Going in Circles Digest Hello February

Real Writing on Racing 💯

Recapping the weekend

  • Last weekends racing produced a few interesting additions to the Kentucky Derby Trail. The Holy Bull (Gr3) gave us one serious contender as Greatest Honour swept by the field 4 wide to score by a widening 5 3/4 lengths and is now the new leader of the east coast contingent. It’s hard to see any others coming out of the Holy Bull becoming real players on the Triple Crown trail but Tarantino showed he could handle dirt and Prime Factor’s race would lead most to believe that he needs a little more seasoning before he is ready to take the next step.

  • The Robert Lewis (Gr3) was won in the opposite manner, as Medina’s Spirt grabbed the lead going into the first turn, set wicked fractions and gamely held off both Roman Centurian and Breeders Cup Juvenile (Gr1) runner up, Hot Rod Charlie. The Santa Anita dirt surface was so insanely slow that the (22.89/46.61) fractions posted by Medina Spirt under Abel Cedillo were far faster (23.84/48.74) than older horses ran going 1 1/8 in the San Pasqual (Gr2) an hour earlier. Bob Baffert seems to have a loaded deck of three year old Derby potentials, as usual, and we will see if he decides to keep Medina Spirt home for the San Felipe and/or Santa Anita Derby or if he is going to send him on the road to try to collect more Derby qualifying points. Roman Centurian ran well in his stakes debut and seems suited to be able to handle longer distances. Hot Rod Charlie was stuck in-between the former and latter and held on well but wasn’t able to out finish either one.

  • Drain the Clock crushed mostly overmatched foes at 7 furlongs in the Swale (Gr3) on Saturday at GP to remain undefeated in races in which his jockey stays aboard. It’s February and three year olds that win stakes easily are naturally going to elicit Derby feelings from their connections but this one has the feeling of a top class sprinter/miler more than a threat at 1 1/4. Would love for aggressive connections to take a shot at the Met Mile with a fast three year old again a la Holy Bull, Gulch, Conquistador Cielo, Dixie Brass, Honour and Glory or Sword Dancer. The Woody Stephens on Belmont day might be tough to pass but a big weight break and potential Met Mile glory might lead a Drain the Clock to perhaps take a shot.

  • Chess’s Dream benefitted from a patient ride and great trip from Tyler Gaffalione to upset the Kittens Joy (Gr3) at 8-1 and became the first stakes winner for his FL based sire Jess’s Dream. Never Surprised just lasted to hold on to second as the huge 3-10 favorite and clearly does his best running on the front end as opposed to being wrangled back as he was on Saturday.

  • Zaajel overcame a slow start to capture the Forward Gal (Gr3) under Luis Saez in a pokey 1:24.72. The winner looks like she has some potential but this was a really weak graded stakes race.

  • White Forest looked like a filly with a future as she ran by race favorite and pace setting Con Lima in deep stretch under Junior Alvarado to score at GP in the Sweetest Chant (Gr3). That was the second consecutive win for the Bill Mott trained daughter of Candy Ride after breaking her maiden at Aqueduct back in November.

  • Express Train was a sharp winner of the San Pasqual (Gr2) at Santa Anita on Saturday. The son Union Rags caught the leaders at the eighth pole and drew away to a 3 1/2 length score over a super slow dirt surface. John Sheriffs trains and Juan Hernandez was the winning rider.

  • Letruska dominated an overmatched field in Sam Houston’s Ladies Classic (Gr3), winning by 3 1/2 after leading throughout. Jesus Castanon rode the Super Saver mare to the easy score for trainer Fausto Gutierrez and owner/breeder St George Farm.

  • The John Connally Turf Cup (Gr3) was captured by the classy Spooky Channel who covered the 1 1/2 over the turf in 2:30.94. Brian Lynch trains the son of English Channel out of the Kittens Joy mare, Spooky Kitten for owner Terry Hamilton.

    This weekends graded stakes schedule

    • Aqueduct has the Withers (Gr3) for 3yo’s going 1 1/8 on the main track on Saturday. The race is a KY Derby points race

    • Tampa Bay Downs has the Sam Davis (Gr3) also for 3yo’s going 1 1/16 on the dirt on Saturday. This is a KY Derby Points prep race. Tampa Bay Downs is also holding a KY Oaks points prep race for 3yo’s fillies on Saturday which is the Suncoast Stakes at 1 mile and 40 yards which is an ungraded stake.

    • Tampa Bay Downs also has the Lambholm South Endeavor (Gr3) for older fillies going 1 1/16 on the turf on Saturday as well as the Tampa Bay Stakes (Gr3) which is the same conditions/distance/surface but is an open race for all horses 4 and up.

    • Gulfstream Park only runs one graded stakes this weekend and that is Saturday’s Suwannee River (Gr3) for older fillies and mares going 1 1/8 on the turf.

    • Santa Anita has a lot of graded stakes action on both Saturday and Sunday. The San Marcos (Gr2) for older horses going 1 1/4 on the turf is joined by another grass stakes, the Thunder Road (Gr3) which is for older horses at a mile. The third Saturday stakes is the Las Virgenes (Gr3) for 3 yo fillies going 1 mile which at SA is a two turn race with KY Oaks points on the line.

    • Santa Anita on Sunday has a pair of stakes for 3 year olds on Sunday. The San Vincente (Gr3) is for 3yo’s going 7f on the dirt and the Sweet Life (Gr3) is for 3yo fillies going 6f on the turf.

      Question of the week

      My friends Bobby Neuman and Anthony Stabile over on HRRN’s Race Day program asked an interesting question on yesterday’s show. “Who is the most underrated horse of the last 40 years?” That includes the period of 1981 through the present which is a pretty lengthy timeframe. It took me a while to ponder that question as you must first have to determine what “underrated” means to you. A few of the answers given on Twitter were of horses that in my opinion weren’t underrated at all so I suppose it’s very much dependent on your own personal view, meaning there is really no wrong answer.

      Gary Mandela tossed out the name Phone Trick which was a name that I had forgotten but could definitely be considered underrated. He only lost his last race the 1986 Tom Fool at Belmont in which he sustained a career ending injury. He retired with 9 wins in 10 starts winning graded stakes on both coasts, setting the 6f track record at Hollywood Park twice before embarking on a very successful stallion career where he sired HoY Favorite Trick and champion filly Phone Chatter as well as 51 other stakes winners.

      I considered Lure who won back to back Breeders Cup Mile’s (back when there was only a turf mile) as he was probably the best turf horse to have never won an Eclipse award. He held the track record at Belmont for a few years going 5f on the dirt, won the 1992 Gotham Stakes when he dead heated with Devil His Due in one of the best races that you could see. His two Breeders Cup Mile’s in 1992 at GP and 1993 at SA were absolute tour de forces. His 5 year old season was checkered by nagging little issues and his bid for a third consecutive mile didn’t turn out so well but what he did do was unforgettable.

      Ultimately I believe that 1990 Horse of the Year Criminal Type is the most underrated horse of the last 40 years. After starting his career in France where he was pretty ordinary on the turf as a 2 and 3 year old, the son of the great sire Alydar was sent to D. Wayne Lukas in California in 1989 and he toiled in allowance condition till switched to the dirt. He kicked off 1990 with an easy allowance win at Santa Anita and followed that up 16 days later by capturing the grade 2 San Pasqual at 1 1/8. Three weeks later he won the grade 2 San Antonio beating Ruhlman, Present Value and Stylish Winner. He was upset when finishing second in the Santa Anita Handicap by the Charlie Whittingham trained Ruhlman who stole the race on the lead under Gary Stevens. Criminal Type finished ahead of champion Bayakoa and grade 1 winners Hawkster, Lively One, Quiet American and Flying Continental in that race.
      After running second in the San Bernadino to the front running Ruhlman again, he sputtered to a 4th place finish when shipped to Arkansas for the grade 1 Oaklawn Park Handicap, not being able to overcome a wide trip behind Opening Verse. His next start was the Pimlico Special and that is when he started his amazing string of wins over the very best horses in training including a couple of hall of famers named Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. The Pimlico Special back then was a grade 1 with a $1million dollar purse. The 1990 version had a field that consisted of the best older runners in the country, Opening Verse, Ruhlman, Canadian triple crown winner With Approval and the top filly Gorgeous. Sitting second behind the pace setting Ruhlman, Criminal Type under Jose Santos ran him down in the lane and beat him by 1/2 length while setting a stakes and track record for 1 3/16th (faster than Secretariat). Criminal Type was in receipt of 7 pounds from the runner up but that one also had an easy, uncontested lead and couldn’t hold on.
      Criminal Type’s next start was 16 days later in the one of the most prestigious races in America, the Met Mile, when that race was still held on the traditional Memorial Day card. Among those lined up in the gate against him that day was New York favorite son and Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer as well as the classy Sewickley, two time eclipse award sprinter and hall of famer Housebuster and future Breeders Cup Classic winner and horse of the year Black Tie Affair. Again while getting weight from the favorite Easy Goer who was a non threatening 3rd, Criminal Type wore down the pacesetting Housebuster, who himself was getting 7 pounds from the 120 impost CT carried, to score his second grade 1 win in a row. I was there in the crowd of more than 31000 people at Belmont that day and remember being astonished that Easy Goer didn’t win but Criminal Type wasn’t done beating up on the hero’s of the 1989 Triple Crown and Breeders Cup Classic.
      For his next start, Lukas sent Criminal Type back to California to run in the grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. His early season competitors, Ruhlman and Stylish Winner were there as was Opening Verse and Mi Selecto. The big horse and favorite however was Easy Goer’s nemesis, the 1989 Horse of the year and hall of famer, the legendary Sunday Silence. In a stirring stretch duel Criminal Type had to dig deep under now regular rider Jose Santos, to hold off Sunday Silence in an epic finish.
      Both Easy Goer and Sunday Silence were retired by the time Criminal Type won his 4th grade 1 race in a row at Saratoga in the Whitney Handicap. Finally sent off as the favorite, overwhelmingly so at 2-5 while carrying top weight of 126, Criminal Type went wire to wire, easily besting Easy Goer’s barnmate, Dancing Spree by 1 1/2 lengths.
      His final race of his Horse of the Year campaign and also the last race of his career was in the grade 1 Woodward at Belmont in September of 1990. Chasing a wicked pace set by eventual winner, Dispersal, Criminal Type faded and showed no fight in finishing 6th in the 8 horse field. He was subsequently found to have an ankle injury coming out of the race and like Easy Goer, Sunday Silence and Housebuster had to be retired before the Breeders Cup.
      Criminal Type won two Eclipse Awards for his 1990 season, one for handicap horse/older horse over Dispersal and Horse of the Year over Unbridled in a tight vote. Virtually no one even remembers him and his name is rarely brought up when talking about the horses of the past. However he was very good in 1990, certainly good enough to wipe the slate clean with what passes for the best older horses these days and that qualifies him for the Going in Circles Most Underrated horse of the last forty years.

      Video of the Day

      The great Jim McKay hosts the ABC Sports Wide World of Sports coverage of Criminal Type’s Pimlico Special. The audio isn’t great but the coverage is.

    Pleasant Acres Farms stands the most diverse stallion roster in Florida. Check out the farm at www.pleasantacresstallions.com