Forget about the Marathon, hopefully that race will go the way of the Juvenile Sprint (though my buddy Bob probably disagrees). Though, that would bring the number of races down to an unlucky 13, so they'd have to get rid of the Turf Sprint to make it an even dozen. (Though the Turf Sprint does provide a nice break to run out to the store or something.)
After the Marathon, we get two impossible head scratchers and, in my judgment, one, or two, potential singles. So I'll try to build a ticket for the Pick Three or Four.
The two inscrutable races are the two-year old turf races. I've always thought those to be impossible, but must say they make a bit more sense this year. I disclosed my involvement in TimeformUS here, so I'm obviously biased. But the speed figures on the same scale for foreign and US races, along with the detailed race comments, are shedding new light on the Euro shippers that help make these races so difficult. I'll preview some of that info here, but I'll get yelled at if I give away the store; and besides, it's still just $1.50 per card. And if you haven't tried it yet, send me an email and I can set you up with a cheap one-time trial plan that will get you both BC cards and unlimited access to all the other tracks on Friday and Saturday.
OK, sorry about the shameless plugging. So let's start with the 7th, the Juvenile Turf. The interesting thing about the horses coming over from Great Britain and Ireland is that they have raced strictly over straightaways. They haven't gone around one turn, not to mention the two they'll go around here for the mile race. However, such invaders have won this race all three times it's been run at Santa Anita. Giovanni Boldini (7-2) is the leading contender of the four who have never raced here. He earned a field high TimeformUS speed figure of 97 winning his last; but that was on Poly. Son of War Front has won twice in two tries on that surface, and ran third in his one try on turf, with a TFUS of 89, and has a moderate TFUS pedigree rating for turf routes. Can't find any of his races on You Tube to evaluate him. However, he's very highly regarded by the Timeform guys in the UK, so I'm gonna use him. Outstrip (4-1) won a Group 2 two races back, but ran third in his last. The race commentary opines that he "might well have peaked already" and that he "lacks size and scope," so I'm going to stand against. Wilshire Boulevard (8-1) has already raced seven times, which could be a blessing or a curse. He's only made moderate progress of late, but seems dangerous enough to consider. Shamshon (12-1) looks to be slower than these.
Morning line favorite Bobby's Kitten (5-2) comes off his easy, though perfect trip-aided, Pilgrim win at Saratoga, earning a fig of 95. What can you say; trainer Chad Brown scores 100 in most of the relevant TFUS trainer ratings, as does the trainer/jockey combo of he and Castellano. He's projected to be on the early lead by the Pace Projector, and surely goes on the ticket. I prefer Bashart (6-1) though from a value standpoint. Yes, he has a bad post, and the Toddster is not always a great asset come Breeders' Cup time. However, he figures to get a nice stalking trip according to Pace Projector (which doesn't include the foreign horses (since they have no pace data), none of whom are frontrunners by trade, though you never know for sure), perhaps like the one he got when he graduated against a strong maiden field at Saratoga in August. He also showed some moxie in his last, which was on the Poly at Keeneland. Pinched back early down the backstretch, he was a full four wide around the turn, battled on to get the lead late before getting run down by the ground-saving Poker Player (12-1). Think he'll run very well here if Johnny V can indeed get decent position early from the 13 post.
Longshot I keep coming back to is Ontology (30-1). Maybe he's listed that high because he's still a maiden. But in his only turf try, this son of Tapit, out of a minor turf stakes winning daughter King of Kings (Sadlers Wells), ran very well in an overnight stakes at Del Mar; after some early traffic trouble, he closed well to be clearly second best, with a competitive figure of 87, to Diamond Bachelor, who would be a contender here if he wasn't, for some reason, running in the Juvenile instead. Forget the last on dirt for Ontology; series of sharp workouts replicates the pattern leading up that grass effort. Think he'll outrun his odds, and worth a couple of bucks win and place.
Aotearoa (12-1) actually beat Diamond Bachelor in their last efforts, but the latter earned a better TFUS fig in defeat due to the pace scenario (these speed figures take pace into account), as the winner benefited from a fast pace and a nice trip. Still, it was his first grass effort, and worth including on a B ticket.
So, for this I'll use (in order of preference) Bashart / Giovanni Boldini / Ontology / Bobby's Kitten. Wilshire Boulevard and Aotearoa for the B tickets.
The Dirt Mile, always one of my favorite races, looks to have a lot of speed this year. Now, I'm thinking back to last year when there was a ridiculous speed bias, and getting a little queasy. But I'm told by a reliable Santa Anita observer who I trust implicitly that these one mile races have produced winners of all styles this year. (Though, as we know, that doesn't guarantee that the track won't be souped up for speed for these big race days.) With a short run to the turn, the distance can beget a mad dash there, I am told. In this race, you have a whole bunch of horses with early zip - Taptowne breaking from the inside, Fed Biz, Broadway Empire and the blinkered Alpha from the middle, along with Verrazano, the hilarious 3-1 morning line favorite, and Goldencents from the outside. Fed Biz and Goldencents come off sprints in which they closed, but they are both reliably close to the pace when it comes to two turn routes. I think most, if not of all these horses, have good incentive to be in a forward position and not too wide into the first turn, and the others figure to benefit.
So, with that in mind, I like Brujo de Ollares (8-1). This Uruguayan sensation (though actually a Brazilian bred) was a big disappointment when first brought here by Team Valor in 2012. But this year has been a different story. He came off a 287-day layoff to run a tough second at seven furlongs at Parx, a neck off one tough horse in Traffic Light, and ahead of the persistent Hello Lover. Then came a facile two-turn mile win against moderate competition at Delaware. In his last effort, the Grade 2 Kelso at Belmont, he was part of a merry chase of Graydar, who had everything his own way on the front end, riding the gold rail, and setting pedestrian fractions - a half of 47 seconds which is very moderate for a high-class one turn mile race. Brujo de Ollares also found himself three wide for most of the sweeping Belmont turn. That's bad enough even if the rail wasn't the only place to be that day; and he still closed grimly and distinctly against the pace grain to make it a close race. I thought it was an exceptional effort from a horse who seems to be on the upgrade, earning a 113 TFUS fig, the best of his career.
Couple of concerns - one that he could regress off that effort. But he's working great for this race....notice how the regimen is exactly the same as that leading up to the Kelso, three works a week apart with the last one exactly a week before the race. You know I like stuff like that.
Also, he'll be stretching back out to two turns. He did win that race at Delaware two back. It was visually impressive, though it wasn't that fast. His prior winning efforts have all been around one. Still, I think he'll be great value here, surely wouldn't be surprised if he's double digit odds, and that seems worthwhile for a horse coming off an effort I found so impressive.
Hymn Book (15-1) closed to finish only a neck behind the top pick in the Kelso. I had him, and he never looked like a winner. I thought he was spinning his wheels approaching the stretch at a point at which he should have been progressing, and then he made up ground late. Think the race looks better on paper than it did visually. Also, Hymn Book has never won, in ten tries, on a fast dirt track (he's finished second five times). So, I think he'll be a bit short again, but he's surely worth using underneath. Pants on Fire (6-1) has come on in his last two races, beating Hymn Book soundly at Monmouth before tracking a fast pace and sticking around to win the Ack Ack around one turn at Churchill...earning career high TFUS figs of 112 and 113 in the process. He should also benefit from a fast pace and I expect him to run well. Goldencents (4-1) won the Santa Anita Derby over this track with a 118 fig, and he's run very fast in his last two races, albeit in sprints (and one on Poly). He's certainly talented enough to win if he can deal tactically; perhaps the experience coming off the pace in sprints will help.
If Verrazano wins, I'm done for the rest of the weekend. I'm serious. He will be galloping straight to stud at Coolmore Ashford in Kentucky after the race, and the Toddster assures us he can stay the 1,867 mile distance.
I'm singling Brujo de Ollares here.
In the Juvenile Fillies Turf.......oh man. Have to make some tough decisions here in an impossibly wide open 14 horse field. I'm against My Conquestadory (9-2), at least from a win bet perspective from the treacherous 14 post. She's good, no doubt. But I don't think she's quite as good as track announcer Kurt Becker made it seem during the stretch run of the Alcibiades. She did beat males in a Grade 2 at Woodbine in her career debut, on the turf. But the race came up kinda slow - a 75 fig and the TFUS class rating was a tepid 67. (Though third place finisher Matador did come back to win a restricted stakes on a yielding course.) In the Alcibiades....yes she looked hopelessly blocked along the rail heading around the turn. But, after Becker pointed out that situation, she extracted herself in the two path rather easily, and actually had a relatively smooth journey from there. So, was she good? You bet. "INCREDIBLE," as Becker exclaimed? Don't know about that. But she'll surely get bet if people have listened to that call! (And the race was on Poly too.) I dunno, thinking out loud here, I'm tempted to leave her off the Pick Three or Four ticket too. Just for fun. Gotta make some tough decisions as I said.
For one thing, all three Euro invaders look tough and I'm gonna use all of them, even though the Timeform chaps express some doubts about the ability of Vorda (4-1) to stretch out from six furlongs to this mile route. I wrote about her in more detail (verbal and visual) in this post on the TFUS blog. Still, she's a granddaughter of the great miler Lure, an all-time favorite of mine who was infertile at stud and doesn't have many stallion sons around. She has the top figure in the race (95), and I'm going to include her. Al Thakhira (6-1) and Chriselliam (6-1) both come in off sharp efforts and are highly regarded by those in the know; the latter seems prone to throw in bad ones, but is proven at the one mile distance (though, again, down a straightaway).
Kitten Kaboodle (12-1) had an almost perfect rail trip when she destroyed the field in the Jessamine. She was in a bit of a tight spot rounding the turn, but Alan Garcia backed off very confidently before rolling up the inside to win by six against a field of uncertain quality. Got an OK figure of 82, and obviously is eligible to improve for trainer Chad Brown. Johnny V hops aboard, and that combo as a trainer/jockey rating of 100 too. I'm not getting beat by a Ramsey horse here, using her. (But not Granny Mc's Kitten, who seems too slow.)
Street Sailing (15-1) looks a little scary coming off a win at this distance in her turf debut, at Keeneland, and for the same connections as Brujo de Ollares. At this point, I hope those connections are celebrating. She earned a competitive TFUS figure of 86. But she did have a perfect trip in an allowance race that came up with a tepid class rating, so I'm going to hold my breath and not use her.
Clenor (8-1) is surely moving in the right direction with three straight wins since shipping from Ireland over the summer, improving her TFUS figs each time. She still has some improving to do from the 81 she got in her last though, an overnight stakes over the course at Santa Anita. She unleashed an explosive move four wide around the turn and held off a game Nasso (20-1), who has the rail, and is forecast by Pace Projector to be on the lead. Ready to Act (8-1) is another Chad Brown horse; she dumped her rider as the 8-5 favorite while leading in the stretch of a stakes at Woodbine after winning her debut. Help!
I'm at least set on not using Testa Rossi (8-1); her win in the Miss Grillo came up slower, and there doesn't seem to be much speed to set up the kind of deep close she executed in that race. But she wouldn't be a shock; nor would Sky Painter (15-1), who she beat by a nose.
Well, I don't think I can go ALL in a 14 horse race, so I'm gonna go with this, in alphabetical order, as I don't really have an opinion on a winner:
Al Thakhira / Clenor / Chriselliam / Kitten Kaboodle / Ready to Act / Vorda As for My Conquestadory? Hmmm, only reluctantly and defensively, if at all.
So, there's a potential Pick Three ticket there. Of course, through the magic of mathematics, I could add on a single from the six-horse Distaff and bet the Pick Four for the same price. I'd have to really like her though, because if this Pick Three came through with that horse in the middle, I'd think I'd be pretty happy. And pretty unhappy to see it go down the drain, and for what kind of extra return if I went with Royal Delta (8-5), who I expect to be the post-time favorite?
I do like her to avenge her defeat to Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame. Just don't think it was her day. She hit the starting gate on the way out, and yielded the live inside path, while Princess of Sylmar glided over to that spot for her run down the backstretch. Surely, it was a disappointment for her to succumb to the winner as easily as she did; but Mike Smith did not really pursue the issue once the outcome was clear. Had been thinking that she wasn't really totally wound up for that race, and read something very interesting in the recent HANA newsletter. Seth Morrow of Equidaily, in response to the question of whether he thinks Royal Delta will rebound, says that he read where trainer Bill Mott said, prior to the Beldame: "We gave her a couple of pretty easy weeks up there [Saratoga] after she ran - hope we weren’t too easy on her."
You never know where you can find information....or too much information, depending on how it turns out. But taking a look at the workouts prior to each race:
It shows the West Coast speedball Beholder (#5, 5-2) in the lead with Royal Delta (#4) tracking. The Pace Projector is based on the adjusted fractions that the horses have run in the past, and obviously doesn't anticipate any changes in strategy that one might expect to see. I think though that Mike Smith has no choice but to yield to Beholder. Richard Mandella's three-year old daughter of Henny Hughes is five-for-six, with a second, on the Santa Anita main track, and comes off a solid prep win in the Zenyatta, with a TFUS fig of 114, galloping around the track at a steady clip. She's gonna be out there setting her own pace again I believe, and will surely take some beating. I'm figuring that we'll see the champion in Royal Delta shine through this time; she'll get first jump on the leader and I think she'll prevail over her younger rival, who was beaten late by Princess of Sylmar in her own prior try as long as this mile and an eighth distance.
Then there's the matter of Princess of Sylmar (9-5). What can we say; she's been spectacular, still working well, and surely wouldn't be a surprise. Just betting that this is a lot to ask for a filly who had been geared up for one final race before the change of heart, and that Royal Delta will have enough to hold her off this time. It will take quite an effort and the heart of a champion to run down the speedy Beholder and prevail against a late run by Princess of Sylmar. I think she'll get it done. Whether I'll want to risk a possible wagering score on her doing so, I'm not sure. I'm thinking about it.