King's Bishop S., 3yo, 7f
Obviously, any discussion of this race begins with champion Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie)--if he were back to being the horse he was at two, he'd be very tough to beat in this spot. But there's certainly no guarantee of that, regardless of the bullet drills and positive reports. At 9-5 on the morning line and likely to drop from there, Uncle Mo is a significant underlay, and his presence will inflate the odds on almost every other runner beyond what they should be. A case can be made for everyone in this field, and this might be a spot to hit the "ALL" button on some tickets, but the two biggest overlays appear to be the two closers--Caleb's Posse (Posse) and Cool Blue Red Hot (Harlan's Holiday). Caleb's Posse's romp in the GII Amsterdam S. last time was simply excellent. He closed from dead last behind a slow pace, and earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure. A repeat of that effort is probably good enough to win this race seven times out of 10, and there's no obvious reason to think Caleb's Posse can't duplicate it. Cool Blue Red Hot will make a similar turnback to the one Caleb's Posse made for the Amsterdam. His fastest race from a Beyer standpoint came in his debut going a one-turn mile at Belmont last October when he dropped a tight one to recent runaway allowance winner Buffum (Bernardini), and he has run well in his last three efforts back at one turn despite poor pace set-ups. He had no chance to win from dead last behind a glacial pace in the GII Dwyer S. last time, and to run third with a 92 Beyer was an accomplishment. It does look like he hung after looping up to join the top two in upper stretch, but he had to work hard just to catch up with them and his kick was probably dulled slightly by the distance. He'll be able to relax and move when ready here with plenty to close into--Cool Blue Red Hot is the longshot play in the King's Bishop.

Race 12 - GI Travers S., 3yo, 1 1/4m
Stay Thirsty (Bernardini)'s last race was a big step forward, and he deserves to be favored off of that effort. His previous races make him only one of a number of contenders, though, and to take too short a price on him would be a mistake. Raison d'Etat (A.P. Indy) was all the rage following a 7 3/4-length maiden-breaking romp at Belmont June 18 in his third  career start, but appears to have fallen out of favor a bit after finishing a well-beaten second at 9-5 in the Curlin S. here July 29. That effort was much better than what he has been given credit for, however. Unhurried behind a pacesetter who had everything his own way, the Juddmonte representative rallied up wide and easily swept by everyone but the leader (TDN Video). Winner Turbo Compressor (Halo's Image) just had to keep going--he had done nothing early to tire himself out--and he and Raison d'Etat both finished up well to earn 101 and 97 Beyer Speed Figures respectively and late Moss Pace Figures that fall into the "very fast late" category. Raison d'Etat was very green in the stretch of the Curlin--he reacted sharply to Eddie Castro's reminders as if he were on a slalom course--and, with only four starts under his belt, he has plenty of room still for improvement and maturity. The 10 furlong distance of the Travers adds to Bill Mott's charge's upside, and the son of A.P. Indy out of seven-time GISW Sightseek has been working a hole in the wind since his last race. Raison d'Etat is similar to GI Alabama S. winner Royal Delta (Empire Maker) in many ways, and Mott just might find himself in the winner's circle for the second consecutive Saturday following a Grade I for 3-year-olds at 1 1/4 miles.

*All trainer stats courtesy of DRF Formulator.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shakin' All Over: Earthquake at the TDN Office

-Sarah Andrew

While the state of Virginia experienced the second most powerful earthquake in recorded history today, the effects in New Jersey were more mild.

Eight TDN staffers were in the Red Bank office this afternoon when we felt the building shake and sway. Being East Coasters, none of us had much earthquake experience, and by the time the rumbling had ended, we were just realizing what had happened.

It was not until later when we saw the DEVASTATION that our office had endured:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Spa Watch: Week 5

--Brian DiDonato

After a week of mostly uninspiring cards made even less interesting by heavy rain, this weekend's action at Saratoga features full fields of maidens and a short, but very intriguing running of the historic Alabama. See below for analysis of some of those events.

Race 2 - MSW, 2yo, (S), 1 1/16mT
Unbridled Command (Master Command), a slow-working OBSAPR buy who figured to want more ground than he got in his July 14 Belmont debut, had one of those rough first-out trips that young horses return from much better for the experience. He was green and bounced around several times, but showed a few flashes of interest that hint that there's more to him than meets the eye (TDN Video). The grey has had three steady works over the turf in the interim, and trainer Tom Bush is two-for-three over the past five years with 2-year-old second timers going dirt sprint to turf route, according DRF Formulator.

Race 6 - MSW, 2yo, 7f
If statistical records were kept for owners like they are for trainers, Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence would boast some incredible numbers with their 2-year-old firsters. Klaravich/Lawrence debuters win at an inordinate rate and often at nice prices, seemingly regardless of conditioner. They successfully unveiled two babies just last Saturday--Clip the Coupons (Congrats) here last 6.5-1 with Chad Brown and Managed Account (Malibu Moon) at 6.8-1 at Monmouth withTerri Pompay. Pompay also shipped Currency Swap (High Cotton) up to Saratoga for a jaw-dropping, 98 Beyer-earning debut two weeks ago for the Klaravich/Lawrence team at 9.9-1. Dale Romans, a capable enough debut conditioner, sends out News Pending (Harlan's Holiday) here for the connections in question. The $250,000 Timonium grad shows just five published works for this demanding seven-furlong test, but being a 2-year-old sales grad who worked fairly quickly (:10 3/5) means he's probably more seasoned than just the drills would lead one to believe. News Pending is out of a half-sister to Adore The Gold (Formal Gold), who took a maiden seller by 10 3/4 lengths first out at two before annexing a 1 1/16-mile stakes race a month later and the GII Swale S. at seven panels the following winter.

Race 9 - $50K OC, f/m, 3yo/up, 1mT
Mega Dream (Medaglia d'Oro) needs to improve significantly to contend here, but she'll be a very big price and has a chance to pull of the shocker as she tries turf for the first time. An allowance winner over Keeneland's turf-like Polytrack in April, Mega Dream is out of a half-sister to 1991 champion turf horse Tight Spot (His Majesty) as well as GISW Valiant Nature (His Majesty). Another one of Mega Dream's siblings produced MGISW Premium Tap (Pleasant Tap).

Race 10 - GI Alabama S., f, 3yo, 1 1/4m
It's Tricky (Mineshaft) is the one to beat, but an extra furlong does not seem to favor her or Plum Pretty (Medaglia d'Oro) if they take it to each other early here as they did in the nine-furlong CCA Oaks. Of the three alternatives, Royal Delta (Empire Maker) is the most formidable--and offers the best value if her 6-1 morning line proves accurate. Royal Delta was 2-1 last time--double the price of It's Tricky--off her smashing win in the GII Black-eyed Susan S., but will now be abandoned by the wagering public because of one dull race that she probably needed considering the time she missed in her training and her conditioner's well-documented patience. The Palides homebred runs like more distance will suit her, and hails from a good, stout family. She can bounce back in a big way at a price that will reflect the public's fickleness.

Race 6 - MSW, f, 2yo, 5 1/2fT
Fly to the Sky (Lone Star Sky) didn't do anything particularly encouraging in her sloppy-track debut here July 25, but the Walter New homebred was entered that day for the turf and will get it this time if Mother Nature cooperates. The chestnut is the first foal out of Flying Circle (Pembroke), an accomplished turf sprint stakes winner for these connections who broke her maiden at second asking. Trainer David Fawkes does extremely well in turf sprints in general and all of the relevant subcategories therein, and scored with 9-1 2-year-old second timer Valley of Avoca (Intidab) towards the end of the Belmont meet when putting her on the turf for the first time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Second Chances...

--Steve Sherack

TDN’s Steve Sherack takes a closer look at a trio of promising also-rans in recent 2-year-old maiden races at Saratoga and Del Mar.

Stealcase (c, 2, Lawyer Ron--Steal the Show {SP}, by Cat Thief) became the most expensive of 17 juveniles by his ill-fated freshman sire to go through the ring this year when bringing $320,000 from trainer Mark Casse on behalf of Kentucky Derby-winning owner John C. Oxley at the OBS March sale (Breeze Video).

The chestnut left the Saratoga backstretch buzzing following a best-of-16 five-furlong bullet in :59.45 July 19, and was backed as the 8-5 favorite while debuting in a nine-horse affair at the Spa July 30 (TDN Video). A bobble at the break put Stealcase up against it from the get-go, racing in eighth in the early stages before rushing up in traffic (does this move ever work?) to sit in a close-up fourth through an opening quarter in :22.72. With Shaun Bridgmohan aboard, the April foal set his sights on the top two after angling off the rail at the head of affairs, but ran out of gas in the stretch, and had to settle for fourth, beaten 6 3/4 lengths. The final time for the six-furlong heat was 1:10.23. Stealcase earned a 72 Beyer.

Stealcase, bred in Kentucky by Secret Whispers Partnership, returned to the worktab with a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.31 at Saratoga Aug. 13. Expecting a big effort from him next time with that effort under his belt. Giant Surprise (Giant’s Causeway), a sharp 4 1/4-length wire-to-wire winner for Mike Repole and Todd Pletcher at first asking that day, has been sidelined after emerging with a condylar fracture to his left front cannon bone.

Love to Run (c, 2, Pulpit--I Love America, by Quiet American), a $190,000 OBSMAR graduate (Breeze Video), also stamped himself as one to watch with a rallying third-place finish at first asking at Saratoga Aug. 13 (TDN Video).

Given a 7-1 chance, the bay was outsprinted in seventh through an opening quarter in :22.23. Still with plenty left to do as they approached the far turn, Love to Run began to roll while taking the overland route. He drifted in after a couple of right-handers from Alex Solis once they straightened for home, but leveled out nicely thereafter to complete the trifecta, finishing only a length behind Clip the Coupons (Congrats), a first-time starter from the red-hot Chad Brown barn. The final time for six furlongs was 1:11.14. Love to Run earned a very solid 79 Beyer.

Owned by Summit Thoroughbreds and trained by John Kimmel, Love to Run’s dam I Love America is a half-sister to Ideal Image (Hennessy), who produced MGISW Sassy Image (Broken Vow). Love to Run was bred in Kentucky by Fares Farm LLC.

Also keep your eyes peeled for Peachtree Stable’s Muse of Fire (f, 2, Dixie Union--Big City Dream, by Horatius) in Southern California. The $140,000 OBSMAR juvenile (Breeze Video), conditioned by Bob Baffert, flashed some ability in her Aug. 14 Del Mar unveiling to finish a better-than-it-looked fourth at odds of 7-1 (TDN Video).

Drawn outside in post 11, the bay broke slowly and was 10 lengths back in 10th through an opening quarter in :21.85. She began to make an eye-catching move blowing past rivals while hung out at least five wide on the far turn to reach contention (maybe Mike Smith thought he was back on Zenyatta?), but couldn’t quite keep the momentum going in the stretch, reporting home six lengths adrift the winner, Silent Saga (Silent Name {Jpn}), campaigned by owner/breeder/trainer Myung Kwon Cho.

The final time in the 5 1/2-furlong event over the Polytrack was 1:03.42. The daughter of the multiple stakes placed mare Big City Dream was given a 60 Beyer. Muse of Fire was bred in Maryland by John T. Crane Jr. and Margaret M. Crane.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pair of Matz Juveniles Hit the Ground Running...

--Steve Sherack

For a trainer connecting with only roughly 6 percent of his first-time starters (stat courtesy DRF Formulator from a 50-horse sample), Michael Matz sure has unleashed a couple of promising juveniles this summer.

Union Rags (c, 2, Dixie Union--Tempo, by Gone West) was the first to catch the eye at Delaware Park July 12 (TDN Video). Given a 7-1 chance in his unveiling, the bay settled nicely in seventh through an opening quarter in :22.08. With Julian Pimentel aboard, he immediately quickened when asked the question and gamely split horses while rallying on the turn for home. Continuing to roll while riding the rail, the March foal was guided off the fence for his stretch run, and quickly inhaled the leader, striding away in style to score by a decisive 1 3/4 lengths. The final time for the five-furlong affair was :58.25, good for a 65 Beyer.

Four of the eight also-rans from that contest have returned to action so far, including a pair of next out winners. Angel’s Tune (High Cotton), sixth as the even-money favorite in his unveiling for Todd Pletcher, successfully stretched to a route maiden special win at Delaware Aug. 9. Fifth-place finisher High Heat (Latent Heat) resurfaced with a sharp wire-to-wire maiden special weight victory at Delaware Aug. 1. Eighth-place finisher Noon Time Shots (Capture The Gold) returned to place a distant second in a Jersey-bred maiden special at Monmouth July 25. Freddie One Bite (Forest Wildcat), 3 1/2 lengths behind Union Rags in third, repeated that performance in High Heat’s aforementioned maiden win.

Union Rags has registered a trio of smart breezes since sporting the cap and gown. He returned to Matz’s Fair Hill base with a four-furlong move in :52 July 26, then posted a five-furlong bullet in 1:01.60 at the tranquil Maryland training center Aug. 2. Shipped to Saratoga, he has continued to train smartly, firing a best-of-44 four-furlong bullet in :47.66 Aug. 9.
Michael Matz/Equi-Photo

Bred in Kentucky by Phyllis M. Wyeth, Union Rags was re-acquired by his breeder for $390,000 earlier this year as a FTFFEB juvenile after zipping an eighth in :10 1/5 (breeze video). The full-brother to the stakes-placed Geefour previously brought $145,000 as a FTSAUG yearling.

Union Rags’s dam Tempo showed some talent in her shortened career. Trained by Bill Mott, she made her debut worth the wait at the age of three with a 4 1/2-length win in a Calder maiden in December. Sidelined thereafter, the chestnut finally returned to action as 5-year-old with a sharp allowance win at Gulfstream in February. She concluded her three-race career the following month with a second-place finish in an Aqueduct allowance behind Quiet Dance (Quiet American), who later produced Horse of the Year Saint Liam (Saint Ballado).

Next up to take the spotlight for the Kentucky Derby winning trainer was And Why Not (f, 2, Street Cry {Ire}--Alchemist, by A.P. Indy) at Saratoga Aug. 7 (TDN Video).

Outsprinted in seventh through a sizzling opening quarter in :21.73 after breaking alertly over a drying out speed-favoring surface, the 7-1 chance made a flashy move to reach contention on the turn for home. Ridden by Julien Leparoux, she hit the front in the stretch and kept on finding more, drawing off to graduate at first asking by a good looking 5 1/2 lengths. And Why Not stopped the clock for 6 1/2 furlongs over a “good” track in 1:19.71. She earned a 64 Beyer in the victory.

And Why Not/Adam Coglianese
 Bred in Kentucky by Helen Groves, Helen Alexander and D.D. Matz, she was purchased by Helen Groves for $775,000 at last year’s FTSAUG sale to dissolve the partnership (TDN Sales Coverage). Out of the very solid graded-stakes placed mare Alchemist, And Why Not is a granddaughter of GI Go For Wand H. heroine and GI Test S. runner-up Aldiza (Storm Cat).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Spa Watch: Week 3, Part 2

--Brian DiDonato

Race 7 - John's Call S., 1 5/8mT, 3yo/up - This is a very interesting, and evenly matched group with a number of capable longshots. Of the potential price plays, I prefer #7 Sanagas. A German import who was 4-for-5 against what appear to be weak groups in his native land, he resurfaced stateside for Graham Motion in the GIII Arlington H. July 9 (TDN Video). Sanagas made a very odd run that day when finishing 7th, beaten 3 1/2 lengths. Unhurried early, the 5-year-old tried to bear out around the far turn and in upper stretch and was never really asked by Rajiv Maragh after that while making up ground and racing inside of horses in traffic. It's sort of hard to explain, so watch both the pan shot and head-on, but Sanagas never got uncorked and still came home in :23.60--third fastest in the field. "He was lugging in quite badly,” Motion explained to DRF. “The only thing I can think of is when he ran in Europe he went right-handed; maybe [left-handed] was new to him. We put an extension blinker on one side of him and he handled it very well when he worked on the grass." With all his wins coming at beyond the 1 1/4-mile distance he raced last time and his stout German pedigree, if he behaves better, Sanagas has a very good chance to outrun his odds in the marathon.

Race 8 - De La Rose S., 1mT, f+m, 3yo/up - There appears to be an abundance of speed in this race, which features the stateside debut of Deluxe (Storm Cat), a near-Group 1 winner in France out of the great producer Hasili. I'll use her, but I like #3 Prize Catch a lot more. She's 2-for-2 at this distance with a stakes win going a 1/16 longer, but was stretched out to 1 1/4 miles last time to contest the GII New York S. The pace was absolutely glacial that day, and there wasn't much change in the order of finish late, so Prize Catch was very much up against it, finishing fifth of six. Runner-up Zagora returned to take the GI Diana S. last weekend, and I expect Prize Catch to relish the shorter trip in similar fashion. While she has the type of pedigree (A.P. Indy out of a Seattle Dancer mare) and running style that would lead one to believe that more distance would be to her liking, Prize Catch performs like a closing miler. She's best when far off the pace with something to run at, rather than crawling around closer to a soft pace, and she'll get her preferred trip this time.

Race 9 - GI Test S., 7f, f, 3yo - Turn-backs are deadly in these elongated sprints for 3-year-olds--see Caleb's Posse in Monday's Amsterdam--and #9 Salty Strike fits the winning profile perfectly. The Craig Singer homebred was speedy and precocious enough to win first out going five furlongs last May, and came up just a neck short while pressing a fast pace in the GIII Debutante S. They've tried her twice going 1 1/16 miles this year (most recently last time in the Mother Goose) and she finished well-beaten fourths both times, but her most recent seven-furlong and one-turn mile tries were very good. She took a seven-furlong optional claimer by seven lengths at Churchill in May with an 88 Beyer, besting a runner that was coming out of the GI Ashland, another one who returned to beat older allowance foes with an 89 Beyer and a third who came back to score by 4 3/4 lengths when stretched out. Salty Strike then tried a one-turn mile--which doesn't play much differently than seven furlongs--back under the Twin Spires in the GIII Dogwood S. That race featured the very well-regarded duo of Fantasy of Flight (expensive purchase and impressive debut winner) and Might (full-sister to Blame), and Salty Strike went off at more than 5-1 in that spot, but she made a very visually impressive move to draw off by 3 3/4 lengths. The 92 Beyer Salty Strike earned that day fits right in with what deserving heavy favorite Turbulent Descent has earned on anything but wet dirt, and Salty Strike will be 10 times the price.

Race 10 - GI Whitney H., 1 1/8m, 3yo/up - Wow--what a race. There are a number of ways to go in here, and for Pick 4 purposes, I'll use the four horses who I believe are most capable of turning in monster efforts: Tizway, Flat Out, Rail Trip and Friend Or Foe. I've already been mocked by several of my TDN colleagues for predicting that  Friend Or Foe will be named Horse of the Year, and while I'm a big fan of him and think he's extremely talented, I'm not sure what to make of trainer John Kimmel's attempt at being conservative. Friend Or Foe was originally slated to use a New York-bred stake on July 25th as a springboard to the Woodward at the end of the meet, but he was re-routed here due to a wet track. For that reason, I won't be betting Friend Or Foe to win unless he creeps up from his 8-1 morning line to a price higher than #7 Rail Trip, who I'll bet to win otherwise. Rail Trip had excellent Grade I-caliber California form, but when he ran a clunker after being switched to Rick Dutrow for last year's GI JCGC, it appeared we may never see a return to his best on the East coast. He took an extended vacation after that, and resurfaced in the Easy Goer S. at Belmont in June to dispel any notions that he was finished. The Jay Em Ess colorbearer set an average, but somewhat pressured pace, falling just a head short of Friend Or Foe late. Both runners earned 103 Beyers, but Rail Trip earned a 111 and a 108 in winning efforts out West, so his ceiling here is probably much higher. Dutrow is most effective off of this type of break, and he has been feeding Rail Trip a steady dose of six-furlong drills in preparation for this. Look for him to be fit and ready for a big performance at a square price.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Spa Watch: Week 3

--Brian DiDonato

Another week's in the books at Saratoga, and patterns have started to emerge. Most notable is trainer Todd Pletcher's omnipresence--he has won 14 races from 46 starts through Monday, good for a 30% win rate and a $2.10 ROI*. He's "only" hitting the board 57% of the time, which is a little low considering his win percentage, so it would seem that some of his horses are "all or nothing" types. The problem Pletcher poses for bettors is that he's unavoidable, and seemingly unbeatable at times, but he's almost never going to offer any type wagering value. Breaking down his stats so far this meet by odds ranges might be a useful way to determine which Pletchers to toss and which to embrace:

- At odds-on, Pletcher's 3-for-5 with a $1.81 ROI.
- From even-money to 1.95-1, he's 3-for-6 and in the money 83% with a $2.60 ROI.
- From 2-1 to 5-1 he's 7-for-24 (29%) with a $2.36 ROI.
- From over 5-1 to 10-1 he's 1-for-8 (13%) with a $1.90 ROI. That one winner was Turbo Compressor in the Curlin S.--his odds were what they were because of two very well-regarded and heavily bet entrants, and his win was at least partially aided by a very slow pace.
- Over 10-1 he's 0-for-3 with one fourth-place finish.

It would seem that the main thing to avoid is playing the higher-priced Pletcher runners just because of who their trainer is. For a trainer who is so obviously on everyone's radar and prone to being bet, there's usually a reason when one of his horses goes off at a relatively big price. Those runners are almost always underlays because of people falling for something that's too good to be true. Also, be aware of which Pletcher first timers should be used and which should be played against--he's 4-for-10 ($2.55) and in the in the money 80% of the time with debuting juveniles, but he's 0-for-4, all at relatively high prices, with older firsters. It's very dangerous to leave Pletcher's 2-year-old firsters out of Pick 3s and 4s--I've learned that the hard way--and there may be instances where you can single him due to process of elimination of the rest of the field, but be careful with his older maidens.

Ken McPeek's story has been the opposite so far--he's winless from 17 attempts, but that has been his M.O. at Saratoga in recent memory. McPeek only had one winner at this point in the meet last year, and ended up with 13. He only had 4 winners in 2009, with the first coming Aug. 14, and he had five Saratoga winners in 2008, with the first coming Aug. 13. Expect the McPeek barn to start turning things around soon, and give an extra look to his horses in the coming weeks that already have one start at the meet--they might be primed for improvement and their form will be a bit darkened.

Both the dirt and turf appeared to be playing fair this week--for the most part, pace made the race. . .

Look for two posts this week--I failed to mention a few good betting opportunities on cards that hadn't drawn until last week's post was up, so I'll try to post again on Thursday or Friday.


Race 2 - MSW - 5f, 2yo - This is probably one of those spots where you're supposed to embrace the logical, low-priced Pletcher runner. You definitely have to use him, but there might be a crazy longshot worth betting to win and playing underneath. #4 Backnbiz debuted at Belmont July 9, and broke very quickly from the rail before two horses to his outside rushed up and dueled for the lead, relegating Backnbiz to third. He steadily faded from there, and the race ended up collapsing, but something tells me that Backnbiz might have flipped his palate or perhaps just quit when he didn't make the lead. He showed too much early interest to be as untalented as he seems on paper, and three regular works in the interim and no precipitous drop into the claiming ranks are both positive signs. There's also a little bit of quality on his dam's side--he's out of a half-sister to three-time GISW (KY Oaks, Spinster, and Las Virgenes) Keeper Hill and Grade II-winning sprinter Golden Gear. The rest of this field looks uninspiring for one reason or another, so I'll take a shot that Backnbiz will be much improved this time at huge odds--at least enough to run second to you-know-who.

Race 3 - MSW - 5 1/2fT, f+m, 3yo/up - An ownership group led by trainer Stan Hough, who's winning at a gaudy 32% clip on the year, privately purchased #7 Skiddles n' Bob off a narrow third-place debut finish going this distance on dirt at Tampa May 1. She broke slowly that day, but was rushed up to take charge while displaying runaway-type speed and opening up about a four-length edge turning for home. She tired just enough late to drop the decision, but not before catching the eye of her savvy soon-to-be conditioner. Skiddles n' Bob resurfaced at Belmont July 3 going six panels, and ran off again, this time fading to last. Expensive Pletcher buy Counterparty won easily from off the pace, but finished off the board at 1-4 in an allowance Monday. That subsequent performance might support the notion that Counterparty enjoyed an advantageous set-up that day, whereas Skiddles n' Bob got the opposite. Show horse Joonbi--a speedster in her own right who wasn't able to make the lead against Skiddles--came back to set another quick pace here July 25, holding on by a nose with a 73 Beyer. Now Skiddles turns back to the distance she ran on debut, tries grass and takes off her blinkers. Of those three changes, the surface switch interests me the least--she gets enough surface versatility from her sire Sharp Humor, but there's not much going on on her dam's side. But the combination of a slight turn back and the loss of blinkers, which should help Skiddles settle, could be a very potent combination. She will still probably make the lead, but if the lightly raced speed demon can figure out how to pace herself better, she might keep right on going late at a big number.

Race 8 - John Morrisey S. - 6 1/2f, NYB, 3yo/up - Ibboyee and Be Bullish--7-5 and 8-5 on the line respectively--figure to take up  a large portion of the market in this race, but both are vulnerable. Ibboyee is probably the best horse in the field, but he's a very deep closer in a paceless event. Be Bullish, on the other hand, is the speed of the speed. He was claimed for $75,000 by George Weaver for Mike Repole off a nice winning effort at Belmont in June, but his connections were taking a big risk claiming a runner off Rick Dutrow. Over the past five seasons, horses claimed away from Dutrow have won at a 16% clip with a $1.16 ROI in their subsequent starts--Dutrow himself has won at a 25% rate with claimers over the same time period. Weaver has only claimed and run back one horse over the past five years--that horse finished 9th here on the 24th at 4-1. Because of his main competitions' deflated odds, third-choice #1 Mineswept with be a significant overlay. He has the speed to keep Be Bullish in check, and should relish the turn-back for red-hot conditioner Rudy Rodriguez. If the other two falter, he'll find it hard to lose this. Mineswept is worthy of win money, and is the perfect "separator" single in Pick 3s and 4s.


Race 3 - MSW, 5f, 2yo, f - This is probably the toughest to handicap 2-year-old maiden race we've seen so far this meet. There are a number of question marks, and no easy answers. For instance, what do you do with Alydarla, who did very little running when unveiled in the GIII Schuylerville? Probably use her, I suppose, at her 10-1 morning line, but I wouldn't lean too heavily on her. I am more interested in another longshot. #5 Ribbon Taffy is a member of the first crop of Hard Spun, who has had a very solid start to his stallion career, and she's a half to Barrier Reef, who never quite panned out as some thought he might after taking the Whirlaway S. as an early 3-year-old (he did win two more stakes and was GSP, however). More importantly, though, she's trained by relatively unknown Kentucky-based conditioner John Pucek. Pucek has been deadly in New York this year--he's 3-for-9 with seven in the money finishes, good for a $4.66 ROI. He won a race on Monday at 9-1, and finished third on Saturday at 20-1. He's 0-for-7 with firsters at all tracks over the past five years with two third-place runs, but it'd be foolish to toss anything sent out by the Pucek barn at Saratoga right now, and this runner shows a few sneaky-looking works. Quite frankly, though, it's hard to come up with a solid opinion in this race without seeing the board. Almost every runner in the race has potential, and opening odds often help illuminate things. For real-time observations on things such as tote board clues, follow me on Twitter @PositiveROI.

Race 10 - $25K MCL, 5 1/2fT, 3yo/up - I don't know who trainer W P Higgins is, as this will be his/her first starter in at least the past five years, but #2 Last Hurrah has a lot going for him. The 4-year-old gelded son of good turf influence Kitten's Joy is a half to Finery, who debuted a six-length winner at 6-1 sprinting in the slop at Belmont for Bill Turner in 2003. Finery went on to take two Grade IIIs on the sod in New York, and ran a very credible fifth in the GI E.P. Taylor S. at Woodbine. Both Finery and Last Hurrah are Althea Richards homebreds. Last Hurrah has upbeat works leading up to this, lures Julien Leparoux and faces a very suspect bunch. He won't have to be much to contend here.

*Trainer stats courtesy of DRF Formulator.