- I wrote a horse-by-horse analysis for the Saratoga Special on the Pacific Classic. Unfortunately, they don't have a link up to the piece on their website, so you'd have to go to this page and download the pdf of today's issue. They were nice enough to remind everyone that I picked the exacta in the Arlington Million, thereby racheting up the pressure. Also contained therein is my handicapping for Monday's card, which I'll be doing for the remaining Mondays of the meet.
Pete Fornatale, the Special's regular handicapper, is most happy to give up that assignment. Since the Special doesn't publish on Mondays, the picks for that day go in the Sunday paper, the deadline for which is 8PM the night before. And since the PP's for Monday don't come out until around 3 PM on Saturday, it doesn't give one much time. Especially if one is in Saratoga to attend the races. So I had to leave after the 8th and watch the Alabama at home (on slightly delayed tape). And even then, to thoroughly handicap the entire card and write about it in 2 1/2 hours was a challenge. Nonetheless, I'm more or less satisfied with my picks, at least from the perspective of Saturday evening at 8 PM, though not if the track comes up sloppy and off the turf. What I'm going to do about Travers day, I don't really know.
So I'll reprint the Pacific Classic thing below. I picked Lava Man, and watching the replay of that Gold Cup again....man, what a race. Two concerns I do have though is 1) He was reported to be extremely tired after that race, and didn't have a recorded workout until a month afterwards. O'Neill says that he's "fresher"this year than last. I recall that after he was vanned off following last year's Pac Classic, he failed to return to form in the Jockey Club Gold Cup nor the Japan Cup. Of course, he wasn't vanned off this time, but he was pooped, and didn't eat up, so you might wonder about his ability to bounce back after a tough race.
And 2) the general regression in his speed figures this year. But maybe that 120 last year didn't do him any good in the long run.
I fooled around a little and picked Perfect Drift to be second, though Magnum seems the more obvious choice to do so. Perfect Drift has run two of the races of his life in defeat in this stakes the last two years, the only races he's run at Del Mar, which is obviously loves. He jumped up and ran a big fig here last year, so why can't he do it again? And after cashing on The Tin Man last week, I'm not going to hold his age against him. So if the price is right, I'm going to use him on top as well when it comes down to the real betting.
TOP THIS AND THAT ran a bang-up second at 18-1 in the Grade 2 Strub in February, holding off Giacomo for the place spot. But he's yet to reproduce that form. His last two were OK against allowance foes, but he'd have to top this and that and a lot of other things in order to compete against these Grade 1 foes.
LAVA MAN: I've watched his win in the Grade 1, mile and a quarter Hollywood Gold Cup over and over again, yet still get a thrill each time. Lava Man truly showed the qualities of a champion in winning that day. Already reportedly out of sorts after having spent 24 hours in a detention barn, he showed his agility in overcoming a frightening stumble that had him chasing instead of dictating the pace. He flashed a quick burst of speed to engage Magnum through a swiftly-run final turn, and then displayed his ample courage in surviving a grueling stretch duel while conceding 8 to 10 pounds to the second and third place finishers. The five-year old son of Slew City Slew gets his favorite distance again today, this time at equal weights, and an inside post from which he could control the pace with a clean start. Doug O'Neill's best claim ever takes another step on the road to the Classic.
PREACHINATTHEBAR - In a change of tactics from his usual stalking style, this Bob Baffert-trained son of Silver Charm found himself on the lead in the San Diego Handicap. Despite being pressed to quick fractions, he shook off a host of challengers turning for home and appeared to be home free before being caught late by Giacomo. The stretchout to a mile and a quarter certainly doesn't appear to help – the five-year old has yet to run beyond nine furlongs - and neither will having to deal with Lava Man rather than Rathor.
GIACOMO – Installed as the 3-1 second choice, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner should attract generous mutuel attention after rallying to win the mile and a sixteenth San Diego in his first start off a layoff. He seems a natural stretching out to the distance at which he achieved immortality, especially after showing some uncharacteristic zip in his morning works for a confident John Shirreffs. However, the more cynical amongst us might suggest that the plodding final quarter of the Derby actually indicated that the mile and a quarter is not his preference. In fact, his closing fractions that day – 48.4 / 25.4 - were not much different than those – 48.2 / 26 - from his distant fifth place finish to Lava Man and Magnum in the Santa Anita Handicap in March in what was only other try at ten furlongs. Stand against to create some value in the exotics.
MAGNUM – Just as Lava Man didn't want to be chasing him in the Gold Cup, Magnum would have preferred not to be on the lead. He ended up there due to Lava Man's early misfortune, and got away with a slow half before being pressed hard by the eventual winner and stubbornly fading to 4th. Here, Darrell Vienna's five-year old should be more comfortable rating with Alex Solis replacing the ailing Patrick Valenzuela. He can sit behind Lava Man and Preachinatthebar, and may be able to grind it out in the stretch as he did when running a close second to the favorite in the Big Cap.
PERFECT DRIFT – If this all seems familiar to this veteran making his field high 40th start, it's because his 2006 campaign is a mirror image to that of last year. Two turf preps, the Stephen Foster, and the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington, and on to the Pacific Classic, where last year he defeated Lava Man when runner-up to Borrego in his peak effort of 2005. In his only other surf and turf appearance, he ran a close second to Pleasantly Perfect in the 2004 edition of this race, so he certainly seems to love this racetrack. He'll need some pace up front as usual, and there's concern that he's slowed down at age seven. But it takes trainer Murray Johnston a few races to get him going, and he could be sitting on a huge effort.
SUPER FROLIC – Vladimir Cerin has the six-year old son of Pine Bluff sharp after a disastrous trip to Dubai, which is quite an accomplishment in itself. He followed up a second in the Californian with his third place finish, beaten less than a length by Lava Man, in the Gold Cup. But things won't get any easier for him in this race. He sat several lengths behind the action up front that day, saved all the ground on the turn, and hung in the stretch before closing the gap late. Money prospects to be sure, but will likely fall short of the top prize again with no weight concession this time from the top pick.
GOOD REWARD – A curious choice of spots for Shug McGaughey, as this five-year old campaigner has done his best running on the turf, on which he's won two Grade 1's at today's distance. On the dirt he's managed just a maiden win in six otherwise out-of-the-money tries. He hasn't been so hot on the grass of late either, and his last effort, a no-chance 4th on the main track at Prairie Meadows in the Cornhusker, doesn't inspire confidence. Still, Garrett Gomez makes the cross-country trek to ride.