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.

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