Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sophomore Spotlight: Wood, Santa Anita Derby and Illinois Derby

--Brian DiDonato

GI Wood Memorial S. - I know he has become a total wise guy horse, but I just can't get past Street Life (Street Sense)--his last two late runs were incredibly impressive, and he might actually get some real pace this time. Performances like the dark bay's second-out maiden breaker (video) often turn out to be optical illusions. For whatever reason, horses that come from impossibly far back like that usually fail to live up to the hype in subsequent starts (perhaps because oftentimes their moves are accentuated by their slow-moving competition). Two horses have returned from that Feb. 11 contest to break their maidens with new Beyer Speed Figure tops, however, and Street Life came back to turn in an even more impressive effort in his first stakes try.
   Despite earning only a 70 Beyer when donning cap and gown, Street Life was no secret in the Big A's 8 1/2-furlong Broad Brush S. over the inner track Mar. 17--he was backed down to 9-5, and proved it was for good reason. Showing more early interest than he had the time before (perhaps simply because of the pace dynamics), Street Life tracked from mid-pack as Copy My Swagger (Easing Along) carved out absolutely glacial fractions. The frontrunner--if you can call what he was doing early "running"--posted an opening quarter in :25.35, or 21 points below par on the Moss Pace Figure scale. Street Life didn't appear to be traveling particularly smoothly as the field entered the far turn, and it seemed that he would not live up to the hype or the 'TDN Rising Star' tag bestowed upon him the time before. But he started to come alive at the head of the lane under some enthusiastic encouragement from Junior Alvarado and, despite failing to switch leads for most of the stretch run, blew by the still straight-and-strong Copy My Swagger to win it in hand by a half-length (video). This was clearly not a case of a tiring front-runner getting caught. The runner-up came home second-fastest in the field (:31.61), but still a full second slower than Street Life (:30.59). The 85 Beyer Street Life ran fits well enough with this bunch on its own, but certainly does not accurately reflect his capabilities considering the slow pace he overcame.
Street Life            Coglianese Photo
   While this field as a whole does not possess particularly fast early pace figures, a number of runners have a tendency to travel on or near the lead. This is key to set up Street Life's late kick, and also to soften up formidable favorite Gemologist (Tiznow). Trainer Mike Hushion recently said that the undefeated, stretching-out The Lumber Guy (Grand Slam) would be sent hard early, so he should ensure solid enough splits if Casual Trick (Bernardini), My Adonis (Pleasantly Perfect), Teeth of the Dog (Bluegrass Cat) and/or Gemologist show the same sort of early interest that they have in recent starts. More real estate can only help Street Life's cause (more because of his pedigree than his running style), and he still has ample room to mature mentally. I'm expecting another big step forward, and one that could very well propel Street Life towards the top of the list of Derby contenders.

GI Santa Anita Derby - I was kind of hoping Bodemeister (Empire Maker) would return here for a rematch with Creative Cause (Giant's Causeway), as I think that runner's set to explode, but I guess we'll have to wait a week to see him run. The main knock on Creative Cause here might be that trainer Mike Harrington elects to take off the blinkers for the first time in the favorite's career despite the fact that he ran the fastest race of his life last out with the hood on. I guess this is a better time to experiment than in a month from now, but it could leave Creative Cause slightly vulnerable at a short number. I'm going to key off of two horses who should be decent prices here in Pick 3s or 4s, and who would benefit from somewhat opposite pace scenarios. It is not readily apparent to me how the pace of this race will play out, so I'll use an overlay for each possibility.
Holy Candy         Benoit Photo
   First up is Holy Candy (Candy Ride {Arg}). I must admit that I didn't really see what all the hype surrounding this horse was about before he broke his maiden last time. He had faced solid competition that had gone on to bigger and better once outside the maiden ranks, but horses who consistently run second just don't interest me. Backed down to 1-2 last time going a mile here Mar. 23, the powerful grey finally put it all together. In a race strikingly similar to Street Life's Broad Brush described above, Holy Candy tracked from fourth of five behind a pacesetter who got his opening quarter in :24.69. It's surprising that a horse at any level could go that slow early over Santa Anita's lightning-quick strip, but it actually happened--good for a 48 Moss Pace Figure, 28 points below par. The lack of any sort of set-up didn't seem to bother Holy Candy, though, as he blew by the decent Bob Baffert-trained frontrunner Eaton Hall (El Corredor) for a 3 1/2-length success (video). Holy Candy got his final quarter in a head-turning :23.05--even at Santa Anita, that's fast. Holy Candy's 84 Beyer doesn't do his last performance justice, and while I think he might be better off in next week's GI Blue Grass S. (trainer John Sadler says he won't make a decision until Saturday morning), he has the raw talent to demand inclusion in this admittedly steep jump in class.
   Longview Drive (Pulpit), a full-brother to the accomplished Pyro, could upset this bunch at a solid price, possibly on the front-end. The $175,000 KEESEP yearling has fallen through the cracks a bit despite completing the trifecta in one of the stronger Derby preps we've seen all season, the GIII Sham S. He earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure after setting an above average pace, and was only beaten a length by the injured but promising Out of Bounds (Discreet Cat) and the very accomplished Secret Circle (Eddington). That effort garnered the chestnut favoritism in what ultimately proved the weaker of two divisions of the GIII Southwest S., but a nightmare trip relegated Longview Drive to sixth. Off a half-step slow, he was unable to make the lead, and was forced to rate from a tight spot along the inside, which he clearly was not happy about. Longview Drive was then taken to the far outside for clear sailing, covering far more ground than any other rival before ultimately flattening out. He'll get get original pilot Russell Baze back in the saddle, and should give a much better account of himself this time at double digit odds.

Done Talking         Horsephotos
GIII Illinois Derby - Considering how much I've touted him, I've got no choice but to go back to Done Talking (Broken Vow) here. He's not my top choice for the Kentucky Derby anymore, but I do think that all the positives I've pointed out about him in past posts still ring true if you simply toss his complete non-effort in the GIII Gotham S. last time. It was his first start back off a lay-off that was extended due to illness and he did get bumped a bit going into the first turn. The homebred has since returned with a pair of upbeat drills, including a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Laurel Mar. 24, so there's reason to believe he's doing well. It's also positive to see his connections opt to take a shot and ship out to Chicago from Maryland. The 13 post isn't ideal, but it's not as if Done Talking will be gunned early for position. A lack of pace would prove a bigger obstacle for the bay, but large fields tend to guarantee solid enough splits and Morgan's Guerilla (Ghostzapper) possesses the type of speed that will probably be hard to harness. He posted very fast splits when breaking his maiden on the Gotham undercard Mar. 3, and should be winging it early with others in tow. There's no reason why Done Talking can't bounce back and be the one to seize command late at a price that could be upwards of 20-1.

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