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Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Malibu

- The winter season officially gets under way with the traditional day-after opening at Santa Anita, and let's take a look at the Grade 1 Malibu for three-year olds at seven furlongs. Here's my take on the contenders from top to bottom in post position order.

Lightly raced Hyperbaric (Sky Classic) is unbeaten in three starts for Julio Canani, though the last two have come on the turf. The dirt race from which he graduated has produced four additional next-out winners, including the second and third place finishers, as indicated by the italics in which they appear in the Form's pp lines. But as I've mentioned before, those italics, though well-meaning, don't always tell the whole story and can be one of the more misleading features in the Form. For one thing, you're obviously only seeing the top three finishers; and simply the fact that one or more may have won their last race, or not, can be deceptive. A loss by a nose in a higher class can mean much more than a win against cheaper and/or under different track conditions; and you obviously don't get any of those details in the paper.

There are many things about Formulator to be grateful for, and none more so than the ability to look in detail at the charts of each horse's last three starts, and at the past performance lines of each horse that competed in them. In the case of Hyperbaric, you see that runner-up Mon's the Man beat maidens in his next race, but then ran 4th in two allowances. Third place finisher Like Running Water won his next on the turf; and the question of how significant that is when the subject horse is running on the dirt is one that vexes me. 5th place finisher Get Off the Sugar won his next around two turns at Fairplex; and 6th place Accrue won in a 50K maiden claimer.

So was this really a key race? I guess any race that produces five next out winners has to be considered one. But the point of this long detour from the Malibu is simply to reiterate that the key race feature in the Form is one that demands further investigation.

Now, Hyperbaric returns to the dirt after beating a nice looking Clement turfer in Forward Move (who came back to run a good second to Frankel's Dealer Choice in his next). He's shown a nice closing kick on both surfaces, and will certainly need it after likely getting shuffled back from the rail in this big field. This colt, a mere $10,000 weanling purchase in 2003, is related to Bull Inthe Heather, the 1993 Florida Derby and the only thoroughbred I know of that ever had a Sonic Youth song named after it. The Sir Beaufort on the grass seems like the more logical spot for this late developer, but he's been working quite well over this surface and perhaps they're here for a good reason.

Arson Squad (Brahms) has never been out of the money in his seven dirt tries. This gelding progressed in distance and speed up to his 104 Beyer in taking the G2 Swaps at a mile and an eighth. But, after a decent 4th on the turf, trainer Bruce Headley has brought him back as a sprinter. His win against allowance company in his last was a classy one in a field that was pretty strong. But it was also one that lacked pace, so I wouldn't put too much into the fact that he was positioned forwardly; and plus, his early pace numbers are on the slower side. Breaking from the two post with quicker horses outside, I think he's going to have some work to do, and he'll need some racing luck to navigate his way through the 13 horse field. He looks like the classiest horse in the race, and man, he's been just flying in the morning. But he may not present much value under the circumstances.

Interestingly, Brother Derek (Benchmark) comes into this race off his highest career Beyer, a 109 earned in his 5th place finish in the Classic. Some, like Brad Free in the Form, dismiss that effort as being "bias propelled," which I know will raise the ire of at least one of my readers. But to me, the Classic was just another race which typifies his career of late, putting in honest efforts against horses that are just faster than he. Even the El Cajo, which was intended to be an easier spot for his return, came up tough, and at 2-5 that day, he was the biggest underlay of 2006. He then ran against Lava Man in the Goodwood before the Classic - he's been put in so many no-win situations that he may feel like Robert Gates. I was skeptical of him last spring during his four graded stakes winning streak, and I've gained more respect for him as he's been losing five in a row.

Having said that, I think you gotta bet against him enthusiastically in the Malibu, especially if he's really the favorite at post time as he is in the morning line. This is another extremely tough spot. He hasn't run in a one turn race since his second career start, has some serious sprinters' speed to his outside, and figures to take a lot of heat. I gotta say that I'd be shocked if he wins, and I'm planning to leave him completely off my tickets.

Sailors Sunset (Petionville) has won four of his last five, earning a career high Beyer of 106 in taking the G3 Underwood on the Cushion Track. The one loss in that time was in the Perryville at Keeneland, where he may not have liked Polytrack, the about seven furlong distance, or running against Midnight Lute. In any event, he draws right outside Brother Derek, and figures to be quite prominent in the early mix.

Midnight Lute (Real Quiet) was actually beaten by Sailors Sunset at Del Mar in July, but that was in his first effort in a year. It was also his only loss in four career starts. Since then he's won twice, most recently in the seven furlong Perryville. That came against a field that was considered to be a strong one at the time. However, of the next four finishers, only Praying for Cash has scored subsequently, and that was in the form of a permanent vacation to a Florida stud farm. Lewis Michael, High Finance, and Court Folly all disappointed next time out, the latter two as heavy favorites. Midnight Lute's winning rally from off the pace was pretty much was in line with the prevailing trend at Keeneland, but he was very wide on the turn, and it was an impressive move. He's no doubt talented and improving, and he figures to be well-positioned from a post favorable to his running style.

Da Stoops has never won a race in open company - all five of his wins (in 15 starts) have come against fellow Cal-breds. Yet that was enough to earn him a stint at stud after this race at Sequel's Florida operation. Other than the fact that he is a son of Distorted Humor, there doesn't seem to be much that's distinctive about his pedigree. But he's shown some high speed, especially over this Santa Anita strip, on which he's 6-3-2-1; his pace figures here put him right on the lead in the Malibu. However, I don't expect him to be there at the end.

Objective (El Corredor), a close second to Cause to Believe in the El Camino Real last spring, showed some nice speed over the Cushion Track in his first race since March, and could add to the early mix.

Northern Soldier (Yankee Victor) is a bit interesting at 20-1. He started his career with three straight wins, including a graded stakes win in the Laz Barrero at this distance, defeating Arson Squad. He then got a bit off track racing on turf and in routes. Back to six furlongs in allowance company in his last, he got back in the winner's circle against a modest field. He'll have to do a lot more here, but he seems to be moving back in the right direction now.

Latent Heat (Wavering Monarch) needs an excuse for his poor performance in the Perryville. Of course, Polytrack could be enough. But Bobby Frankel told the Form: "He was sick going in, and I probably shouldn't have run him." Oh, nice of him to tell those who made him the 4-1 second choice that day now. What ever happened to that full disclosure thing that was a buzz in the industry media for about a day after the Sweet Catomine fiasco last year?

From the 12 post, Edgar Prado will have the best view of the other speed and pressers, but it doesn't appear to me as if he'll be able to clear the field. He certainly likes the distance and has shown an affinity for this track; he ran a decent third at a mile and a sixteenth against Brother Derek in the Santa Catalina last winter in only his third start. He's made some short work of some short fields since then and before the Perryville. He's another early factor for sure, but I'm not convinced he'll be be anything more than that.

Sprint at Last (Silver Deputy) won an entry-level allowance at Aqueduct for Pletcher in his last under a rail-skimming ride by Velazquez in a one-turn mile at Aqueduct; runner-up Barcola came back to win his next race by 16 lengths, thereby really earning those italics in this case. Note that the colt was sold at Keeneland November for $675,000 afterwards, so this is not a Pletcher horse running under the name of Doug O'Neill. I wouldn't put too much into Barcola's race - it was his second start for Contessa, who's been winning with everything there, and he was lone speed on the inner track. This is a huge step up in class for this half-brother to G1 winner Sharp Lisa, but his two best races have been around one turn, and his running style in those races suggest he could rally for a share.

Picks: Strictly a value play in a contentious field, I'll take a shot with Hyperbaric at 15-1. He'll need a lot of racing luck to get through the field from the rail, but he has closed strongly thus far, and showed the ability to overcome some severe traffic problems in the stretch two races back. Arson Squad looks like the most talented colt in the field; takes this with a clean trip. Midnight Lute could be any kind. Spring At Last looks live for a spot in the trifectas.

- Oh and yes, Merry Christmas to everyone!!


Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas to all, and thanks for providing this forum and more importantly providing timely content.

Brother Derek is a legit favorite in the Malibu, bias or not he ran the best non west coast race of his career in his last and this is a major drop in class from the best horses on the planet to essentially california allowance types. He has always run BETTER on the west coast, which is scary coming off his best fig ever.

Romp, with proven and hopefully healthy Latent Heat rebounding to best the rest with Spring At Last rounding out the trifecta.

Mr. Ed

Anonymous said...

Wow. I think you're way off base here, Mr. Ed. I give Brother Derek little to win. A class drop, you say? Not even close. It's just an entirely different type of race. Do you think that running in a 1 1/4 mile race around two turns is gonna prepare you for a 7-furlong sprint with a ton of speed lined up? Ummm, no. And that's Brother Derek's big problem. Sure, he's an outstanding colt, but he's also grown accustomed to slower route fractions after 11 straight two-turn efforts. He might put in a late run here just based on talent alone, but it's hard to see him outkicking either Midnight Lute or Arson Squad. I don't think Brother Derek will hit the board.

Latent Heat? Well, i'm a big supporter of his, but not today. He's drawn way on the outside, and will have to be much the best to win a multi-pronged pace battle from wide position and then have enough to hold off the late runners going 7 furlongs. I do expect him to run well, but he's really up against it here. Spring at Last? No chance. He'll have to run much faster than ever before to maintain any kind of position, and he has no experience dealing with these kinds of animals. Not even close.

I want to draw attention to Alan's opinion of the Perryville being an "opposite key race". That may be true, but let's go back to Midnight Lute's return try vs. Sailors Sunset and Ramsgate. Those three horses are a combined 8-for-9 since that race. 8-for-9! Now THAT'S a key race. The only loss? Sailors Sunset got smoked by Midnight Lute @ Keeneland. So did Latent Heat, for that matter. I think Midnight Lute is the most likely winner here, guys. There's gonna be a fearsome pace battle up front, and he's well-positioned to take advantage of it. Arson Squad should be able to capitalize as well, but may find some difficulty in the running as he drops back along the rail in a very large field. And i just think Midnight Lute is better. As for Arson Squad, it's true, he's been blistering the track in the mornings lately. But Alan, Bruce Headley is well-known for working his horses extremely fast. Arson Squad is a very good horse, the race shape compliments his running style, and he should definitely fire a big shot. I just think he'll have his hands full with Midnight Lute as he spots that one some position and a probably a little bit of talent.

Interesting pick with Hyperbaric. I actually bet him in his debut, and he's most certainly runner. Drew poorly though, and i don't think the route efforts are gonna do him any favors here. Might be able to run third if things go his way (similar to Brother Derek), but anything more is really pushing it.

I made some mention of Sailors Sunset, might as well comment on him. He fits here, he's very fast, and he's definitely on a roll. But he's gonna be hard-pressed to wire this group with a ton of speed lined up and an additional furlong to work with. Plus he could barely hold off Midnight Lute in that one's tune-up try, and was subsequently beaten by that one. Hard to see any of Sailors Sunset/Da Stoops/Northern Soldier/Latent Heat winning this thing based on their projected pace battle. Gotta be going low 44's with Midnight Lute and Arson Squad laying behind them and waiting to pounce.

SantaBarbarian said...

The best thing to "unwrap" is the day after Christmas....Santa Anita!

And off I go!

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Walter, I am just having a real hard time with these artificial surface races and can not lend much credence to any of them.

I believe Frankel when he says LH did not like the surface and was sick, so think he bounces back here.

As for BD, he would not be the first classy speed at a distance horse to come flying late into very fast fractions when turning back to 7f.

Good luck at Santa Anita!

Mr. Ed