Friday, March 23, 2012

Sophomore Spotlight: Spiral and Sunland Derby

--Brian DiDonato

GIII SPIRAL S. - This race looks like a good spot for a longshot, and Stealcase (Lawyer Ron) fits the bill. The most interesting thing about him is a bit abstract, but bear with me. Stealcase, a $35,000 KEENOV weanling who RNA'd for the same price as an OBSAUG yearling, entered his Saratoga debut with a ton of hype. He had turned in an excellent eighth in :10 flat at OBSMAR (VIDEO), garnering a winning bid of $320,000, and everyone who had seen the breeze was expecting big things in his unveiling. The chestnut was backed down to 9-5 favoritism for that July 30 debut, but was a dull fourth. He filled the same slot in a key heat at Gulfstream Dec. 24--again as the favorite--and graduated on the stretch-out Jan. 19 with a 79 Beyer. He was a decent sixth last time in the GIII Gotham S. Mar. 3 after breaking poorly, but still hasn't come close to living up to his early reputation. There's a very good reason why Stealcase might finally live up to the hype here at Turfway, though. It's important to note that his breeze at OBS was over the synthetic Safetrack surface, and this will be the first time in his racing career that he's been on another all-weather track. Doesn't it seem logical that maybe he was a synthetic horse all along? There's at least a decent chance that that's the case, and considering he doesn't need to move up too much as it is to contend with this bunch, you're certainly getting the right price to hold that opinion. Half of Stealcase's lone sibling's wins have come on synthetic surfaces, which certainly doesn't hurt his cause either. Trainer Mark Casse's success adding blinkers is another positive angle. According to DRF Formulator, the conditioner boasts a gaudy $3.67 ROI over the past season (5/21 24%) in the 'blinkers on' category, which includes Prospective's recent victory in the GII Tampa Bay Derby. Prospective moved up eight Beyer points from his top with the hood--a similar improvement from Stealcase may very well win this, but if he runs on this surface like he did at OBS, he could perform even better.

GIII SUNLAND DERBY - The two main out of town favorites--Castaway (Street Sense) and Ender Knievel (Distorted Humor)--have both been flattered by slow paces in their recent races, and could pose problems for each other here. Castaway also suffers a bit from the weak-seeming running of last weekend's GII Rebel S., which featured three runners who finished behind him in the slower division of the GIIII Southwest S. as well as his stablemate Secret Circle, who won the faster division of the Southwest, but ran the slowest Beyer of his career (92) in winning the Rebel. Bob Baffert's second stringer Stirred Up (Lemon Drop Kid) seems like a logical alternative, but his maiden-breaking tally Mar. 3 was aided by a very fast pace set-up and featured a slow finish. Much-hyped Holy Candy came up a neck short of Stirred Up last time, and was coming off a 2 1/4-length defeat at the hands of Castaway, so while Castaway will be overbet here, he still probably holds an edge over his stablemate. With three of eight horses already eliminated, and with the assumption that Daddy Nose Best (Scat Daddy) is a synthetic/turf horse, we're pretty much left with Isn't He Clever (Smarty Jones) by default. Luckily, that runner is worthy of consideration on his own merits as well. The bay is two-for-two over this surface, with a 97 Beyer-earning 11 3/4-length romp in the 6 1/2-furlong Allison Futurity Dec. 30, and a solid 1 3/4-length success last time in the 8 1/2-furlong Borderland Derby Feb. 25, for which he earned an 88 Beyer. He was a well-beaten fifth (promoted to fourth) in the GII Bob Lewis S. at Santa Anita in between those wins, but Isn't He Clever found himself on the lead that day (somewhere he doesn't need to be) and was facing tougher competition. Since his career-best performance came sprinting, it's possible that distance could prove an issue, but Isn't He Clever is a half to a stakes winner at 1 3/8 miles on the turf. There's plenty to like about this local hope, and the presence of some bigger names guarantees a somewhat decent price.

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