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Monday, July 17, 2006

Favorites Get Malibu Mooned

- A couple of prominent and prohibitive favorites went down this past weekend, but under totally dissimilar circumstances and with far different implications for their near-term outlooks. Dubai Escapade’s sixth place finish in the Princess Rooney at Calder is without explanation, while Declan’s Moon was valiant in defeat. And the sire Malibu Moon played a prominent part in both stories.

Dubai Escapade (Awesome Again) was 3-10 in the Grade 1 race, and looked every bit the part. Personally, I would never wager ten thousand dollars into the show pool in order to win $500, but if you’re going to invest your money in that way, this certainly looked like the place. With Leave Me Alone off form, only one opponent, Hot Storm, seemed able to stay even close to the favorite, at least on paper.

And in fact, Hot Storm led Dubai Escapade down the backstretch, and, perhaps because I watched the race with the knowledge of the outcome, the favorite never really looked comfortable to me in the unfamiliar stalking position. She seemed to drop back a bit before making a run around the turn, and there was a brief instant of hope for the chalkplayers that she’d sweep by. But she just stopped her charge rather abruptly, and looked like a loser very early in the stretch run. Not very long after that, it was apparent to the bridgejumpers that they would not be parlaying their winnings on Lost in the Fog.

The winner, Malibu Mint, is one horse who did not get along with the riding sensation Julien Leparoux. With him, she was 8th, 17 lengths behind Dubai Escapade in the Madison, and the next time, the filly rudely discarded him from the saddle in the Humana Distaff, effectively and rudely terminating his employment. Liberated from the Frenchman, she’s celebrated her partnership with her new rider, Puerto Rican native Josue Arce, with a close second at 50-1 in the Winning Colors, and the 23-1 bombshell in this Grade 1.

Malibu Mint is a daughter of the young AP Indy sire Malibu Moon; and unlike some higher profile sires that we’ve looked at lately and seen rather anemic stakes winner totals for 2006, Malibu Moon now has eight on the year. That's with far smaller crops thus far than many of his contemporaries – just 210 total including his 4th crop, juveniles this year. And consider also that he foaled his first three crops as a $3000 Maryland stallion with only a maiden win to his credit, which didn’t exactly attract high quality mares. He currently stands for $30,000 at Castleton Lyons in Kentucky. His foal crops will increase from here - according to Equibase, he has 107 yearling foals at this time - both in terms of quantity and, presumably, quality. And he already stands at an excellent 8% of stakes winners from foals.

I think it’s fair to speculate that his son Declan’s Moon will, before long, add another 2006 stakes winner to his ledger. He was 2-5 against three opponents in his first start since 3/5/2005, including a couple of horses in Seattle Buddy and Yes He’s A Pistol that had shown early zip in the past. Those are the two that he tracked and had to circle three wide to gain the lead. He did so, and drew away from them in stretch, and if you watch the race on Cal Racing, you’ll see that jockey Victor Espinoza was absolutely still the whole time, even as Vic Stauffer was getting excited by the looming Desert Boom. In fact, Stauffer may have grabbed the jockey’s attention, because he then went into a drive.

The 2004 juvenile champ dug in at the wire, but Desert Boom had built up too much momentum. You can bet that both horse and jockey will be sharper next time. Trainer Ron Ellis was understandably pleased, despite the fact that his gelding is no longer undefeated.

"His winning streak came to an end....But he looked like his old self. He was very fluid. I think his jockey, Victor Espinosa, was a little overconfident about him and tried to cut it a little too fine.

"I think if he had been ridden all-out, he would have won. But this is his first race in a very long time and we're looking at another two, three years in his career. An allowance race like this isn't that important in the big picture." [Baltimore Sun]
(And nice to see the Baltimore Sun devote some column space to their locally-bred star.) Declan's Moon may run next on Aug 20 at Del Mar, in the seven furlong Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap.

- Tough day Saturday for trainer Greg Gilchrist, as Lost in the Fog came up completely empty, in what would be a drab finale if he’s now indeed sent off to stud. “But to run like this, we'll have to talk about his future." [Thoroughbred Times]

Gilchrist, and owner Harry Aleo, should feel partly consoled however by the win by their three year old filly Victorina in the Azalea. Her running lines are an absolute thing of beauty – she’s never been worse than third (once) and never finished further than two lengths back in her seven prior starts, four of them wins. You don’t need Russell Baze to tell you that she is “just 100% racehorse."

Victorina is a daughter of the Florida sire Delaware Township, a son of the dead Florida stallion Notebook. She’s one of three stakes winners thus far for the second year sire.

- I had that Pick Three at Delaware on Sunday. I picked the Caesar Rodney winner Fishy Advice right on top here, but my main selection in the Leonard Richards, Cat Criminal, was scratched. With both of Frankel’s horses also out, I figured that Little Cliff would be an overbet and undeserving favorite. So I made that leg an anti-Little Cliff bet, using all the others except for one, a total of four. So I was alive when Awfully Smart scored a five length win, with Zito’s even-money favorite (ouch) checking in a no-threat third.

Awfully Smart just loves Delaware – this is his third win in as many tries there. He’s a son of the dead Unbridled stallion Anees, out of Awful Smart (Black Tie Affair), second in the 1999 Test to Marley Vale, the dam of Indian Vale.

And unlike the two big favorites described above, Fleet Indian was one 2-5 shot that won exactly like she should have in the $1 million Delaware Handicap. She was never threatened, leading all the way, and drawing off to win by 5 ½ in 2:02 – final quarter in 24.96. An easy, and rich $60,000 payday for jockey Jose Santos. "A piece of cake....Just tighten the knot and go." [Delaware County Times]

Given the nature of the field, I think that the question of whether she’s really a mile and a quarter horse still remains to be seen. But her effort here was more than enough to pocket the $600,000 prize money and a Grade 2 win. She’s the only graded winner, and one of three overall for her sire Indian Charlie in 2006. He stands for $25,000 at Airdrie in Kentucky, and has a fine 7% rate of stakes winners from foals.

It’s hard to get value on a Pick Three when a 2-5 shot is involved. The return for the 6.90-1 4th choice Fishy Advice, 4-1 Awfully Smart, and Fleet Indian was an even $112. On a $16 investment (I also used Minister's Joy in the first leg), that’s maybe not so great, but it’s hopefully another small step en route to what would be a well-timed handicapping revival.