It’s Post Time by Jon White: Venetian Harbor Dazzles in Las Virgenes

“It reminded me of a lot of Winning Colors, to be honest with you.”

Gary Stevens said that about Venetian Harbor during the America’s Day at the Races telecast on Fox Sports 2 last Saturday after the filly’s brilliant performance in Santa Anita’s Grade II Las Virgenes Stakes.

Host Greg Wolf had a look of shock on his face.

“That kind of ability?” Wolf asked the Hall of Fame former jockey.

“Yep,” Stevens said.

Drawing off in the stretch, Venetian Harbor was all alone at end of the Las Virgenes Stakes in which she shellacked four other 3-year-old fillies.

Winning Colors ran in, but did not win, the one-mile Las Virgenes in 1988. Sent away as the 7-10 favorite, Winning Colors lost that race by a neck. The burly gray filly, with Stevens in the saddle, had to settle for second. Goodbye Halo, off at 7-5 and ridden Jorge Velasquez, edged Winning Colors that day.

But even though Winning Colors did not get the job done in the 1988 Las Virgenes, it’s perfectly understandable why Venetian Harbor’s 2020 Las Virgenes performance as a 3-10 favorite reminded Stevens of Winning Colors. For many of us, Venetian Harbor’s Las Virgenes was indeed quite similar to Winning Colors’ sensational 1988 victories with Stevens aboard in the Santa Anita Oaks and Santa Anita Derby.

In the 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita Oaks, Winning Colors set the pace and drew away in the stretch to win by eight lengths at 2-1. Jeanne Jones finished second at 3-1. Goodbye Halo, the 7-10 favorite, finished third.

In the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby, Winning Colors again won in front-running fashion, this time by 7 1/2 lengths as the 5-2 favorite.

I called the official Daily Racing Form charts of those two lopsided victories by Winning Colors.

For the Santa Anita Oaks chart, I wrote: “WINNING COLORS went to the front at once, established the early pace while being rated, had plenty left when seriously challenged by GOODBYE HALO approaching the three-eighths pole and edged away from that rival leaving the five-sixteenths marker without being hard ridden, quickly drew out to a commanding advantage in the upper stretch when asked to extend herself, was shown the whip right-handed while increasing her lead in midstretch and continued to increase her advantage in the final sixteenth while under a brisk hand ride.”

For the Santa Anita Derby chart, I wrote: “WINNING COLORS, away in alert fashion, established the early pace while under a snug rating hold, drew away on the far turn when asked somewhat, entered the stretch with a commanding lead, responded when roused with the whip periodically left-handed from the top of the stretch to midstretch, maintained a commanding advantage from midstretch to the finish while under a brisk hand ride and was a decisive winner.”

On the first Saturday in May in 1988, Stevens and Winning Colors -- both future Hall of Famers -- led past every pole in the Kentucky Derby, which they won by a neck over an onrushing Forty Niner. Winning Colors became the third filly to take the Run for the Roses. To this day the only three fillies to have won the 1 1/4-mile classic are Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors.

Ridden by Flavian Prat, Venetian Harbor opened a six-length early lead in last Saturday’s one-mile Las Virgenes when racing around two turns for the first time. When Venetian Harbor’s lead dwindled to one length at the quarter pole, it appeared she might be in deep water. But in reality, Prat still had “a ton of horse” beneath him.

At the top of the lane, Venetian Harbor rebroke, as they say. She spurted away to sport a five-length lead at the eighth pole. The Kentucky-bred Munnings filly was 9 1/4 lengths in front at the finish even though she had been “geared down” late, as track announcer Frank Mirahmadi accurately said during his call of the race.

Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen reported Sunday that Venetian Harbor “cruised to an easy win” in the Las Virgenes “despite losing a front shoe in the race.”

Richard Baltas, Venetian Harbor’s trainer, said he was unsure when Venetian Harbor lost the shoe.

“You worry about that when it happens,” Baltas said while noting that all was well with the filly Sunday morning despite the shoe incident, adding “her feet are cold and she jogged sound.”

Venetian Harbor now is two for two when racing on the dirt. In her lone defeat, she finished second behind Aqua Seaform Shame in a five-furlong grass dash at Del Mar last Nov. 15. Baltas also trains Aqua Seaform Shame, who has not raced or had a workout since her Nov. 15 win.

After Venetian Harbor’s defeat at first asking, she won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race by 10 3/4 lengths in 1:15.60 on Dec. 29 while recording a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. She made even money look like a huge bargain when she proved a punctual favorite on Dec. 29. She then was backed down to 3-10 favoritism in the Las Virgenes and once again won for fun when completing one mile in 1:37.51. She was credited with a 92 Beyer for her race last Saturday.

The DRF’s Brad Free explained why Venetian Harbor’s 1:37.51 final time in the Las Virgenes was outstanding.

“Since last spring when the [Santa Anita main] track was modified it consistently has generated slow times,” Free wrote. “Only two dirt miles at Santa Anita have been faster than Venetian Harbor’s 1:37.51 in winning the Las Virgenes -- Spun to Run’s 1:36.58 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Midcourt’s 1:36.89 stakes win [in the Comma to the Top last Oct. 27].”

When British Idiom won the Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita last Nov. 1 and was credited with just a 79 Beyer Speed Figure, some understandably questioned the quality of the 2-year-old filly class of 2019. But now hardly anyone is knocking them. The leaders in the 3-year-old filly division of 2020 appear to be a strong group.

While British Idiom’s 79 Beyer in the Breeders’ Cup no doubt left something to be desired, it is to her credit that she’s undefeated in three career starts. In addition to her BC Juvenile Fillies triumph, she won Keeneland’s Grade I Alcibiades Stakes with authority by 6 1/2 lengths last year (85 Beyer). The Kentucky-bred Flashback filly, trained by Brad Cox, heads a field of seven entered in this Saturday’s Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

Finite, who like Venetian Harbor is a Kentucky-bred by Munnings, is among those running against 2019 Eclipse Award winner British Idiom in the Rachel Alexandra. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Finite has won four straight, including three stakes (the Rags to Riches and Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs and Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds).

The quality among the current leaders in the 3-year-old filly ranks is further bolstered by the likes of Taraz, who is unbeaten in three career starts by a combined 22 1/5 lengths; Bast, a three-time Grade I winner; Donna Veloce, narrowly beaten as the runner-up in both the BC Juvenile Fillies and Grade I Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos; Harvey’s Lil Goil, a 7 1/2-length winner of Aqueduct’s Busanda Stakes; Tonalist’s Shape, a 3 3/4-length winner of the Grade III Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream and undefeated in four career starts; Lake Avenue, a four-length winner of the Grade II Demoiselle Stakes at the Big A; and Spice Is Nice, who won a one-mile maiden special weight race by 12 lengths when unveiled at Gulfstream last month for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Yet another talented 3-year-old filly, Alms, remained undefeated in four career starts last Saturday for trainer Mike Stidham. Alms took the Shantel Lanerie Memorial Stakes by 4 1/2 facile lengths at about a mile on the turf at Fair Grounds last Saturday. Up next for the Kentucky-bred City Zip filly is the Grade III Florida Oaks on the grass March 7 at Tampa Bay Downs.

NADAL MOVES UP, STORM THE COURT DOWN ON TOP 10

Following Nadal’s win in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes last Sunday, he moves up to No. 2 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week after being No. 5 last week.

No, Nadal did not win by a big margin. Nevertheless, he showed me a lot in the seven-furlong San Vicente. He won despite going quite fast early, yet his breeding suggests that he actually might be more comfortable when given the opportunity to go farther than seven furlongs.

Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Nadal had to run hard -- very hard -- from start to finish last Sunday. The big Kentucky-bred son of Blame never, ever got a breather. Look, it is not easy for a horse to go hard all the way in a seven-furlong race and still win, especially for a colt with only one start under his belt.

Baffert said he told jockey Joel Rosario beforehand, “Don’t get cute, just go. We can rate him some other day.”

And so, riding to instructions, Rosario gunned Nadal away from the gate. They began alertly this time, unlike Nadal’s career debut when he rushed up early after breaking a tad slowly under apprentice J.C. Diaz Jr.

As Baffert put it, they took it to Nadal early in the San Vicente. In particular, it was a fresh Ginobili who took it to Nadal from the get-go.

Nadal and Ginobili vied for the advantage all the way down the backstretch, all the way around the far turn and all the way down the lane. Increasing his lead a bit late, Nadal found a way to prevail by three-quarters of a length at the end of a prolonged slugfest.

Granted, Nadal’s final furlong in :13.54 was no great shakes. But he did well to win the race despite being involved in a pace that would cause many to wilt. He flirted with sizzling internal fractions of slightly off :43 and change and 1:08 and change en route to a final clocking of 1:22.59. Nowadays, one just does not often see splits of :21.81, :44.09 and 1:09.05 on a slower-than-it-used-to-be Santa Anita main track.

Baffert has become known for calling a last-minute audible in terms of where to run a horse, such as when he sent Mucho Gusto to Florida for the Grade I Pegasus on Jan. 25. And how did it turn out? Mucho Gusto won that $3 million event.

It took just about everyone by surprise when Baffert dropped Nadal’s name into the entry box for the San Vicente. And, again, how did the last-minute audible turn out? Nadal won as a 3-10 favorite.

Baffert said that he had trained Nadal “light” for the San Vicente. At the top of stretch, when Nadal and Ginobili were locked in a fierce battle for the lead, the white-haired trainer admitted that he thought Nadal was going to get beat. According to Baffert, Nadal won on sheer talent.

“He had to gut it out, so he’s got a good foundation now,” Baffert said. “This should set him up pretty good. I think we’ll go to the Rebel.”

Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes will be contested at 1 1/16 miles on March 14.

Baffert has three undefeated 3-year-old colts on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. They are No. 2 Thousand Words (three for three), Nadal (two for two) and Authentic (two for two).

Thousand Words won the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity in his final start at 2. The Florida-bred Pioneeerof the Nile colt was victorious in Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes in his first start at 3.

Authentic won Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes by 7 3/4 lengths on Jan. 4 despite zigzagging in the final furlong when racing greenly while far in front.

Holding onto the No. 1 spot this week is Tiz the Law, who is three for four. Trained by Barclay Tagg, Tiz the Law won Gulfstream’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths in his 3-year-old debut on Feb. 3. The Kentucky-bred Constitution colt is scheduled to make his next start in Gulfstream’s Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby on March 28. He worked five furlongs in :50.00 on Monday at Palm Meadows.

Meanwhile, Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported that Prat, a member of the Santa Anita riding colony, will be riding Dennis’ Moment at Gulfstream when that colt makes his 2020 debut in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 29.

Irad Ortiz Jr. rode Dennis’ Moment in his last two races. But Ortiz will be out of the country on Feb. 29 to pilot Mucho Gusto in the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup. That opened the door for Prat to ride Dennis’ Moment in the Fountain of Youth.

Dennis’ Moment has not started since he stumbled badly at the start and finished eighth as the 9-10 favorite in the Grade I BC Juvenile at Santa Anita last Nov. 1. The Kentucky-bred Tiznow colt worked five furlongs in 1:00.22 last Saturday at Gulfstream for trainer Dale Romans, who said the plan is for Ortiz to regain the mount on Dennis’ Moment after the Fountain of Youth.

I have Dennis’ Moment ranked No. 4. Just below him at No. 5 is Honor A.P.

Trainer John Sherriffs was quoted by Ed Golden in last Saturday’s Santa Anita stable notes as saying “we’ll try to make the San Felipe” with Honor A.P.

The Grade II San Felipe Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile affair, will be decided at Santa Anita on March 7. Honor A.P. worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 last Saturday at Santa Anita. The Kentucky-bred Honor Code ridgling has not raced since winning a one-mile maiden special weight race by 5 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita last Oct. 13. In his only other start, Honor A.P. ran second to the aforementioned Ginobili.

The 2019 BC Juvenile winner, Storm the Court, drops to No. 9 this week on my Top 10 after being No. 3 last week. The Kentucky-bred Court Vision colt, trained by Peter Eurton, finished fourth in the San Vicente. But it’s not as if he embarrassed himself. Last year’s Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male lost by just 2 2/4 lengths. Storm the Court certainly has a right to build on his San Vicente effort due to it being his first start since the Breeders’ Cup.

Ranked just below Storm the Court at No. 10 again this week is Anneau d’Or, who makes his first 2020 start this Saturday.

Anneau d’Or, trained by Blaine Wright, heads a field of 12 entered in the second division of Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. The Kentucky-bred Medaglia d’Oro colt was narrowly beaten when second last year in both the BC Juvenile and Los Al Futurity.

Enforceable is among 11 entered in the first division of the Risen Star. Trained by Mark Casse, the Kentucky-bred Tapit colt won the Grade III Lecomte Stakes in New Orleans on Jan. 18.

Sole Volante debuts on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week at No. 7 following his win in last Saturday’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The Kentucky-bred Karakontie gelding rallied from 15 lengths off the pace to win the 1 1/16-mile Davis going away by 2 1/2 lengths.

Finishing second as the 7-10 favorite was Independence Hall, who lost for the first time in four career starts. Independence Hall drops off my Top 10 this week after being No. 9 last week.

Patrick Biancone trains Sole Volante, who now has won three of four lifetime starts.

Biancone conditioned All Along, who in 1983 was the Horse of the World when, from early October to mid-November, she won the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, Canadian International in Canada, Turf Classic in New York and Washington, D.C., International in Maryland.

In 2004, Biancone ran Lion Heart in the Kentucky Derby. Lion Heart finished second on a sloppy track to Smarty Jones.

BloodHorse’s Steve Haskin has put Sole Volante at No. 2, behind only Tiz the Law, on his Derby Dozen. One reason I don’t have Sole Volante ranked higher than No. 7 is no Sam F. Davis winner has ever gone on to capture the Kentucky Derby.

Here is my Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week:

1. Tiz the Law
2. Nadal
3. Thousand Words
4. Dennis’ Moment
5. Honor A.P.
6. Authentic
7. Sole Volante
8. Maxfield
9. Storm the Court
10. Anneau d’Or

NADAL, TIZ THE LAW 8-1 IN FUTURE WAGER

As expected, the “All Others” option ended up being the favorite in Pool Two of the 2020 Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) that was conducted last week. “All Others” closed at 2-1.

In terms of individual horses, Nadal and Tiz the Law were each 8-1. Nadal was the actual favorite among the individual horses inasmuch as $1,484 more was bet on him than Tiz the Law.

Pool Two of the KDFW closed about a half-hour before Nadal won the San Vicente.

I thought two interesting longshots at 39-1 each were Chance It and Basin.

Chance It, who is targeting the Fountain of the Youth, won Gulfstream’s Mucho Macho Man Stakes at one mile on Jan. 4. Not only did he record a 99 Beyer Speed Figure in that race, that performance looks even better now because Sole Volante finished third in that race.

Trained by Saphie Joseph Jr., Chance It does not seem to get the respect he deserves considering some of his speed figures, be it Beyers or Thoro-Graph.

In six career starts, Chance It has recorded a Beyer of 90 or higher four times.

I think Beyer Speed Figures are valuable for horseplayers. That’s why I often cite them. But in my opinion, the figures calculated by Thoro-Graph are superior to the Beyers.

Regarding Thoro-Graph, the lower the number the better the performance, which is the opposite of the Beyers.

When it comes to Beyer Speed Figures, the winner of a race will never get a smaller figure than the horse who finished second, the horse who finished second will never get a smaller figure than the horse who finished third, and so on and so forth down through the order of finish.

In the case of the Thoro-Graph Figures, a horse who finishes second, or even lower, can get a better figure than the winner. This, I believe, is a much more realistic evaluation of a horse’s performance.

Thoro-Graph takes many more factors into account than the Beyers. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”

Chance It has two of the best seven Thoro-Graph figures posted by the 23 individual horses in Pool Two of the KDFW going into last week. These were those seven Thoro-Graph figs (the lower the number the better):

Figure Horse (Race, Track, Date)

negative 2 Independence Hall (Nashua, Aqueduct, Nov. 3)
negative 3/4 Tiz the Law (Holy Bull, Gulfstream, Feb. 1)
3/4 Chance It (maiden race, Gulfstream, June 29)
1 1/4 Dennis’ Moment (maiden race, Ellis Park, July 27)
1 1/2 Chance It (Mucho Macho Man, Gulfstream, Jan. 4)
2 1/4 Basin (Hopeful, Saratoga, Sept. 2)
2 1/2 Three Technique (Smarty Jones, Oaklawn, Jan. 24)

Three Technique did not win the Smarty Jones (which was run on a muddy track), yet his Thoro-Graph figure of 2 1/2 was better than the 3 1/4 fig assigned to the victorious Gold Street.

Basin is slated to make his 2020 debut in the Rebel for Asmussen. The Kentucky-bred Liam’s Map colt has not raced since he won the Grade I Hopeful Stakes on a sloppy strip in New York last Sept. 2. Prior to the Hopeful, Basin won a six-furlong maiden special weight race by 1 1/4 lengths at Saratoga, a race in which Three Technique finished second.

Below are the final odds for KDFW Pool Two and William Hill Sports Book’s future book odds as of Feb. 9:

KDFW WHill Horse
2-1 none All Others
8-1 10-1 Nadal*
8-1 6-1 Tiz the Law
10-1 8-1 Dennis’ Moment
13-1 10-1 Maxfield
15-1 14-1 Authentic
16-1 12-1 Thousand Words
19-1 12-1 Independence Hall
24-1 14-1 Honor A.P.
28-1 20-1 Anneau d’Or
28-1 none Structor
29-1 20-1 Enforceable
30-1 15-1 Storm the Court
32-1 24-1 Gouverneur Morris
36-1 30-1 Three Technique
39-1 20-1 Basin
39-1 20-1 Chance It
49-1 75-1 Max Player
50-1 25-1 Silver State
54-1 50-1 Gold Street
98-1 90-1 Palm Springs
111-1 75-1 Exaulted
145-1 125-1 Violent City
169-1 100-1 Premier Star

*actual favorite among individual horses in KDFW Pool Two

Sam F. Davis winner Sole Volante, one of the “All Others” in KDFW Pool Two, was listed at 17-1 in William Hill’s future book after having opened at 150-1.

End

It’s Post Time by Jon White: Venetian Harbor Dazzles in Las Virgenes

It’s Post Time by Jon White |