Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's Never Too Early to Have a Derby Horse

--Brian DiDonato

With the 2011 racing season mostly wrapped up, it’s time to shift focus back to the soon-to-be 3-year-olds who will find their way onto the Triple Crown trail. The Derby horse profile is pretty well-established at this point. You’re generally looking for an individual with 2-year-old foundation--but not too much--who gives the impression that he still has room to improve and mature in the coming year. A stout pedigree is a must, and the more under-the-radar at this point, the better for bragging rights and future wagers.

With all that in mind, my early, sure to change six times (it already has once) Derby horse is GII Remsen S. fourth-place finisher Done Talking (Broken Vow).

Owned by Midlantic-based Skeedattle Stable and trained by Hamilton Smith, the bay is out of the Dixieland Band mare Dixie Talking, who was a Maryland-bred stakes winner going long at two in 2004 and a winner of the seven-furlong GIII Cicada S. the following season in her final of four career starts. Dixie Talking, who also produced a 2-year-old stakes winner of last year, is out of Gin Talking (Allen’s Prospect), a four-time stakes winner at nine furlongs who annexed the 2000 GIII Anne Arundel S. by four lengths. She was also second in a 10-furlong handicap.

Done Talking’s sire, Broken Vow (Unbridled), was a MGSW at 1 1/8 miles and Grade I-placed at 1 1/4 miles. His top earner to date is Unbridled Belle, a pure router who was a GSW and MGISP at 1 1/4 miles and a GISW at 1 1/8 miles. His other top progeny include Sassy Image, a MGISW sprinter this year who proved she could handle a route of ground when taking the GIII Pocahontas S. and GII Golden Rod S. in 2009; GISW sprinter/miler Cotton Blossom; MGSW turf router Interactif, who was second in the 10-furlong GII Virginia Derby; GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. winner Private Vow; Canadian MGSW Matt’s Broken Vow, winner of the 1 3/8-mile Canadian Derby; and, most recently, this past Saturday’s winner of the nine-furlong GIII Fred W. Hooper H. at Calder, Jimanator.

Done Talking’s pedigree suggests he should have no problem with Classic distances, and his performance on the track further supports that notion.

After finishing up well to be third sprinting on debut at Delaware in August, Done Talking filled the same slot, beaten eight lengths by a runaway winner who set an average pace on a loose lead, trying an extended mile Sept. 10 (video). He traveled greenly for much of that race, found himself in tight several times, and never gave the impression that he would hit the board before figuring it all out far too late and running on for a piece.

Backed down to 4-5 when returning in a similar spot Oct. 18, Done Talking finally broke through despite another eventful trip (video). Last from the gate, he was guided to the rail by Rosie Napravnik and briefly moved up to travel in a perfect stalking position in third. He got a bit keen at that point, however, and Napravnik wrangled him back to last behind a pace that was absurdly slow--21 points below par early on the Moss Pace Figure scale. It appeared on the far turn as if Done Talking was floundering a bit, but he tipped out as they straightened and, after a brief bobble, leveled off nicely to score geared down by 1 3/4 lengths.

Done Talking overcame a similarly slow pace to take a one-mile allowance at Parx Nov. 7 by the same margin in his final prep for the Remsen (video). Odds-on choice Yourhonorandglory (Lawyer Ron), who was coming off a 7 3/4-length graduation tally, controlled the pace and opened up a three-length advantage turning for home, but he could not hold off the resolute rally of Done Talking, who came home a full second faster than the chalk. Yourhonorandglory did appear to be struggling with the trip late, but he returned to score as the 3-2 choice going slightly farther back at Parx Monday, earning a 78 Beyer.

Let go at 21-1 in the Remsen, Done Talking again found himself too far back off glacial early splits--this time 11 points below par according to Moss (video). Still in dead last at the head of the lane while full of run, he weaved his way through horses to come up just a length short. The bay covered his final furlong in :11.97--very fast for a 2-year-old going nine furlongs for the first time--and significantly quicker than winner O’Prado Again (El Prado {Ire})’s come-home time of :12.32.

Done Talking earned a 78 Beyer Speed Figure for his Remsen--certainly nothing off the charts--but he has gotten progressively faster in each of his races despite
less-than-perfect set-ups/trips. There’s no reason he can’t continue to improve and get faster, plus it’s not like this year’s 2-year-olds have been running many big figures. He’s a progressive sort that should appreciate 10 furlongs--now he just needs to earn his way into the starting gate for the first Saturday in May.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Win or Lose; it's still the Breeders' Cup

by Christina Bossinakis

   I arrived in Louisville early Thursday morning, and was promptly greeted by gloom and torrential rains that were making their way through the area. After a brief visit to the Churchill Downs press box, I headed over to check into my hotel and ready for the evenings festivities. On my dance card was a cocktail party hosted by celebrity chef Bobby Flay and TDN Publisher Barry Weisbord. Upon arrival, guests were greeted with a refreshing Vodka-based cocktail (Grey Goose, of course). Held in a local airport hangar (I know it sounds odd, but one would never know where they actually were once inside), the event featured live music in addition to an international panel of chefs (reportedly hand picked by Mr. Flay), who were offering delectable creations from 15 countries. With tremendous flags arranged in a cubic shape hanging from above, each mini stage was adorned with white lights and linens, making it resemble something right off the planet Krypton (yes, I’m referring to Superman’s birthplace). Each station presented food from a particular country on one side of the platform, while the opposing side offered a corresponding cocktail meant to compliment the fare. I must admit, I’ve been to quite a few pre-race press parties along the way, but this definitely was the most novel and inspired. Many industry notables were on the scene and Bobby, who was in fine form, was as good a host as one could ask for.

   After a couple of cocktails, a group of us headed over to the renowned Louisville-area French restaurant, Le Relais. Among those in the party were CHRB Chairman Keith Brackpool, Coolmore’s inimitable Richard Henry, Bo Derek (looking great, but minus the braids--sorry guys), Bloodstock agent Patrick Lawley-Waklin, who has been associated with such powerhouses as Sam-Son Farms and the Evans family, and the connections of Miss Match, who was slated to run in Friday’s GI Ladies' Classic. The mare, who won last March’s GI Santa Margarita S., was represented by trainer Neil Drysdale, his wife Shawn Dugan (who gets a special shout out as an entertainment director extraordinaire), in addition to the Australian contingent--the mare’s owner Matthew Cloros and Arrowfield’s Jon Freyer, who secured the filly for Cloros before her Grade I score (insert applause here). An amusing side note: Having called North America my home since birth, and having visited Australia only once, I had never laid eyes upon the Sydney-based owner of the mare, so I had always imagined somebody born in the era of the second World War. In fact, Matt is a young entrepreneur (he is the master behind the ultra- successful Australian company Redback Boots), and who, I’m told, is quite attractive (that’s an affirmative ladies). But back to the restaurant. Although a little tricky to find--as Mr. Henry might attest--the venue’s food and wine definitely lived up to all the hype. But in my mind, my dinner company was, without a doubt, the best feature of the evening. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by an amazingly accomplished group of people that are not only razor sharp and seriously passionate about our sport, but who are also as down to earth and fun as anybody you’re ever going to meet. Good times.

   With Thursday’s rains having passed through, Friday dawned dry, albeit cloudy. It was just a typical fall day in Kentucky, cool but not frigid. By the time the first Breeders’ Cup race of the afternoon went off, however, the sun had broken through and warmed things up considerably. Stationed in the Turf Club with many of the principals from the night before, we were greeted by a good day of racing, punctuated by a seriously impressive performance by Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton’s My Miss Aurelia. It represented a bit of a full-circle moment for me since I was actually at Keeneland and covered the story for the TDN when she sold as a yearling for $550,000 in 2010. Even though I don’t have a vested interest in these horses, I always find myself so appreciative of watching them grow and develop into top shelf performers, and even more so, when they become champions. My Miss Aurelia’s performance definitely made it difficult to vote for anybody else at the end of the year, that’s for sure.

Left to right: Reiley McDonald, Patrick Lawley-Wakelin, Shawn Dugan, Jon Freyer,
Matt Cloros & Christina Bossinakis

   While everybody in the Miss Match camp was having a good old time early in the card, it became increasingly evident as the anticipation and nervousness began to mount as the final Breeders’ Cup race of the day approached. Even with the sun’s appearance earlier, the track still retained a lot of moisture in it by the time the Ladies’ Classic went off. In the moments leading up to the race, the excitement among the Argentine-bred’s connections was palpable. While horses had shown they could come from off the pace during the day, Miss Match--a well-reputed closer--seemed like she might belie her 8-1 odds. As it turned out, she didn’t have the cleanest of trips and took more than her fair share of mud in her face, prompting a mud-caked Garrett Gomez to conclude that she had no way of seeing through the all the muck and mire. It is my understanding that the mare will head to the breeding shed next season, and she has certainly done enough to warrant it. One side note: you can often gage the merits of a person by the way they handle victory as well as defeat, and the 6-year-old’s connections, above all her owner, showed exemplary class after a pretty tough result. While things might not have gone quite as planned for some of the other participants in the race as well, the connections of Royal Delta were certainly rewarded generously, which continued into this week when she brought $8.5 million at the Keeneland November sale. It reminds me of earlier telecasts of Wide World of Sports that kicked off with the phrase ‘The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.’ I guess if you’ve been in this game long enough, you have experienced both in good measure.

   Following the race, the Miss Match team lingered for another drink (or maybe it was two?) before adjourning to a very enjoyable dinner. I must admit, the whole experience underscored something that I’ve known for some time but sometimes forget. There is so much time, not to mention a boatload of preparation, put in to get a horse to a Breeders’ Cup race, so it goes without saying that losing is a real drag (I actually had another word in mind here). But for so many that devote heaps of energy and resources to the game, it is obvious that people’s love of the sport and, simply being part of a great day of racing like the Breeders’ Cup, makes it all worth it, win or lose.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

BC Analysis: Saturday

--Brian DiDonato

CLASSIC - While Uncle Mo is the most talented horse in this race, he's a terrible bet here. He's simply had too much go wrong in 2011, and now must stretch out two furlongs to a distance he's never gone before. Havre de Grace is also a guaranteed underlay, in part because she's the type of horse who the public latches on to, and also because she's probably best at nine furlongs. Add to the mix a likely over-the-top, unproven on dirt So You Think, who in my estimation will be about a third the price he should be, and the value on a major contender continues to balloon. Flat Out is by far the most reliable runner in this race, and he's an absolute must-bet. While Havre de Grace beat him in the 1 1/8-mile Woodward, she got the jump on him after being closer to a below average pace. Flat Out was gaining on her late (his final eighth came in :12.75 to her :12.87), and also passed her during the gallop out. He had no trouble getting this distance last out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and figures to get plenty of pace to run at. Game On Dude will be gunned to the lead because his connections have decided that he has to be ridden that way, and To Honor and Serve and the Repole pair shouldn't be far behind. Flat Out doesn't capture the public's imagination the way others in this field do, but he's undoubtedly the most likely winner of the Classic and sure to be a huge overlay.

MILE - This is an easy race to get excited about as a fan, but perhaps not quite as much as a bettor. The problem is that while the argument can be made that Goldikova has lost a step now at the age of six, she's still very much the horse to beat at a short price. To complicate things further, if you don't concede the race to her, you have to go very deep. I'll spread with a number of contenders to various degrees, and will also take a small shot with Byword to win. The Juddmonte homebred was just a half-length back of Goldikova in the G1 Prix d'Ispahan last May, and has had an abbreviated campaign in 2011, but may to be back in top form. He took the G2 Prix Dollar last time at Longchamp Oct. 1 despite traffic trouble, and runner-up Cirrus des Aigles flattered that effort big time by returning to annex the G1 Champion S. at Ascot over So You Think. Note that while most of Byword's major successes have come at longer distances, he does sport a 4-3-1-0 record at a mile.

JUVENILE - The notion that Union Rags overcame a bad trip in the Champagne couldn't be more misguided--he sat in the perfect spot behind a hot pace and had to wait only briefly for running room. The fact that he ran slower than filly My Miss Aurelia did in the Frizette one race earlier further tempers my enthusiasm. He can win and he has to be included protectively in pick 3s/4s, but he's going to be overbet. I think very highly of Dullahan, but if this race were on Polytrack or if he was in the turf race, I'd be much more confident in him. He's always been very green, but has shown flashes of serious ability, and he overcame an absurdly wide trip to finally break through in the GI Breeders' Futurity last time (his Trakus chart is amazing--he traveled 51 feet more than the runner-up, which equates to about six lengths). He's obviously got the pedigree to handle dirt, as he's a half-brother to Mine That Bird by a sire (Even The Score) who was versatile as a racehorse and has been versatile as a producer. It's hard to tell much from his early races on this track as they were sprints and he was extremely green, and his workout Saturday was uninspiring, but he doesn't strike me as a horse that would turn heads in the morning. There are plenty of reasons to believe he'll be fine on the main track, but he could also very easily be a trap horse, so I'll use him and make him my tentative top pick, but won't lean too heavily on him. The others I'll try to beat Union Rags with are Take Charge Indy, who feels like the type who could wake up in a big way on dirt and might get my win money depending on his price; visually impressive (albeit with an easy trip) G2 Royal Lodge winner Daddy Long Legs, who tries dirt for the first time and has an American pedigree; and untested speedster Hansen.

TURF - He's not exactly a secret, but I had a hard time getting past Sea Moon here. The Europeans clearly have this race locked up, and Sea Moon offers by far the most upside with just five starts under his belt. His eight-length romp in the G2 Great Voltigeur S. at York in August over a weak field earned a field's best 126 Racing Post rating, and came at this distance. He was clearly best in the G1 St. Leger last time, as he was trapped down inside of horses for almost the entire stretch run. That he finished third with the trip he had was a testament to his very serious ability, and note that Sir Michael Stoute used the St. Leger as a springboard to Conduit's first of two BC Turf wins. St Nicholas Abbey is the under-the-radar Euro, and is probably the race's second most likely winner.

DIRT MILE - The obvious players in here (The Factor, Wilburn, Caleb's Posse and Trappe Shot--think Shackleford's over the top) are no secret and will all be on my tickets somewhere, but how about Tres Borrachos to spice things up a bit? In a race where two of the favorites are stretch-outs, the 6-year-old veteran turns back off a fifth-place finish in the GI Goodwood in which battled through an opening half that was 13 points above par on the Moss Pace Figure scale. He was third in June going seven panels with a 98 Beyer, and took a weak renewal of the 1 1/16-mile GII San Diego H. with a 97--those figures probably aren't quite good enough to win this, but he did run consecutive 106s in 2009. His dam was a sprinter/miler, and he has always given the impression that he too would be best at 7-8 furlongs, but shockingly, he's only gone a flat mile once in his career. Tres Borrachos probably isn't as talented as some of these at their respective bests, but he could show up with something close to a career top, which would put him in the mix.

TURF SPRINT - Havelock is the most reliable runner in this race--he's won the last four turf sprints he's contested, and has the versatility to travel in mid-pack or towards the back. It seemed like he was left with way too much to do last time in the GIII Woodford, but he flew home late to get up and clear (the early pace was hot, however). He should get just enough pace to set up his late rally again, and even though his style isn't optimal for five furlongs, he sports a 6-4-0-1 record at the distance. A crazy longshot to include might be Grand Adventure, who has run races in the past that would win this for fun. He's been a disappointment in 2011, but he's had just enough of an excuse in most of his races this year that perhaps he can turn it around--especially on firm turf and at a shorter distance--at astronomical odds.

SPRINT - I'd love to lock this morning line in place, as Big Drama is a very significant underlay at 5-2, while Jackson Bend is a huge overlay at 7-2. The former has simply had too much go wrong this year to back with any confidence, and he's very unlikely to be at his best, which is something he'll have to be to hold off this group and defend his title. Jackson Bend has enjoyed a sharp form reversal since cutting back to one-turn races, and while trainer Nick Zito seemed a bit apprehensive to shorten his charge up to six furlongs rather than keep him at a mile, the chestnut is two-for-two at the trip. The 112 Beyer he earned in the GII Kelso H. when second to Uncle Mo came when dead last early behind a very slow pace, and he probably made his visually impressive bid to challenge last year's 2-year-old champ a bit prematurely. Force Freeze might be the longshot play. I made a case for him in an earlier post before the Vosburgh, and he almost ran down Giant Ryan to get it done in the mud. He appeared to slow down when tipped out into the center of the track, and may have been traveling in a deeper part of the lane than the winner. His stalking style could allow him to work out a nice trip.

JUVENILE TURF - Like the filly version of this event, this is clearly a spread race. With so many places to go, it seems like a good idea to start with the Euros. I want no part of exposed sprinter Caspar Netscher and, while he's got a shot and is certainly one to use, Farraaj seems to be a wise guy horse from what I've read and heard. Wrote is very interesting--or at least as interesting as a horse can be in an inscrutable race that anyone can win. I loved his performance to be third last time in the G2 Royal Lodge over Newmarket's Rowley Mile behind stablemate and Juvenile contender Daddy Long Legs. He was last early behind what seemed to be a slow pace set by his Ballydoyle buddy and, when producing his run, was inexplicably guided towards a blocked rail before being taken back outside by Jamie Spencer. He loomed ominously before tailing off a bit late, but the final furlong of that course is uphill (granted, the previous furlong is downhill), so going from a mile there to a mile at Churchill Downs could almost be considered a turn back. He gives the impression of a horse that will love a firm American turf course, and trainer Aidan O'Brien is having a huge year Stateside after suffering from an extended rough patch previously. I'm expecting a breakout performance from Wrote, and doubt any American horse can hang with him if he runs that sort of race.

MARATHON - I find it hard to get excited about this race, but Cease would pique my interest if he stayed at his 6-1 morning line price or somehow drifted up. The lightly raced 4-year-old from the connections that campaigned Blame turned in two serious efforts in the slop at Saratoga going nine furlongs, but showed he could handle a dry track and more distance when a close-up third in the GIII Hawthorne Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles. It's possible that the outside was the place to be in Chicago that day, and Cease got a poor ride, hung out wide in no-man's land around the first turn and striking the front a bit too soon while switching inside to the dead rail. To be beaten only a half-length with a 98 Beyer was an accomplishment considering his trip, and he still has plenty of upside--the only question that remains is how much he'll be bet. . . he's sort of obvious.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

BC Analysis: Friday

--Brian DiDonato

LADIES' CLASSIC - This race lost a lot of its intrigue with the defections of Blind Luck, Havre de Grace and, to a lesser extent, Aruna, but should serve as a definitive showdown between the top of this year's crop of sophomore fillies. While Plum Pretty is proven over the strip and It's Tricky has been very good at times, Royal Delta is the best of this bunch and will leave little doubt of that on Friday. The argument can certainly be made that Royal Delta's romp over the aforementioned pair in the Alabama was due mostly to the added eighth and that the CCA Oaks in which Royal Delta was a distant third behind It's Tricky and Plum Pretty at this distance was a better indicator of their relative abilities. But Royal Delta clearly needed the CCA Oaks off the bench after missing some training time, and it's hard to imagine that an extra furlong made that much of a difference for three fillies extremely well-bred to handle any distance of ground. And while Royal Delta regressed from a 97 Beyer to 91 when finishing second to Havre de Grace in the Beldame, she was forced to lay much closer than optimal because of the strange go-stop-go ride Life At Ten received and the ominous presence of the heavy favorite. She figures to have the pace in front of her to allow her to relax and has been working very well for this, so look for Royal Delta to sweep by in the lane and earn champion 3-year-old filly honors.

F/M TURF - This feels like a race you just want to survive in the pick 3s/4s. There are a number of logical contenders, but no huge secrets. I'd probably go with Nahrain on top, as she overcame some trouble to beat Announce in the G1 Prix de L'Opera last time. Announce's running lines (which include Cirrus des Aigles, Sarafina and Stacelita) make her a contender as well, while also flattering the lightly raced Nahrain.

JUVENILE FILLIES - My Miss Aurelia has displayed by far the most ability of this group so far, but she's no lock to get this two-turn route--especially with what looks like a ton of company up front. Her dam My Miss Storm Cat (Sea of Secrets) was a super speedy sprinter. Of the logical closers, Northern Passion should be the best price. The only question is whether she can handle the dirt, as her impressive and subsequently validated GIII Natalma win came on the Woodbine sod and her two previous good efforts were on the Polytrack. Northern Passion's first dam was all turf, but she's a full-sister to Canadian champion 2-year-old filly Ginger Gold (Golden Gear), a MSW on dirt and second in the GI Selene S. at this distance. Trainer Mark Casse has been dominant with his 2-year-olds up at Woodbine this season, and he upset the GI Stephen Foster H. in June here with turf-to-dirter Pool Play.

F/M SPRINT - I just don't buy the Turbulent Descent hype. Only her win in the GI Test last time against 3-year-olds broke the 100 Beyer mark, and now she's been off since early August. I understand that they decided early to keep her sprinting, but the way she has been managed screams vulnerability. There's no way she should be a shorter price than Switch, and there are quite a few longshots worth taking a look at. Tanda is the most intriguing of those longshots, as she has very serious back form that makes her plenty competitive here. The bay enjoyed a nice streak last year at three with a trio of wins, capped of by a defeat of Switch in the GIII Railbird at this distance at Hollywood with a 98 Beyer. She then shipped east for the GI Acorn at Belmont, and overcame a tardy start to be third behind Champagne d'Oro after making a crazy sweeping six-wide move turning for home. Tanda has been somewhat oddly handled since then, trying some turf and longer distances with mild success. She was switched from Dan Hendricks to Mike Mitchell two back, and has since annexed a weak renewal of the GIII Rancho Bernando H. on Del Mar's main track and finished third in the GIII Senator Ken Maddy down the hill at Santa Anita with a wide journey. She might find her old form for a conditioner who is 1-for-4 with 100% ITM going turf to dirt in stakes over the past five years, according to DRF Formulator.

JUVENILE FILLIES TURF - This event is as inscrutable as you'll find all weekend, and has the look of a chaos race written all over it. I'm very much against the two favorites. Somali Lemonade's 14 post is a serious concern for her, and her deep closing style already makes her susceptible to traffic problems. It's hard to fault Elusive Kate's European form, but history shows that you are never supposed to take a short-priced European in a Breeders' Cup race. There are too many other higher priced options to concede that a Euro invader will win this race for the first time. On the morning line, Stephanie's Kitten is the value. Her third-place finish in the GIII Natalma was excellent considering how wide she was, and there was plently to like about her GI Alcibiades victory. A hot pace helped her, but the track was playing to inside speed and she rallied wide. Also-rans from that race ran one-two in last weekend's GII Pocahontas. It's very likely that Stephanie's Kitten will go off much lower than her morning line quote, however, and anything under 8-1 or so might not be value. While Stephanie's Kitten is probably coming down in odds from 12-1, the movement on Pure Gossip will probably be the opposite. She was let go at 23-1 when absolutely exploding in the GIII Miss Grillo at Belmont over soft sod, and perhaps the turf condition that day coupled with her connections, who are very well-known in New York, but not nationally, will let her get lost on the board. She's not without question marks--she enjoyed a dream trip in the Miss Grillo and that soft turf may very well have been to her liking (she hails from the family of yielding turf freak Street Game)--but the potential for her to actually be as good as she looked last time makes her interesting.

JUVENILE SPRINT - In all the Breeders' Cup races, Secret Circle might be the most likely winner. He has superior speed figures, and displayed the ability to rate last time in the Jack Goodman S. behind a hot pace. He can lay wherever he needs to, and should handle this field at a short number. If anyone's going to beat the chalk, it'll probably be Shumoos--mostly because she hasn't been proven inferior to Secret Circle on dirt yet. She has some interesting Euro form and a very nice American pedigree for sprinting on the dirt--her second dam was a MGISW going short and Distorted Humor can throw any type of runner.