Friday, September 2, 2011

Spa Watch: Closing Weekend

--Brian DiDonato


Race 1 - Paris Opera S., f+m, 3yo/up, 1mT
   Unbridled Essence (Essence of Dubai) gets a bit of class relief coming off three consecutive Grade III tries against solid groups, including a narrow loss in the Violet S. at Monmouth in May. She was bumped at the break last out in defense of her GIII Matchmaker S. title July 31, and never got uncorked after that over a course that appeared to be favoring speed slightly. The 5-year-old should get some pace to run at here, and will be completely ignored in the wagering--her 10-1 morning line seems on the low side.

Race 2 - MSW, 2yo, 1 1/16mT
   Three horses caught my eye in this very interesting event, but Scandalicious (Giant's Causeway) is the one I'll bet to win, mostly because of his expected price. It's tough to get a read on his debut--he was dead last early in a race completely dominated by a frontrunner, but the Flying Zee colorbearer flew home late in the slop to get up for second with a lowly 47 Beyer Speed Figure (TDN Video). It's very possible that nobody besides the winner did any running and Scandalicious' second was no great accomplishment, but trainer Carlos Martin very rarely has a firster cranked up for his/her best and Scandalicious was up against things from a dynamics standpoint. The $150,000 KEESEP yearling's dam Salty You (Salt Lake) was a Grade I-winning 2-year-old in the slop--both a positive and negative in this case--and she was graded stakes-placed and a multiple winner over the sod. Salty You is a half to a pair of runners with turf black-type, and she hails from the family of European champion Moorestyle (GB). Another intriguing horse is Super Saturday (Any Given Saturday), owned by a savvy partnership of TYB Stable, Jerry Dilger and trainer Mike Trombetta. The grey is out of a turf stakes winner who produced Chopinina (Lear Fan), GSW and GISP on turf; Karra Kul (Strawberry Road {Aus}), SW and GSP on turf; and Despite the Odds (Speightstown), winner of the sloppy GIII Hill Prince S. for Trombetta in 2009. Trombetta is 4-for-8 with a $5.05 ROI over the past five seasons with firsters going long on the grass*. O'Prado Again (El Prado {Ire}) was named for Donegal Racing's superstar Paddy O'Prado and, like his predecessor, his future is clearly on grass. The $350,000 KEESEP yearling is very likely to move up on the surface switch off a debut sixth-place finish sprinting in the slop at Churchill Downs, but demand a square price if considering a win bet--Dale Romans' young turfers, like Paddy O'Prado and GII With Anticipation S. show horse Dullahan (Even The Score), sometimes require several starts before finding their rhythm.

Race 9 - GI Forego S., 3yo/up, 7f
   Rule by Night (Malibu Moon) probably isn't the most likely winner of this race, but he's going to be a major overlay. The Steve Asmussen pupil finished off last year with a monster performance in the Groovy S. at Aqueduct, romping by 9 1/4 lengths while earning a 108 Beyer Speed Figure that seems accurate when compared to what the also rans from that heat ran before and after. Rule by Night had some physical issues over the winter, and didn't make it back to the races until the May 11 Waldoboro S. at Belmont. That was a strangely run race that featured a very loose leader who was overmatched (TDN Video), and Rule by Night's third-place finish to Trappe Shot (Tapit) was better than it looks on paper considering the dynamics. He was subsequently scratched from the GII True North H., and resurfaced to finish a disappointing eighth in the Teddy Drone S. at Monmouth July 31. That performance was too bad to be believed, and may have been due to the way the track played that day (Haskell Day)--it strongly favored horses positioned out wide--he was glued to the rail throughout. Rule by Night worked five furlongs in company with GISW Haynesfield (Speightstown) last week, and Asmussen must like how the colt is doing to bypass Thursday's Island Whirl S. for this spot.

Race 10 - GI Woodward S., 3yo/up, 1 1/8m
   Havre de Grace (Saint Liam) is the type of horse who gets drastically overbet, and her presence will create some overlays on other runners. Flat Out (Flatter) is by far the most likely winner of the Woodward, and he must be used on every ticket. Giant Oak (Giant's Causeway) is the value play, however. The accomplished veteran is no stranger to horseplayers and racing fans--he's pretty good at his best, but needs the proper pace set-up to threaten late. He didn't get his trip last time in the GI Whitney Invitational H.--a race in which it seemed nobody wanted to lead--but the 5-year-old came home quickly on the outside to get up for third. It's not like there are a number of need-the-lead types signed on this time, but Rule (Roman Ruler) and Mambo Meister (King Cugat) should keep things honest enough up front with several others close up in the second flight. With a little more pace, and a fair price guaranteed, its worth taking a flyer and hoping the good Giant Oak shows up.

Race 12 - MSW, 2yo, NYB, 7f
   Down Broadway (Grand Slam), a $30,000 FTNAUG yearling turned $90,000 FTMMAY 2-year-old, closed well to be third in a good state-bred maiden race at Belmont July 14. Beyers for the race came back extremely slow, but the three winners and two runner-ups to return from that event all improved their figures dramatically next out. Down Broadway is faster than his 38 figure would lead you to believe, and he ran on debut like one who might appreciate this extra furlong.

Bonus Pick: GI Del Mar Debutante - Emerald Gold (War Front) was extremely visually impressive breaking her maiden while closing off a slow pace over the track (TDN Video). Her 5-1 morning line seems a bit on the low side, and she should offer good value in the 6-1 to 8-1 range.


Race 6 - MSW, f, 2yo, 1 1/16mT
   There isn't much to like about Zultanite (El Corredor) based on her debut or her pedigree, but note that trainer David Donk entered her in the P.G. Johnson S. Wednesday before opting to scratch and run here--that's a hint that her connections think pretty highly of her. The dark bay broke slowly and only made up a tiny bit of ground sprinting here Aug. 7 on a track that may have been favoring speed, but it's highly unlikely that she was well-meant for that effort. She was ignored as the 37-1 longest shot on the board, and was looking to become just Donk's second 2-year-old debut winner over the past five years from nearly 70 tries. He has won with six juveniles in their second career starts, including two while switching to grass. Watch to see if Zultanite takes more play here, and pull the trigger if she drifts up to 10-1+.

Race 7 - MSW, f, 2yo, 7f  
   Refining (Malibu Moon) was fourth on debut in one of the hottest maiden races for juvenile fillies to be run here this year. Winner My Miss Aurelia (Smart Strike) came back to win the GII Adirondack S. with a 91 Beyer; show horse Stopshoppingmaria (More Than Ready) romped by 9 3/4 lengths next out with a 101 Beyer; and the three other horses to run back hit the board in subsequent efforts. Refining did some late running in her unveiling after losing contact early, and conditioner Bill Mott's patience with young horses is well-documented. Mott maidens do much better with a start under their belt--he's 27% with 2-year-old maiden second timers in dirt sprints at the Spa over the past five years with a $2.52 ROI. Fellow Vegso homebred Come a Callin (Dixie Union), who broke her maiden on closing day here last year at 6-1 for Mott, was making the same move from 5 1/2 furlongs to seven when she graduated.

Race 10 - GI Spinaway S., f, 2yo, 7f  
   I tried to talk myself off of Vukovar (Forest Wildcat) here, but was unsuccessful. I was very high on her before the GIII Schuyverville S., and she made me feel very smart for about two furlongs before making me feel not-so-smart for the next four. The speed she showed in the first quarter mile of that race was off the charts--the :21.38 clocking was good for a Moss Pace Figure of 100--15 points above par for the level, but it's unclear what happened after that. She stopped so quickly that it seems likely she either displaced or bled, and it was surprising to see her back on the worktab just a week and change after her opening day debacle. I still wouldn't have thought much of her future, but if trainer Eric Guillot sees fit to run her off three sharp-looking works, I'll take a small shot at what is sure to be an astronomical price. Note that Guillot has connected with 44-1, 39-1 and 36-1 winners on this circuit over the past two years. Despite losing the hood, Vukovar should have no problem getting the early advantage here--it's just a question of how long she'll have it for. . .

*All trainer stats courtesy of DRF Formulator.

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