“Five Takeaways” for the Week Concluding February 20, 2022
By Jeff Siegel, 1stbet.com Analyst and Handicapper
1 – Sorry, we’re not about to the concede the 2022 Triple Crown to Epicenter just yet.
His victory in the nine furlong Risen Star S-G2 was virtually assured a sixteenth of a mile out of the gate when the Steve Asmussen-trained colt waltzed to the lead (as many sharp handicappers predicted he would, this writer not among them) and then took advantage of his pristine trip as the controlling speed to dominate a good group of 3-year-olds that included at least two legitimate Derby candidates, Smile Happy and Zandon, both of whom were victimized by the race shape.
This isn’t to say that Epicenter isn’t a very good colt, even one of the best in his crop, but nothing that happened in the Risen Star guarantees that the son of Not This Time will perform anywhere near this well if he isn’t allowed to coast on the lead, or if he’s forced to take dirt in a race in which other front-running types show up in the same race. Only when he has to overcame at least some adversity will we find out what this colt is truly made of.
His assigned speed figure of 98, which was boosted several points due to a subjectively induced split variant by the Beyer boys, may have been a bit higher than it deserved to be, but to his credit Epicenter won without being asked for his best in the final sixteenth of a mile, so perhaps we’re not giving him his just due. In his next start, the Louisiana Derby-G2 on March 26, we suspect he’ll have to work a little harder.
2 – Although he failed to win for the first time in his three race career when finishing second behind Epicenter, Smile Happy lost little in defeat in his seasonal debut that should produce a much sharper, more serious effort next time, wherever that may be. The son of Runhappy was bottled up in traffic until well inside the quarter pole, and by the time he secured room he had little opportunity to worry the winner. Yet, despite being given too much to do, his late rally was admirable and was followed by a strong gallop out. If given a choice between the two right now, we’d still take Smile Happy over Epicenter.
As for Zandon, the third place finisher, he remains a little too one-pace for our liking. After commencing his rally wide into the lane, the Chad Brown-trained colt kept grinding to the wire, though appearing to lose a bit of his steam in the closing stages. He’s the kind of a colt that may be able to win a decent race with a favorable race shape, but his lack of acceleration always will put him at risk in races with big fields and average to moderate early fractions.
3 – The evidence continues to build that the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile S.-G1 was a disturbingly weak affair. Pappacap, the runner-up behind Corniche in the race that decided the Eclipse Award in the 2-year-old division, subsequently finished a no-excuse third to Call Me Midnight and Epicenter in the Lecomte S.-G3 and then wound up eighth of 10 (beaten 14 lengths) despite a perfect stalking trip in the Risen Star. The BC Juvenile’s third place finisher, Giant Game, returned to finish eighth of nine, beaten 24 lengths, in the Holy Bull. Commandperformance, who was fourth, hasn’t raced since and is still a maiden, while Oviatt Class, the BC Juvenile’s fifth place finisher, was a non-threatening third of five in the Sham S.-G3 in January before being stopped on and turned out.
Meanwhile, Corniche remains out of sight and out of mind. The last we heard, he had resumed training at the farm, but, realistically, time has run out for the colt who has no points and no chance to be ready for any Derby prep race or the Derby itself.
4 – Claims for $100,000 or more rarely work out, but trainer Vladimir Cerin apparently struck gold when he haltered Barraza off Bob Baffert for that amount out of a maiden race in April of 2021. At the time, the son of Into Mischief had run three times, the most recent of which being a second place effort (beaten four lengths) to American Pharoah’s highly-regarded (at the time) half-brotherTriple Tap, but the colt’s numbers weren’t anything special, so the purchase seemed like a bit of a stretch.
But Barraza won that high-priced main track maiden claiming sprint by more than five lengths, so Cerin had to be happy with the new merchandise.
But rather than wheel him back short, and/or on dirt, the decision was made to stretch out around two turns on grass. Five straight times. None of those races produced a victory, so, finally, apparently, it dawned on Cerin that maybe, just maybe, the colt didn’t want to run long.
Since being returned to a sprint, all Barraza has done is put together a four-race winning streak that included two stakes, most recently the San Simeon S.-G3 last weekend over the Hillside Course at Santa Anita when he unleashed a devastating turn of foot that produced a career top 98 Beyer speed figure. The best news, at least for Barraza, is that thanks to his sire line the graded stakes win guarantees him a chance at stud somewhere in this world.
Now that he’s found his niche as a prototype turf sprinter, what makes Barraza’s current win streak so impressive is this versatility. He has won races both on the lead and from dead last while earning speed figures that have risen in each outing.
“He’s just developing,” explained Cerin after his most recent triumph. “He’ll go two-turns again and I think he’ll do it just as well.”
Okay. But why not just leave well enough alone?
5 – We’re still including the Bob Baffert-trained runners in our rankings, though most experts who publish these lists are not. Keep in mind that horses from the Baffert barn cannot earn qualifying points for the Run for the Roses, but we’re assuming that the connections of such runners will find a replacement trainer for the final significant points-generating events that take place four or five weeks prior to the first Saturday in May. Even with zero points prior to one of these final key prep races, a win or a second place finish will be sufficient to gain entrance to the Derby.
Remember, this list is based on potential and projection, not resume.
The Main Players:
1 – Messier (B. Baffert) – According to the speed figure he earned in the Robert B. Lewis S.-G3, he is currently the fastest 3-year-old on the Triple Crown trail. He has no Derby points, but we’re operating under the assumption that he’ll get them when he needs them, with a temporary trainer change the obvious last-resort solution. He hasn’t worked since his race February 6 but we’re expecting he’ll make the tab sometime this week.
2 – Emmanuel (T. Pletcher) – A strong, powerful son of More Than Ready that has yet to be extended after two very impressive victories, he surely will get tested in his next start, expected to be the Fountain of Youth S.-G2 at Gulfstream Park March 5.
3 – Smile Happy (K. McPeek) – Lost little when suffering his first career defeat in a better-than-looked runner-up effort behind “loose-on-the-lead” Epicenter in the Risen Star S.-G2 at Fair Grounds. The Runhappy colt was caught in traffic and then finished with purpose against the grain when clear too late in an excellent performance. He’ll have one more race – yet undisclosed – before his Derby run.
4 – White Abarrio (S. Joseph, Jr.) – His only defeat came when third to Smile Happy in the KJC S.-G2 last fall. Remained unbeaten in three starts at Gulfstream Park with his perfect-trip victory in the Holy Bull S.-G3 that made his task easier than it should have been. Likely to be seen next in the Florida Derby-G1 April 2, when he’ll either verify this performance or be found out.
5 – Rattle N Roll (K. McPeek – Concluded his juvenile campaign with a smart maiden win followed by a dominating score in the Breeders’ Futurity, both from off the pace. A sharp :59 3/5 five furlong drill at Gulfstream Park Feb. 19 indicates he should be primed and ready for the Fountain of Youth S.-G2 March 5.
6 – Classic Causeway (B. Lynch) – Verified the promise shown during his juvenile campaign when cutting out legit fractions and continuing with authority to win the Sam F. Davis S.-G3 in his sophomore debut. Likely to return in the Tampa Bay Derby-G2 March 12.
7 – Epicenter happily accepted his role as the controlling speed in the Risen Star S.-G2 at Fair Grounds and made the most of the opportunity in his gate-to-wire triumph that produced a career top 98 Beyer speed figure. He has never taken a backward move in four starts, but what happens when early pressure is applied, or when he is forced to take dirt? Maybe we’ll find out in the Louisiana Derby-G2 March 26.
8 – Newgrange (B. Baffert) – Violence colt is three-for-three over three different tracks and at three different distances. Numbers pale in comparison with stable mate Messier but they’re competitive with most of the others. He returns to Oaklawn Park for this Saturday’s Rebel S.-G2 and is certain to be favored again.
9 – Zozos (B. Cox) – Undefeated in two starts, a game maiden sprint win at Fair Grounds in January and then a middle distance allowance pace-stalking score by more than 10 lengths at Oaklawn Park that produced an 88 Beyer speed figure. The son of Munnings was visually very impressive.
10 – Charge It (T. Pletcher) – Gulfstream Park-based Tapit colt missed by a neck in his sprint debut in January over a one-turn mile and then annihilated maidens at that same trip by more than eight lengths while never taking a deep breath and earning a 93 Beyer speed figure.
11 – Early Voting (C. Brown) – Undefeated in two starts, a maiden win and a dominating score in the nine-furlong Withers over the deeper-than-quicksand main track at Aqueduct. We suspect he is much better than his modest figures indicate. He’d better be.
12 – Forbidden Kingdom (R. Mandella) – If there is a colt out West that is quicker and can get in front of Messier over a distance of ground, it’s him. Loved his San Vicente S.-G2 score over seven furlongs. The question is, how far can this son of American Pharoah run?
13 – Zandon (C. Brown) – Won his debut sprinting, was unlucky when nosed out in the 9F Remsen S.-G2, and then was victimized by a wide trip and a lack of pace when third in the Risen Star S.-G2 in his sophomore debut. He’s a grinder but will run all day and may eventually be best suited as a Belmont Stakes-type. The Blue Grass S.-G1 is next.
14 – Mo Donegal (T. Pletcher) – Didn’t get the best of runs when rallying too late to be third in the Holy Bull S.-G3. Lacks a great turn of foot but has no distance limitations.
15 – Major General (T. Pletcher) – Two-for-two as a juvenile, including the Iroquois S.-G3 at Churchill Downs. How much progress has he made over the winter? A solid, steady workout pattern at Palm Beach Downs should have him fit enough by now.
Knocking on the Door:
16 – Call Me Midnight (K. Desormeaux)
17 – Simplification (A. Sano)
18 – In Due Time (K. Breen)
19 – Chasing Time (S. Asmussen)
20 – Blackadder (B. Baffert)
“Five Takeaways” From the Week Concluding February 13, 2022
By Jeff Siegel, 1stbet.com Analyst and Handicapper
1 – The victory in the Sam F. Davis S. by Classic Causeway last Saturday was visually pleasing but not necessarily definitive when compared to the resumes of other legitimate candidates for the spring classics. Typically, we are inclined to downgrade any winning performance accomplished under the pristine conditions that generally accompany a front-running trip, though in the case last Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, we must concede that the son of Giant’s Causeway did establish strong early fractions while just breezing along and before kicking clear to win with something left.
His trainer, Brian Lynch, said after the race what we knew he would (and what 99 percent of all horsemen would say), that is, “I do think he will sit in behind (other horses).”
We’ll let’s hope so, but both of his wins in four career starts were accomplished gate-to-wire, so he still has to prove that he can.
Furthermore, given the trip, we would have expected his Sam. F. Davis Beyer speed figure to have cracked the 90 barrier, but the official number of 88 fell short and really was just okay under the circumstance.
If nothing else, the result franked the form of Smile Happy, who easily defeated Classic Causeway in the Kentucky Jockey Club S.-G2 at Churchill Downs in November in a race in which third place finisher White Abarrio exited to capture the Holy Bull S.-G3 at Gulfstream Park a couple of weekends ago. But at this stage – at least according to several respected published speed figures – they’re all looking up to the Bob Baffert-trained Messier.
2 – Speaking of Baffert, he won another Derby over the weekend, this one the non-graded El Camino Real at Golden Gate Fields at nine furlongs over an all-weather surface with Blackadder, a third stringer who had broken his maiden in an off-the-turf affair at Santa Anita in late December. Blackadder, to his credit, is a progressive son of Quality Road that brought $620,000 as a Keeneland weanling and has never taken a backward move in four career starts, his victory in the Bay Area producing an 82 Beyer speed figure that represents an 11 point improvement over his previous career top.
Blackadder, of course, received no points for his El Camino Real victory but he has the proper style for a Classic-type colt, so who knows where he’ll level off? One would think he’d be a candidate to hit the road again next month, with a start in something like the Tampa Bay Derby (March 12) falling nicely on the calendar, but Baffert usually nominates everything to everything, so he’ll have plenty of options.
3 – It was disappointing to learn that Flightline had to be stopped on after incurring what has been described as a strained hock that, while not certainly career threatening, will force him to miss his next intended start in the San Carlos S.-G2 March 5 at Santa Anita.
Flightline is undefeated in three starts by a combined 37 lengths, but so far has been unable to string together any kind of consistent race pattern. After winning his debut last year in April, the son of Tapit returned more than four months later to capture a first-level allowance sprint at Del Mar, then was away again for nearly four months before demolishing his rivals in the Malibu S.-G1 on opening day in late December at Santa Anita.
Where and when he’ll resurface again is anybody’s guess – John Sadler says there is no timetable for the colt’s return – but the trainer also was quoted in DRF as saying “we’re not talking about a big thing.”
Meanwhile, things are just fine with Life Is Good, North America’s “other” big horse in the older division. The dominant winner of the Pegasus World Cup-G1 is being pointed for the $12 million Dubai World Cup-G1 March 26 on a race that also is expected to attract the defending race champion Mishriff. Trainer Todd Pletcher has expressed concern about the deep, sandy, loose main track at Meydan, but we’re going to assume that between now and then the strip will be tightened up to the trainer’s satisfaction.
4 – The old saying, “the first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that you have one,” has been embraced by the Santa Anita racing office, which carded the upcoming Friday’s program with just seven races instead of the usual eight. According to an article by Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen, field sizes during the current meeting have been averaging 7.71 runners per turf race and only 6.71 starters on dirt, both categories down approximately one starter from last year despite having basically the same horse inventory of close to 2,000 in-training thoroughbreds at Santa Anita and local training centers such as San Luis Rey Downs and Los Alamitos.
A more creative condition book is being planned, including a shortened turnaround for claiming horses, a two week condition book cycle rather than three, and additional starter allowance races, which always has been popular with horsemen.
These are less drastic steps than the ones this space has advocated for years that include the transformation of the outer Santa Anita dirt track to grass (a la Woodbine) and the inner grass track to all-weather. Preservation of the turf course wouldn’t be an issue if only three days of racing per week are staged as is currently the case and on rainy days those races could easily be transferred to the synthetic.
Morning gallops and workouts would be restricted to the synthetic oval and dirt training track. Less breezing and lighter overall training is a significantly positive by-product of grass/all-weather racing, which is far less taxing than main track events, would allow quicker turnarounds in the entries, and almost certainly would cut down on minor ailments and more serious injuries that take horses out of training.
If the elimination of old school, conventional dirt racing were to be occur, you may wonder how this would impact West Coast-based Derby division runners. Our response would be to run those races on the all-weather. Have you seen the field sizes of the local Triple Crown prep events in recent years? Close to 50 percent of all 3-year-old colts nominated to local stakes races this winter have emanated from one barn.
Traditionalists shouldn’t worry that such ideas will be implemented any time soon at The Great Race Place. But, hey, we saw our first L.A. Rams game at the Coliseum in 1958 and they finally won their first Super Bowl on Sunday. Some things just take time.
5 – There are a few subtractions and additions to our weekly Triple Crown rankings that debuted in this column last week. Keep in mind that horses currently trained by Bob Baffert cannot earn qualifying points for the Run for the Roses, but the list assumes that if the situation remains the same, the connections of such runners will find a replacement trainer for the final significant points-generating events that take place four or five weeks prior to the first Saturday in May. Even with zero points prior to one of these final key prep races, a win or a second place finish will be sufficient to gain entrance to the Derby.
This list is based on potential, not resume. Included are the odds for Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which closed two days ago.
The Main Players:
1 – Messier (B. Baffert) – According to the speed figure earned in the Robert B. Lewis S.-G3, he is currently head-and-shoulders above the other main contenders on the Triple Crown trail. He has no Derby points, but he’ll get them when he needs them, with a temporary trainer change the obvious last-resort solution. Pool 3: 2-1 (field/all others option)
2 – Emmanuel (T. Pletcher) – A strong, powerful son of More Than Ready that has yet to be extended after two very impressive victories, he surely will get tested in his next start, expected to be the Fountain of Youth S.-G2 at Gulfstream Park March 5. Pool 3: 17-1
3 – Smile Happy (K. McPeek) – Despite being a son of sprinter Runhappy, he is perfect in two starts (both around two-turns) while acting like a colt who should handle a classic distance. His win in the highly-productive Kentucky Jockey Club S.-G2 looked good at the time and even better now. Makes his seasonal bow this Saturday in the loaded Risen Star S.-G2 at Fair Grounds. Pool 3: 8-1
4 – White Abarrio (S. Joseph, Jr.) – His only defeat came when third to Smile Happy in the KJC S.-G2 last fall. Remained unbeaten in three starts at Gulfstream Park with his perfect-trip victory in the Holy Bull S.-G3. Likely to be seen next in the Florida Derby-G1 April 2. Pool 3: 18-1
5 – Rattle N Roll (K. McPeek – Concluded his juvenile campaign with a smart maiden win followed by a dominating score in the Breeders’ Futurity, both from off the pace. However, he shows just four breezes so far this winter and none farther than a half mile. Pool 3: 19-1
6 – Classic Causeway (B. Lynch) – Verified the promise shown during his juvenile campaign when cutting out legit fractions and continuing with authority to win the Sam F. Davis S.-G3 in his sophomore debut last weekend. Likely to return in the Tampa Bay Derby-G2 March 12. Pool 3: 13-1
7 – Newgrange (B. Baffert) – Violence colt is three-for-three over three different tracks and at three different distances. Numbers pale in comparison with stable mate Messier but they’re competitive with most of the others. Pool 3: 2-1 (field/all-others option)
8 – Zozos (B. Cox) – Undefeated in two starts, a game maiden sprint win at Fair Grounds in January and then a middle distance allowance pace-stalking score by more than 10 lengths at Oaklawn Park last weekend that produced an 88 Beyer speed figure. The son of Munnings was visually very impressive. Pool 3: 2—1 (field/all others option)
9 – Charge It (T. Pletcher) – Gulfstream Park-based Tapit colt missed by a neck in his sprint debut in January over a one-turn mile and then annihilated maidens at that same trip last weekend by more than eight lengths while never taking a deep breath and earning a 93 Beyer speed figure. Pool 3: 2-1 (field/all others option).
10 – Early Voting (C. Brown) – Undefeated in two starts, a maiden win and a dominating score in the nine-furlong Withers over the deeper-than-quicksand main track at Aqueduct. We suspect he is much better than his modest figures indicate. He’d better be. Pool 3: 19-1
11 – Forbidden Kingdom (R. Mandella) – If there is a colt out West that is quicker and can get in front of Messier over a distance of ground, it’s him. Loved his San Vicente S.-G2 score over seven furlongs. The question is, how far can this son of American Pharoah run? Pool 3: 18-1
12 – Zandon (C. Brown) – Won his debut sprinting and then was unlucky when nosed out in the Remsen S.-G2 over nine furlongs. He’s a bit of a grinder but will run all day and shows a steady, healthy, recent work pattern leading into Saturday’s Risen Star S.-G2. Pool 3: 21-1
13 – Mo Donegal (T. Pletcher) – Didn’t get the best of runs when rallying too late to be third in the Holy Bull S.-G3. Lacks a great turn of foot but has no distance limitations. Pool 3: 23-1
14 – Major General (T. Pletcher) – Two-for-two as a juvenile, including the Iroquois S.-G3 at Churchill Downs. How much progress has he made over the winter? Recent Palm Beach Downs team workout scored low on the goose-bump scale. Pool 3: 32-1
Knocking on the Door:
15 – Call Me Midnight (Pool 3: 56-1)
16 – Slow Down Andy (Pool 3: 23-1)
17 – Simplification (Pool 3: 43-1)
18 – Pappacap (Pool 3: 31-1)
19 – Epicenter (Pool 3: 24-1)
20 – Blackadder Pool 3: (2-1, field/all others option)
“Five Takeaways” From the Week Concluding February 6, 2022
By Jeff Siegel, 1stbet.com Analyst and Handicapper
1 – Somehow, someway, Messier managed to get himself beat (twice!) at Los Alamitos, first in a maiden race last summer and then in the Los Alamitos Futurity-G2 in December.
In both races he left at 50 cents on the dollar and in neither race did he have any visible excuse.
But, elsewhere, he’s been pretty good.
The son of Empire Maker won a maiden at Santa Anita in October by an eased-up six and one-half lengths, the Bob Hope S.-G3 at Del Mar in November by more than three, and then last Saturday back at Santa Anita, where he embarrassed four rivals in the Robert B. Lewis S.-G3 by 15 lengths, shrugging off his outclassed competition like water off his back. And if he hadn’t been allowed to coast home, it could have been more.
Here’s another way to put it: since there are approximately 32 thoroughbred lengths contained in a sixteenth of a mile, it’s not hard to envision just how far back the others were when the Bob Baffert-trained colt crossed the wire in 1:42.88 for the mile and one-sixteenth trip. Over a typically deep Santa Anita main track, that clocking translates to a 103 Beyer speed figure, a 17-point improvement over his previous career top and a number that makes him North America’s fastest two-turn three-year-old, with the Kentucky Derby less than 12 weeks away.
The whole world knows that none of this trainer’s 3-year-old prospects at this time can receive qualifying points for Derby eligibility, so Messier will never get a chance at the Triple Crown’s first jewel, at least according to the conventional wisdom found on Twitter, a platform known and accepted universally for both truth and accuracy. Okay, well, not all of the time.
Whether or not Messier will have one or two more races prior to the Kentucky Derby, chances are that unless management at Churchill Downs has a change of heart, he’ll have to make at least one start under the auspices of a trainer other than Baffert. Only then could the colt receive the required qualifying points to be included in the field, which he would earn by finishing first or second in any of the six 100 points-to-the-winner designated stakes that include Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby, Jeff Ruby Steaks S. (scheduled April 2), or the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass S., and Santa Anita (scheduled April 9).
So, for those freaking out that Messier won’t be able to run in Kentucky due to lack of points, we suspect that if he’s heathy, his connections will be smart enough to figure out a way to get him there.
2 – While we’re on the subject of freaking out, you could just sense the panic set in among his connections and his backers when it was revealed that Early Voting, a dominating gate-to-wire winner of the Withers S-G3 at Aqueduct on Saturday, was assigned a Beyer speed figure of “only” 78, a number that might be good enough to win the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields this week but certainly not in any stakes races for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs.
Indeed, the Gun Runner colt’s final three-furlong split (:41 3/5) could just as easily been timed with a sun dial, but because the main track was so deep, so tiring, so sticky and so treacherously slow, it was a given that any front-runner that had cut out similar early fractions to what Early Voting did would feel the effects through the lane and stagger home. That he managed to hold sway by more than four lengths with a just a maiden one-turn miler as his only prior outing was, indeed, remarkable. There were some useful, decent colts behind him, too.
So, regardless of the speed figure, you’d better believe trainer Chad Brown has himself a very good colt, one that might not be seen again until the Wood Memorial in early April in order to ensure proper recovery from what had to be a physically taxing, gut-wrenching effort.
3 – What in the world went wrong with Tiz the Bomb in the Holy Bull S.-G3 at Gulfstream Park on Saturday?
Sure, you could debate how much of an underlay he was at 2-1 (from 6-1 on the morning line) but we certainly didn’t expect the Ken McPeek-trained colt to run this badly. The son of Hit It a Bomb had been training so well (outworking his hot-shot stablemate Smile Happy on at least one occasion) and had juvenile form that showed wins on both dirt and turf and the versatility to be successful on the lead and from off the pace. In fact, in a previous installment of “Five Takeaways,” we stated that this was the colt that all of the other Derby candidates might have to worry about the most.
Approaching the gate as if he had just exited a car wash, Tiz the Bomb broke well enough and was within range for the first half mile or so but then began laboring on a dirt track that we’ll assume he didn’t handle and gradually fell back, eventually winding up seventh of nine, more than 20 lengths behind impressive winner White Abarrio.
By performing so far below our expectations, this colt went from first to nowhere in the first installment of Triple Crown rankings (see below).
As for White Abarrio, this was his first start since finishing a respectable third (beaten six lengths) in the Kentucky Jockey Club S.-G2 at Churchill Downs in November, and it would appear he is better now than then, though it remains to be seen if he can be as effective anywhere other than Gulfstream Park, where he is now three-for-three, for trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. The son of Race Day will remain in South Florida, skip the Fountain of Youth S.-G2, and head directly to the Florida Derby-G1, where he will be a major player again, especially if he can secure the same kind of perfect, pace-stalking trip that fell into his lap in the Holy Bull.
For the record, White Abarrio earned a Beyer speed figure of 97, 19 points higher than the figure assigned to Early Voting’s performance in New York. We’re pretty confident that he’s not 19 Beyer points (approximately 12 lengths) better than Early Voting
4 – Earlier on the Sunday Santa Anita program, certainly one of the best 3-year-old fillies in North America, verified the impression she made when beating maidens by 12 lengths last month. Adare Manor stepped into graded stakes company and did the same thing, this time by 13 lengths in the Las Virgenes S.-G2 over a mile on dirt.
A $375,000 OBS June 2-year-old in training purchase, she is an Uncle Mo filly from the good Canadian stakes race mare Brooklynsway and is another product of the Bob Baffert/John Velasquez factory. As it stands now, there simply is no competition for her in California.
Of course, she is burdened by the same issue as stablemate Messier in that nothing trained by Baffert can participate in the Kentucky Oaks-G1 at Churchill Downs, so if her connections wish to point for that race, they’ll have to find a substitute trainer.
As for divisional leader Echo Zulu, she has not recorded an official workout since her Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies victory in early November. The other sophomore filly we’re closely tracking, unbeaten Kathleen O, winner of the listed Cash Run Stakes at Gulfstream Park on New Year’s day, shows a consistent work tab since raced for Shug and we assume will return in the $200,000 Davona Dale S-G2 March 5.
5 – We’re less than 12 weeks away from the Kentucky Derby-G1, so it’s time to reveal our first Triple Crown rankings that are based on projection, not on resume.
Keep in mind that as it stands now, horses currently trained by Bob Baffert cannot earn qualifying points for the Run for the Roses. The list assumes that the connections of such runners will find a replacement trainer for the final significant points-generating events that take place four or five weeks prior to the first Saturday in May. Even with zero points prior to one of these races, a win or a second place finish will be sufficient to gain entrance to the Derby.
Also listed is the “morning line” for this week’s Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
1 – Messier (B. Baffert) – Take away his two Los Alamitos flops and he looks like a legitimate candidate not only to win the Derby but maybe even the Triple Crown. He has no Derby points, but he’ll get them when he needs them, with a temporary trainer change the obvious solution. Pool 3: 5/2 (field/all others option)
2 – Emmanuel (T. Pletcher) – Love the way this strong, powerful More Than Ready colt moves, though he remains massively unproven after just two starts. He’ll get tested next time, with plenty of options available. Pool 3: 10-1
3 – Smile Happy (K. McPeek) – Undefeated juvenile won both of his starts last year in proper fashion by rallying from off the pace, and over a distance of ground. The screws are beginning to get tightened for his seasonal bow. Pool 3: 8-1
4 – White Abarrio (S. Joseph, Jr.) – His only defeat came when third to Smile Happy in the KJC S.-G2 last fall. Remained unbeaten in three starts at Gulfstream Park with his perfect-trip victory in the Holy Bull S.-G3. Pool 3: 8-1
5 – Rattle N Roll (K. McPeek – Deep closer concluded his juvenile campaign with a smart maiden win followed by a dominating score in the Breeders’ Futurity. Based on his work pattern, he’s still a ways away from his sophomore debut. (Pool 3: 30-1)
6 – Early Voting (C. Brown) – Undefeated in two starts, including a dominating score in the nine-furlong Withers over the deeper-than-quicksand main track at Aqueduct. We suspect he is much better than his modest figures indicate. Pool 3: 12-1
7 – Forbidden Kingdom (R. Mandella) – If there is a colt out West that can warm up Messier, it’s him. Loved his San Vicente S.-G2 score over seven furlongs. The question is, how far can this son of American Pharoah run? Pool 3: 10-1
8 – Major General (T. Pletcher) – Two-for-two as a juvenile, including the Iroquois S.-G3 at Churchill Downs. A recent bullet five furlong workout at Palm Beach Downs indicates he’s getting pretty close. Pool 3: 30-1
9 – Zandon (C. Brown) – Won his debut sprinting and then was unlucky when nosed out in the Remsen S.-G2 over nine furlongs. He’s a bit of a grinder but will run all day and shows a steady, healthy, recent work pattern. Pool 3: 30-1
10 – Mo Donegal (T. Pletcher) – Didn’t get the best of runs when rallying too late to be third in the Holy Bull. Lacks a great turn of foot but has no distance limitations. Pool 3: 30-1
Outside Looking In:
11 – Newgrange (Pool 3: 5/2, field/all others option)
12 – Call Me Midnight (Pool 3: 20-1)
13 – Slow Down Andy (Pool 3: 20-1)
14 – Simplification (Pool 3: 30-1)
15 – Pappacap (Pool 3: 15-1)
16 – Epicenter (Pool 3: 15-1)
“Five Takeaways” From the Week Concluding January 30, 2022
By Jeff Siegel, 1stbet.com Analyst and Handicapper
1 – A few minutes before the running of the Pegasus World Cup-G1 last Saturday at Gulfstream Park, a network covering the event showed an interview with WinStar President and CEO Elliott Walden, who was asked how he envisioned the race would shape up, and which horse (Life is Good or Knicks Go) would be in front.
Walden, previously a very successful trainer (and a former employee of ours when we co-owned Team Valor) clearly and accurately articulated the most likely scenario, one that we thought was fairly obvious, but apparently was not after listening to and reading some of the analysis from other expert horseplayers.
“I would think,” said Walden, a member of the colt’s ownership partnership, “that if Life Is Good was fast enough to open up on Jackie’s Warrior (in the H. Allen Jerkens S.-G1 at Saratoga), he should be able to get in front of Knicks Go.”
Yes, one would think so.
Knicks Go had won 10 career races prior to his final appearance on Saturday, and in each victory, he secured the early lead and dominated wire-to-wire. He had never won a race in which he had been forced to sit, stalk or press.
Furthermore, in those 10 front-running victories, Knicks Go was required to break :23 seconds for the opening quarter only on two occasions, and one of those races was the Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 at Keeneland in 2020 that provided a massive 190 foot run-up to the pole.
So, it wasn’t surprising that Life Is Good was able to clear the field before the clubhouse turn without really being asked, at which point the race was all but decided. What we didn’t expect, though, was the flood of late money that resulted in the late shift in favoritism to Life Is Good (who left at 80 cents on the dollar) from Knicks Go (90 cents on the dollar) in what was perhaps the work of whales and sharpies who could easily identify an obvious pace advantage that one horse had over the other.
It was simply old school, textbook handicapping. Sometimes, it works.
2 – Knicks Go, who should be unanimously named 2021 Horse of the Year when the Eclipse Awards are staged at Santa Anita Thursday, Feb. 10, will stand at stud at Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky for $30,000, a realistic fee for a two-time Breeders’ Cup Champion with a modestly-commercial sire line (Paynter).
In many ways, Knicks Go reminds us of Skip Away, also a multi-champion older horse in the mid-to-late 1990’s, who subsequently went to stud with lowered expectations due to his pedigree (his sire, Skip Trial, had some regional success but was never commercially popular). As terrific a racehorse that Skip Away was, he sired only 21 stakes winners during his 12 years at stud while producing nothing of note.
So, what kind of stallion career should be expected from Knicks Go? The truth is that most high class races horses – even those with proven sire lines that attract a book of multi-stakes winning or stakes-producing broodmares – fall short of initial hopes and/or expectations. That’s just the way it is.
3 – Racing fans should be quite pleased that the connections of Life Is Good have chosen to campaign the son of Into Mischief for another year. However, if you’d like to see him in person during the next few months, you’ll probably have to book a flight to the Middle East, because there is every expectation that the Todd Pletcher-trained colt will target the $12 million Dubai World Cup March 26 for his next start.
I mean, If you’re not going to participate in race like that as an odds-on favorite, what’s the point of even staying in training?
Assuming Life Is Good is physically fit and sound enough to make the journey to Meydan, you probably can forget about any spring or summer confrontation with the West Coast-based Flightline, the undefeated colt who is expected to invade New York for the Met Mile after first prepping in the San Carlos S.-G2 over seven furlongs at Santa Anita in early March. The plan surely will be for the John Sadler-trained colt to return to California after his hit-and-run appearance at Belmont Park in June and then remain in the West (Pacific Classic at Del Mar?) until heading back East for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, where Life Is Good, hopefully, will be waiting for him.
Given the implications of the result, their along-awaited showdown on the first weekend in November might wind up being horse racing’s most anticipated head-to-head clash since Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer in 1989.
4 – Pletcher has been given much credit, as he should, for having Life Is Good ready for the race of his career last Saturday, one that was worth $1.7 million in purse money and potentially millions more in impending stud fees, but his work with Colonial Liam shouldn’t go unappreciated, either. The defending Pegasus World Cup Turf Champion-H1 returned better that he left for his first start since June following a string of highly-impressive workouts at Palm Beach Downs that had made him a logical top pick to those who had taken the time to view the videos at xbtv.com.
Colonial Liam may never be a truly great grass horse because he lacks the exceptional, electric turn of foot that the Best of the Europeans always seen to possess, but that deficiency notwithstanding, he should be the dominant grass performer in North American until the heavy artillery from overseas shows up in the fall. Interestingly, he’s actually bred much more for dirt than turf (Liam’s May from a mare by Bernardini) and in fact finished second before being moved up to first via disqualification in his only career main track outing (his debut) at Gulfstream Park in April of 2020. He sure trains great on dirt at Palm Beach Downs. Wonder if Pletcher will give it some thought?
5 – A couple of weeks ago we suggested a 2022 Kentucky Derby Future Book play on Emmanuel, who, when wagering opened, was listed at 30-1 on the morning line. He closed at 17-1, not completely unplayable at that number but not a price that offered any real value considering the myriad of obstacles that lie ahead for all Derby prospects at this early stage.
The son of More Than Ready, a member of the “all other 3-year-olds” when the first pool was offered in November, had won his debut at Gulfstream Park in mid-December over a one-turn mile by almost seven lengths, and, with Pletcher taking a page out of the Always Dreaming playbook, was sent to Tampa Bay Downs last Saturday for a confidence-building first-level allowance win. A $350,000 yearling purchase, Emmanuel never took a deep breath in strolling to a four and one-half length win that could have been twice that margin had the colt been asked for even a minimal amount of effort.
By way of comparison, his assigned Beyer speed figure of 89 was identical to number earned by Newgrange in that colt’s victory in the Southwest S.-G3 at Oaklawn Park the same day.
At this time, with many of the highly-rated colts in this year’s Derby division yet to make their first start of the year, Emmanuel at least has jumped-started his 2022 campaign in a proper manner. It’ll be interesting to see how high he rates in our Triple Crown rankings, which we’ll begin publishing in this space next week.
“Five Takeaways” for the Week Concluding January 23, 2022
By Jeff Siegel, 1stbet.com Analyst and Handicapper
1 – Even after Corniche completed a perfect freshman campaign (three-for-three including two Grade-1’s) with a dominating gate-to-wire victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-G1, we were prepared to accept the initial impression that the 2-year-old class of 2021 wasn’t much better than ordinary. So when Pappacap made his seasonable bow in the Lecomte Stakes-G3 at Fair Grounds last weekend, we eagerly anticipated the opportunity for further reflection and analysis on the overall crop and specifically the merits of Corniche, to whom the Mark Casse-trained colt had finished second to in both the BC Juvenile and the American Pharoah S.-G1 last fall.
Pappacap, himself a Grade-3 winner in California last summer at Del Mar but something of a trial horse since, struck us as being genuine and consistent but perhaps a bit of an overachiever, and thus was an absolute “play against” in the Lecomte, especially with the presence of the Steve Asmussen-trained Epicenter, a recent runaway winner of the listed Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds last month. Epicenter would leave at 8/5 as the second choice behind Pappacap (3/2) and looked all over the winner every step of the way while enjoying a cozy and uncontested trip on the front end.
But if Epicenter was truly all that, he would have never been tagged on the wire by the late charging (and obviously improved) Call Me Midnight, who required five races to break his maiden and was last seen finishing a non-threatening seventh (beaten 10 lengths) in the Kentucky Jockey Club S.-G2 at Churchill Downs in November behind Smile Happy, who many sharpies believe is the best Derby prospect currently in training.
The victory by Call Me Midnight certainly adds fuel to Smile Happy’s reputation, while Pappacap’s third place finish, despite a perfect, ground-saving trip, does little to refute the belief that Corniche, his Eclipse Award credentials notwithstanding, may be little more than a JAG (just a guy).
For the record, Call Me Midnight’s Beyer speed figure of 88 represented a career top and a 13 point jump from the string of 74’s he had earned in his previous three starts. The number is okay but there has to be quite a few better 3-yearolds out there somewhere.
2 – In handicapping last Saturday’s Louisiana Stakes at Fair Grounds, we sided with Midnight Bourbon in what looked to be a virtual match race with Mandaloun. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt was clearly the quicker of the two and projected to inherit the role as the controlling speed, and his two 107 Beyer speed figures that appeared in his Daily Racing Form past performance chart were five points better than anything Mandaloun had ever achieved. Both colts were coming off layoffs, but each had apparently trained extremely well while providing strong evidence of being fit and ready. Additionally, both displayed prior success over the sometimes quirky Fair Grounds main track, with Midnight Bourbon having defeated his rival in last year’s Lecomte Stakes before Mandaloun turned the tables on him in the Risen Star.
Both were adding Lasix last Saturday, with Midnight Bourbon also being equipped with blinkers for the first time, an equipment change that guaranteed he would be allowed to show his natural early speed.
Two things about the race ending up surprising us.
First, Mandaloun, trained by the typically red-hot Brad Cox (28% at the meeting) left as a solid favorite at 4/5 over Midnight Bourbon with serious punters clearly seeing something in this head-to-head matchup that we missed. Second, despite enjoying the lovely, uncontested front-running trip that we believed was the key to the race, Midnight Bourbon simply was unable to rise to the occasion when challenged by Mandaloun from the quarter pole to the wire, eventually going down by a decisive three-quarters of a length that left no doubt which was the better colt.
The key factor that we failed to give sufficient emphasis to in the handicapping process was that Midnight Bourbon now has won just two races from 14 career starts and has failed to finish first in each of his last eight outings. Conversely, Mandaloun’s lifetime mark now reads a much more impressive six wins from nine career races, though to be accurate one of those victories came via disqualification in the Haskell Stakes.
Bottom line is one horse wants to beat you and the other doesn’t quite have the same killer instinct. We’ll try to remember that the next time they meet in the $20 million Saudi Cup-G1 February 26.
3 – First Constitution was a hot-shot 3-year-old in Brazil in 2020, winning his first three races by a combined 38 lengths before finishing third as the 6/5 favorite in his final South American start in that country’s St. Leger-G1 over an 11 furlongs. It was expected that he would pick up where he left off when he made his North American debut at Saratoga in September of 2021, but things didn’t go as planned, as the Northern Hemisphere-foaled son of Constitution finished last of nine while being eased in the stretch to win up 44 lengths behind Thomas Shelby.
Three additional starts during the fall produced much better, in-the-money performances, and although he was still seeking his first U.S. victory in last Saturday’s listed nine-furlong Jazil Stakes on dirt at the Big A, there was hope that the horse would continue to improve with additional acclimation and produce a career top effort.
And that’s exactly what he did.
Taking control in the opening quarter mile from the projected pacesetter (and even money favorite) Core Conviction, the Todd-Pletcher-trained colt simply ran his foes into the ground en route to a nearly seven length victory that produced a career top 100 Beyer speed figure, one that surely will entice his connections to try graded stakes company next time out. There are plenty of options available, perhaps even including a turf race or two, because First Constitution was produced by a Kitten’s Joy mare and has yet to be given a run on grass.
4 – A single speed figure quantifies how fast a horse ran. It doesn’t tell you what he could have run, or what he’s capable of running, which is why you might be advised to ignore the modest 59 Beyer number that was assigned to the first-time starting Vinco in the fifth race at Fair Grounds January 22.
A colt by Quality Road whose third dam produced A. P. Indy, Vinco brought $1.5 million at the 2021 Timonium 2-year-old in training sale, where he knocked a few socks off after breezing 10 seconds flat around the bullring. Though he would not make it to the post until eight months later, the strong, powerful colt had done everything right for trainer Dallas Stewart, and though it might have been disappointing to his connections when he had to settle for second money behind another promising first-timer, Ferociously, he’ll have the opportunity to hone his craft against maidens next time and be much better for the opportunity rather than be subjected to more seasoned and experienced colts that already have advanced to the allowance and stakes ranks.
In the race and after breaking from the disadvantages rail, Vinco encountered severe traffic trouble in the opening stages and was shuffled back to last, a dozen lengths behind the leader after the opening quarter mile. Jockey B. J. Hernandez, Jr., sensing the cause was lost, pivoted to Plan B, which called for an easy run designed for educational purposes. Yet, despite never being knocked about any stage and weaving his way through traffic on his own courage, he miraculously rallied to be second (beaten less than three lengths), before galloping out wanting to do more.
Yep, he’ll do.
It’s important to remember it’s still early. It’s January.
5 – Not surprisingly, “All Other 3-year-olds” closed as the favorite (9/5) in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager which included any and all runners currently stabled in Bob Baffert’s barn and the Lecomte S. winner Call Me Midnight. The strongest-backed individual colt again was Smile Happy (8-1), who also was the second choice behind the mutuel field in Pool 1, which was offered in late November.
Based on no small part to social media videos that has shown him outworking Smile Happy in a recent drill, Tiz the Bomb, who like Smile Happy is trained by Kenny McPeek, was also heavily supported at 10-1, and while he has done nothing but perform on grass so far in his career, he sure moves like a colt that will get over the dirt just fine.
And, if you take the time to go back and view his last race, when he finished fastest of all to be second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf-G1 despite taking the worst of the race flow, you just might conclude that Tiz the Bomb really is the one that all of the others have to be most concerned about.
“Five Takeaways” From the Week Concluding January 17, 2022
By Jeff Siegel, 1stbet.com Analyst and Handicapper
1 – The three finalists for each of the 2021 Eclipse Award categories have been announced. We were happy to see Flightline included in the Sprint division because, after all, he WAS the fastest sprinter in North America last year. But he wasn’t the most accomplished.
We no longer participate as a voter in the Eclipse Award proceedings, but when we did, we always tended to choose the horse that we simply thought was the best. In retrospect, that might not have been a proper course of action. The entire body of work, which includes the ability to participate year round, must be factored in. So, in 2021, Jackie’s Warrior should, and almost certainly will, get the trophy.
While his disappointing performance in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint-G1 was a stain on an otherwise spectacular sprint campaign, one poor race should not cost a horse a title if the resume is strong enough, and in the case of Jackie’s Warrior, it was. In his 2022 racing season, which was launched in February in hopes that he might develop into a legitimate candidate for the Spring Classics (he didn’t), the Maclean’s Music colt won four graded stakes races and placed in two others. And while just one of those victories was earned in a Grade-1, that win, in the seven furlong H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at Saratoga, came at the expense of Life Is Good, a better, faster thoroughbred than any horse Flightline has ever faced. Life Is Good was undefeated at the time, and subsequently won the Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1. He’s a legitimate finalist for champion 3-year-old honors.
The Jerkens was the best, most defining sprint race of the year. It was won by Jackie’s Warrior. He deserves the championship.
Okay, now having said that, if Jackie’s Warrior ever sees Flightline, he should run for the hills.
2 – Hall of Famer John Velasquez was handed a three-day suspension by the Santa Anita stewards for causing interference that resulted in the disqualification of Con on the Run in the first race on Friday, January 14.
We didn’t even think the winner should have come down. Yes, there was a minimal brush between the first two finishers, and while the disqualified winner did drift a couple of lanes and float out the runner-up Tizlightning in the final sixteenth, it certainly looked to us like the order of finish was not affected, and that the neck margin of victory was definitive.
But, on the egregious scale of 1-10, it was about a six, so we’ll just shrug it off and be happy we weren’t involved. The decision certainly was nothing like the completely absurd disqualification of My Boy Tate in the Say Florida Sandy Stakes at Aqueduct January 9, which was (channeling our inner Bill Walton here) one of the three worst stewards’ decisions in the history of thoroughbred racing.
As for Johnny V., the way he’s been riding, he’ll survive. Now, maybe some of the “have nots” in the jockey’s room will get some breadcrumbs tossed their way. We hit upon this last week, but through Sunday, some of the very capable guys that have been spinning their wheels at the current meeting include Tyler Baze (1-for-47); Joe Bravo (1-for-27) and Drayden Van Dyke (1-for-26).
3 – Rated R Superstar may not, in fact, be a superstar, but he’s a really neat older gelding, and it was great to see him secure career victory number 10 (from 57 starts) in the $150,000 Four Season Stakes at Oaklawn Park last Saturday. This was his second added money score in his last three starts and boosted his earning past the $1.2 million mark. The son of Kodiak Kowboy made his first start way back in the summer of 2015 when conditioned by Kenny McPeek and actually was Grade-1 placed as a 2-year-old when finishing third behind Brody’s Cause and Exaggerator in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
That Rated R Superstar, at age nine, is still competing (and winning) at a high level is simply remarkable. He’s consistent, too, having finished in the money in seven of his last eight starts, five of which were in stakes races. This was his first outing since September and the punters probably thought he would need the race, which in part explains his 25-1 closing odds. Now, his connections have to consider the $600,000 Razorback H.-G3 at Oaklawn Park February 12. The old guy has tried that race four times in the past without success. Maybe the fifth time will be the charm.
4 – We’ve always maintained that if a sprinter is ever going to stay two-turns, his best chance will be in his first try. The first-time sprint-to-route angle is a powerful handicapping tool, especially when the horse in question projects to be on the lead or at least gain a favorable stalking position. An inside post makes the play even stronger. The angle certainly applied to Olympiad, who, in a 1 1/16 mile second-level allowance affair at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, was trying two-turns for the first time after finishing a respectable fourth in the one-turn Cigar Mile-G1 at the Big A last time out. The Bill Mott-trained colt was knocked down to 3/5 – on paper he looked it – and delivered as expected but did so in such a manner that suggests his sprint days should be behind him.
The four-year-old colt relaxed off the pacesetter in hand, kicked clear when ready, and drew off to register a more than seven length score while earning a 101 Beyer speed figure. Now, Olympiad looks very much like a major player in middle distance events for older horses and it will be interesting just how aggressive his connections get with him during the winter and spring season. We’ll be surprised if he’s not a graded stakes winner very soon.
5– Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby future wager will be offered this upcoming weekend beginning on Friday at Noon ET and closing on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET, with the mutuel pool – which includes Corniche and any other horse trained by Bob Baffert – listed at 7/5 on the “morning line.”
There is one Derby prep scheduled this weekend – the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Saturday – so if you are planning on diving in you should certainly wait until after the results of that race are known and can be evaluated.
Is there anything on the board worth playing? Well, as long as we’re just taking shots, there are three at least three that seem a bit intriguing:
The Todd Pletcher-trained Emmanuel (30-1), a colt by More Than Ready who was a debut winner by almost seven lengths on the lead over a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park in mid-December and has been training steadily since.
The Ken McPeek-trained Dash Attack (20-1), a son of Munnings who is unbeaten in two starts, including the Smarty Jones S., with both victories over wet tracks and around two turns from the off-the-pace
Another Pletcher-trained colt, Major General, (50-1), by Constitution and a winner of his last two starts including the Iroquois S.-G3 at Churchill Downs in September. He’s back in training with a couple of easy recent breezes at Palm Beach Downs.
“Five Takeaways” From the Week Concluding January 9, 2022
By Jeff Siegel, 1stbet.com Analyst and Handicapper
1 – Given the commitment by Fox Sports to produce daily thoroughbred horse racing on its two sports networks (FSN1 and FS2) and its developing partnership with the New York Racing Association, last week’s announcement that the company had outbid NBC for the acquisition of the television rights for the Belmont Stakes came as no surprise. The eight year contract takes effect in 2023 and runs through 2030.
The Kentucky Derby, of course, is by far the most valuable media asset among the Triple Crown races and we suspect NBC will be decidedly more engaged in its efforts to maintain those media exclusivity when the bidding opens up in a couple of years. That said, the company permitted the National Hockey League to walk last year, and its primary sports investment is and will always be Sunday Night Football, so it remains to be seen how aggressive NBC will be.
Meanwhile, Fox, which owns 25% of the advance deposit wagering company NYRA Bets, can be expected to provide less airtime to Ladies Hats and more to handicapping and gambling on its Belmont Stakes telecasts. Fox Sports Executive Michael Mulvihill told the Thoroughbred Daily News that “we are going to be a little more willing to acknowledge that wagering is the lifeblood of the sport. We want to put a product on the air that appeals to the people who are playing the races regularly.”
While there’s always room for a few good human interest pieces during a multi-hour broadcast, we’re happy to learn that Networks – at least Fox – anyway, will concentrate on the actual product and the gambling that goes with it. We might actually tune in to see it.
2 – There were 76 races carded through the first eight days of racing at Santa Anita. Thirty eight were won by the combination of Flavien Prat and Johnny Velasquez. The other 38 were won by the rest of the room.
Prat has been a mainstay on the local circuit for several years and won’t be replaced as the top dog any time soon, but Johnny V. has been a revelation. Certainly, it’s not difficult to pile up the wins when riding first call for trainer Bob Baffert, but Hall of Famer Velasquez, at least in his current form, looks very much like the rider he was 10 years ago. With agent Ron Anderson calling the shots, Velasquez seems certain to remain in hot demand, though it’s not realistic to expect he can maintain his blistering 37 % win rate throughout the long season.
Highly capable jockeys such as Umberto Rispoli (3-for-26); Kent Desormeaux (2-for-28); Kyle Frey (2-for-36); Tyler Baze (1-for-34);Ricky Gonzales (1-for-25), Joe Bravo (1-for-20); Mario Gutierrez (1-for-19) and Drayden Van Dyke (0-for-22) are among those who have been hard pressed to locate live mounts. The meeting is young, but to avoid becoming yesterday’s news these guys need to generate some serious momentum pretty soon.
3 – Other than soon-to-be-named champion 2-year-old Corniche (currently wintering Kentucky), trainer Bob Baffert seems a little light (by his standards) in the Derby-aged division, not that it matters as long as his legal troubles with Churchill Downs remain unresolved, but his 3-year-old fillies appear to be doing just fine. They aren’t up to Echo Zulu’s level quite yet, but both Under the Stars and Adare Manor have star potential – ironically both earned identical 92 Beyer speed figures in their respective races over the weekend – and both appear headed into Grade-1 competition.
Under the Stars, a half-sister to Bodemeister, continued her ascent when winning the seven furlong Santa Ynez Stakes-G2 despite being under pressure from her rail draw every step of the way. A a daughter of Pioneerof the Nile, she appears ready to stretch out for the first time, and down the road we’d really believe she would be very competitive in a race like the classic Kentucky Oaks-G1. Of course, due to the Baffert ban, she’s no sure thing to be allowed to run.
As promising as Under the Stars is, Andre Manor may eventually develop into the better of the two, though at this stage all she has on her resume in a runaway 12-length maiden victory in her first try over a distance of ground. The daughter of Uncle Mo is as strong, powerful, athletic specimen and is the first foal from the multi-Canadian stakes-winner Brooklynsway that brought $375,000 at the OBS June sale. It’ll be interesting to see how long Baffert will be able to keep them apart.
4 – We’re always on the lookout for future stars, and any time trainer Todd Pletcher wins with a three-year-old at Gulfstream Park this time of the year we have to a take a closer look. What we saw on Saturday were a pair of sophomore colts that are definitely keeping close tabs on.
The first-time starter Iron Works, a Distorted Humor colt from Silverpocketsfull, a young stakes-placed Indian Charlie, mare was knocked down to 6/5 in a six furlong sprint and disposed of his foes from a cozy outside draw while being ridden out to the wire. The Beyer speed figure of 79 was solid if not spectacular, but the manner in which the win was accomplished – a stalking trip followed by a good late kick – suggests this colt will be perfectly suited by an extended sprint or a one-turn miler.
Thirty minutes later, the Pletcher-trained Dean’s List, himself a sharp debut maiden winner last month, verified that favorable early impression by coming back to score extra gamely at 1/5 by a nose over in a strong first-level allowance that produced a promising 86 Beyer speed figure. He’ll be seen in a sprint stakes next time out, either at Gulfstream Park or at Tampa Bay Downs. The runner-up, Dean Delivers will be odds-on next time. He’s a Florida-bred Cajun Breeze gelding who was making his first start since being nosed out in the Florida Sires Dr. Fager Stakes as a 2-year-old last July. There will be plenty of state-bred sprint stakes available for him this winter and spring.
5 – Earlier on the Saturday program yet another newcomer caught the eye, this one in a five furlong maiden all-weather affair event for sophomore fillies. Mouffy is an Uncle Mo filly and the first foal from Truly Together, a stakes-placed winner of three of six career starts whose dam was the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf champion, Forever Together. In addition to winning the five furlong event going away by almost two lengths, the Jonathan Thomas-trained Augustin Stable homebred set a new track record in :56.63 while easily dispatching the quick California shipper Comedic in the final sixteenth. Can’t wait to see this filly tried on grass and, in due time, over a distance of ground. Her winning Beyer speed figure of 81 makes her highly likely to become a stakes winner this spring, if not sooner.
“Five Takeaways” From the Week Concluding January 4, 2022
By Jeff Siegel, 1stbet.com Analyst and Handicapper
1 – As we all knew it would, the 2022 Sham Stakes for newly-turned Derby-aged colts at Santa Anita last Saturday featured a couple of highly-regarded runners trained by Bob Baffert (we’ll get to them in a bit). Adding in this years’ result, Baffert now has saddled the winner of this race six times since 2014, among them Collected, McKinzie, Authentic, and last year with Life Is Good (who held off Baffert’s “other” entrant, Medina Spirit), each having used the one mile main track affair as a steppingstone to bigger and better things. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty salty list, making one wonder how the Sham Stakes remains stuck at the Grade-3 level. At any rate, as long as Baffert has a dozen or so of the best young prospects in the land in his shed row at this time of the year – whether or not these runners can earn Derby points or not – he’ll always make sure that if you’re planning on beating him in the Sham, you’d better have a legitimate top class, Grade-1 type of prospect. And whenever you think you might have one, rest assured, he’ll have five.
The two colts that Baffert saddled in this year’s renewal finished one-two as expected, with Newgrange remaining undefeated in two starts after strolling on the lead and then holding sway over stable mate Rockefeller in a virtual parade that produced crawling splits of :24 2/5 and :48 4/5 (what, you thought they’d duel each into defeat with a sub :46 flat opening half?). Newgrange (5/2) had won his debut sprinting at Del Mar in late November in such a manner that we strongly suspected he’d come back to win this race over his more fancied barn mate (who left at 3/2) and that’s what happened, but our takeaway is that at this stage neither is even remotely close in terms of talent and potential as the pair that finished first and second last year. The numbers bear this out, as Life Is Good earned a 101 Beyer number when winning the Sham, a figure that is 13 points better than what was assigned Newgrange.
2 – It’s usually difficult to trust form that has been established over an off track, so we’re not quite sure what to make of the visually impressive Dash Attack, perfect in two starts, a maiden win despite a less-than-ideal trip over a wetter-than-good main strip at Oaklawn Park in early December and then, after missing the break, a convincing two length triumph in the listed Smarty Jones Stakes over a track labeled “sloppy” on Saturday. His numbers have been nothing special so far (74 Beyer followed by an 82) and as a son of Munnings he’s no sure thing to get a classic distance, but the Kenny McPeek-trained colt has the look of a quality sort who should develop properly and handle more ground.
McPeek has three other higher-rated Spring Classic candidates, Smile Happy, Tiz the Bomb, and Rattle N Roll – all graded stakes winners at two – but Dash Attack may eventually prove to be their equal. We just have to wait to see him do it on a sunny day.
3 – Getting back to Baffert, his record during the first five days of the Santa Anita winter/spring season has been better than normal for him, which is another way of saying he’s not just winning almost everything, he IS winning everything. So far, during the first five days of the season, Baffert’s record of 21-9-3-4 is even more dominant than it looks when you consider that six of the “losses” came in races in which the stable won with another starter, meaning he’s won nine times (six with maidens) from the 15 races he’s entered.
The most impressive performance of the lot was the 13-length romp by As Times Goes By on Saturday in the La Canada Stakes-G3 for older fillies and mares. The veteran daughter of American Pharoah had never looked sharper in recent workouts, so her demolition of four outclassed rivals wasn’t entirely unexpected. Geared down in the final sixteenth of a mile, the now five-year-old mare earned a Beyer speed figure of 95, four points lower than her career top but a number that leads one to believe she could be among the best in her division in 2022, certainly in the West and perhaps even in all of North America. The Beholder Mile-G1 on March 5 will be next.
4 – We were somewhat surprised to see that the Beyer speed figure assigned to Cash Run Stakes winner Kathleen O. at Gulfstream Park on Saturday was “only” 78. From a visual standpoint, the performance sure looked a whole lot better than that (and that’s without factoring her atrocious start), and the one-turn mile clocking of 1:35 4/5 following quick early fractions of :22 3/5 and :44 4/5 indicated it was a legit fast-early, fast-late type of contest.
Kathleen O. brought $275,00 as the OBS April Sale, a rather substantial sum for a daughter of the young Flatter stallion Upstart (stands for $10,000), so she’s always been highly thought of. After breaking her maiden over seven furlongs at first asking by a head in a race that was race-shape aided and produced a modest 66 Beyer figure, the Shug McGaughey-trained filly was expected to step forward with that bit of experience behind her and an extra furlong to work with. The gamblers knocked her down to 2-1 and this time, instead of getting up close home, she took command with ease at the head of the lane before lengthening out at will for the eight and-half length margin of victory.
Still, we wouldn’t say that Echo Zulu has anything to worry about in the 2022 sophomore filly division. Well, at least not yet.
5 – Later on that same Gulfstream Park Saturday program in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes (the Cash Run’s equivalent for colts), Simplification got away with much softer early splits (:23.3, :45.4) on an easy lead and then proved uncatchable, drawing away through the lane to win by four lengths in 1:35 flat (four ticks faster than Kathleen O’s victory). By way of comparison, the son of Not This Time earned a Beyer speed figure of 90, 12 points better than the filly’s 78.
But which of the two ran the better winning race? Certainly the difference between a 90 Beyer and a 78 Beyer over the same track at the same distance on the same day is substantial. So, why do we believe three months down the road we’d rather be owning Kathleen O.?
Here’s the thing about speed figures. No matter which ones (if any) you use, they must be viewed in the context of how they were accomplished. Simplification’s victory was a product of a pristine trip. Kathleen O’s win was earned despite some serious adversity. It’s all part of the puzzle.
“Five Takeaways” From the Week Concluding December 26, 2021
By Jeff Siegel, 1stbet.com Analyst and Handicapper
1 – Flightline may have earned an historic 118 Beyer speed figure in his Malibu S.-G1 demolition but what isn’t part of the equation is that he was taken in hand outside the furlong pole and allowed to coast home, meaning the fig tells us only what he did, not what he could have done. Often times you’ll see a jockey take hold of his mount that is far in front approaching the wire and give the impression that the horse could have won by a few extra lengths if ridden out, but that’s not usually the case, as most of the time the horse is pretty much doing his best, anyway. But not Flightline, not in any of his three races to date. There is really no telling how much more he really had in reserve last Sunday but take a look at the tape of the Malibu and watch him gallop out. Despite being geared down pretty much the length of the lane, he continued to lengthen on his rivals and must have been 20 lengths ahead before reaching the clubhouse turn.
In just three career starts, Flightline has established himself as a world class sprinter, so next he’ll be given the opportunity to show his strength over a distance of ground. In fact, it would not be surprising if Flightline never sprints again. According to Steve Andersen’s Daily Racing Form story, Flightline will be pointed for Met Mile in June, though there’s certainly a possibility he’ll have a race or two – perhaps one that doesn’t even appear on any track’s stakes schedule yet – earlier in the spring.
Flightline is naturally fast, but he’s such an exceptional athlete with a fluid, easy, effortless stride that he is certain to be able to carry his speed farther, and in fact may be even more devastating as the distances increase. Chew on that for a minute.
2 – Thoroughbred racing fans hoping to see an aggressive 2022 campaign from Flightline are going to be disappointed, but at least he’ll be racing, even if his number of starts might not exceed four or five. Purse money is of small consideration; the true goal during the upcoming year will be to mold a campaign that maximizes his reputation and desirability a stallion prospect for the 2023 breeding season. That’s where the real money is.
Flightline’s sire, Tapit, has been exemplary for two decades but never established himself as a sire of sires until Constitution came along. Thanks very much to that young stallion’s early success, breeders now will have no concern about Flightline’s sire line, which means a beginning stud fee of $150,000 or more can be anticipated if the colt builds upon or at least maintains his superiority over whatever competition is brave enough to line up against him.
3 – While Flightline was extraordinary in victory, earlier on the opening day program fan favorite Hot Rod Charlie disappointed at 20 cents on the dollar when failing to take advantage of a pristine journey to miss by a nose to Express Train in the San Antonio S.-G2. Admittedly, we’ve been a Hot Rod Charlie apologist for most of the year. We even gave him an excuse when he flattened out to be a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 after he was forced to race on what we believed was the deeper part of the track (the rail) in what otherwise could have been viewed as a perfect trip.
He and his people are good for the game but looking at his Beyer speed figures the son of Oxbow is slowing up. His most recent 97 speed figure was his lowest since the 94 he was assigned when third in the Lewis S.-G3 last January seven races back and his recent chart shows a drop from 111 (Pennsylvania Derby) to 107 (BC Classic) to 97 last Sunday.
Hot Rod Charlie now is bound for Dubai, where he’ll race at least once (Dubai World Cup) and perhaps twice against competition that he really should be able to beat. Let’s hope he can regain his mojo.
4 – A good colt can come from anywhere and Epicenter is the best we’ve seen so far in New Orleans. A developing son of Not This Time, the Steve Asmussen-trained colt verified a promising recent maiden win by pulverizing his rivals by more than six lengths in the 8.5 furlong listed Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds on Sunday, coming away with authority after pressing the issue throughout. His 87 Beyer speed figure, a career top mark and quite legitimate for this time of the year, puts him squarely in the picture for the spring classics and the important races for 3-year-olds on that circuit after the first of the year.
5 – Saw a couple of nice maiden winners Sunday at Gulfstream Park, colts have the potential to be spring classic candidates after the first of the year. In the third race, Songbird’s full brother Galt broke no stopwatches on his way to an authoritative three length maiden score over a distance on ground but at least his Beyer speed figures of 67-59-49 are moving in the proper direction. As a son of Medgalia d’Oro, the Bill Mott-trained colt should get nothing but better with distance and maturity; we’ll find out much more about him when he tackles winners next month.
More impressive an hour later was the debuting Gun Runner colt American Icon from the Todd Pletcher barn. Breaking from a cozy outside draw in a seven furlong sprint, the Todd Pletcher-trained sophomore quickly established the pace in hand and then found plenty extra when asked for a second move entering the lane, eventually posting and eight-and-one-half length tally. The assigned Beyer figure of 74 won’t wow anybody but it’s a good starting point for another colt that projects to step forward considerably around two turns.