Only 91 shopping days till Kentucky Derby Day, just 13 short weeks till the first Saturday in May! It’s currently -12 degrees in Saratoga as I write this so I will add that it’s also only 23 weeks till opening day, hopefully the frozen tundra that currently exists here will be thawed out by then. Today we will do some stakes previews including two ‘not all that compelling’ Derby preps instead of three with the Big A postponing their Saturday card and rescheduling the Withers to be run next Saturday. We will also take a look at some of the other assorted stakes of interest and as always, offer our take on the entrants. We will start in sunny Florida with a series of races from Gulfstream Park to at the very least get palm trees 🌴 back in our psyche.
Swale (Gr III) $125,000 3 year olds 7 furlongs dirt
General Jim - Good effort in the Mucho Macho Man when a close fourth after being bottled up for most of the stretch run. Is the only horse that’s shown an ability to sit off the pace and finish in this group. Short price looms and has to avoid getting trapped on the inside again. Shug adds blinkers and while his TG figs have been steadily improving (Shug is 32% cutting back from routes to sprints with a positive ROI in 37 starts), he needs to move up from the 9 he earned last out. A wet track is a mystery though his pedigree seems fine for it.
Keanu - Broke his maiden in try number 6 against state bred company last out off the layoff, trainer change, surface switch and stretch out in distance. Cuts back to 7 panels here and back to the dirt but has never run a figure even remotely fast enough to beat these though this isn’t a particularly salty bunch.
Two of a Kind - Was an early season revelation, breaking his maiden impressively at Churchill during Derby week before going wire to wire to win the Tremont stakes at Belmont in early June (7 TG). Chased Super Chow off the 6 month layoff on New Year’s Day in the Limehouse and tired from his early efforts. Saez chooses General Jim (though he did also opt off Art Collector) and the slumping Joel Rosario is tabbed for the assignment for the red hot Brian Lynch. Can he chase and finish up enough to catch Super Chow and hold off General Jim? Not many other options here.
Aaraj - Easy first out winner mid-December over suspect group in the slop. Broke inward from post one in debut, can’t afford to miss the break again. Another that Saez took off of, replaced by Irad today. May get overbet in here due to the Irad factor and his off track win on a potentially wet track but not for me.
King Sparrow - Rory Sparrow has a better chance in here and he is 63 years old.
Super Chow - Draws well as Chantel will likely look to be the outside controlling speed. Comes in to this on a four race winning streak including three stakes races though this is the son of Lord Nelson’s first try beyond 6 furlongs since his lone defeat way back at Saratoga. He drifts out on a regular basis and one has to wonder when that will come back to haunt him. On paper he looks like he has this field over a barrel but the 7f and whatever it is that makes him get out might be worth trying to beat him at a short price here.
Kittens Joy (Gr III) $175,000 3 year olds 8.5 furlongs turf
Candidate - big question if this stays on with the soggy forecast. We will handicap for good turf and hope it isn’t moved to the Tapeta which is just one more X factor to consider. This one is looking for his fourth consecutive win after taking down the Dania Beach in his latest. Appears to be the controlling speed today as he has in all his wins and is an obvious big player.
Souzak - A bit rank early in his US debut in the Dania Beach, dropped back down the backside and never really got involved. If similar tactics are employed, it’s hard to see him cutting too much into the gap. Does have positive soft turf races overseas.
Moon Cat - Steps up into stakes company after breaking his maiden second time out/first time on the grass in what appears to be a pretty good maiden field back on January 7 at GP. Needs to improve from his 13 TG but isn’t all that far off from the top contenders and maybe use underneath in exotics at a big price.
Major Dude - Pletcher Bolt D’Oro colt switched to the grass last fall and won the Pilgrim (Gr II) at Baqueduct in his first try. Subsequently dispatched by the Euros in the Breeders Cup Juvy Turf, made his season debut with a clean trip, runner-up finish in the Dania Beach behind Candidate. The extra half furlong won’t hurt and he does have good soft turf form but you are taking a short price here, shorter than what you’d ordinarily want to take with a horse that has to improve to win.
Light of Broadway - Progressing City of Light colt ran well first time on the turf in the Pulpit stakes back in December. Has a pair of Tapeta wins including a stakes victory in the Armed Forces prior to the Pulpit and Casse would surely run him in the event racing officials take the race off the grass. His 10 TG holds up well in this group and he may be overlooked a bit.
Dude N Colorado - Broke his maiden in an off the grass Tapeta race last out after an even 3rd on the turf at Baqueduct in October. Showed speed in the last and may prompt Candidate or at least keep him honest on the front end. Loses Jose Ortiz to Boppy O with Saez taking the reins. Tough call as another that needs to improve to be a big factor.
Congruent - Finds trouble often, hasn’t really improved on the turf after having raced over fast and wet surfaces with some success including winning the Laurel Futurity over a sloppy track. He isn’t impossible here but he is also tough to have a strong positive opinion about.
Boppy O - Upset the PG Johnson (Gr III) first time over the turf back in Saratoga before wide trip when 6th in the Bourbon (Gr II) at Keeneland. Stopped abruptly after displaying brief early speed next out in sloppy track Street Sense (Gr III) at Churchill on Halloween eve when blinkers added and hasn’t been seen since. Was as fast at these on figures back in early fall and with any natural progression should be a big player in here but the post hurts and not sure what his favored running style is. Jose Ortiz lands here after never having ridden much for Casse. 12-1 morning line odds are tempting though the possibility exists that he won’t be cranked fully for first start in 3 months.
Forward Gal (Gr III) $125,000 3 year old fillies 7 furlongs dirt
Flakes - Broke maiden in State bred race earning decent fig but not good enough to compete here. Rail draw doesn’t help either.
Twice as Sweet - Stakes winning Candy Ride filly ships in after wide trip run in Fair Grounds stakes. Pedigree suggests the stretch out in distance should suit and her best TG figs put her directly in the mix here.
Atomically - Cuts back in distance for her season debut after finishing 6th in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Filly as one of the biggest ‘wise guy’ horses on the card. She proved her affinity for this surface last fall when breaking her maiden by open lengths and then cruising by six to win the $400k Florida Stallion Stakes finale for her original connections (she was purchased by Eclipse and transferred to Pletcher after that race). Interesting to see Pletcher’s two main jockeys land somewhere else with Jose Ortiz picking up the mount. There is some smoke here, obviously this is a stepping stone spot to get this filly on the Kentucky Oaks trail, it’s a cutback in distance, she may have to navigate traffic in a good sized field plus her figs aren’t as good as others to go along with the jockey switches. Pletcher is always strong at GP but I’d tread lightly here.
Arella Star - early season maiden winner’s connections got a little ambitious with a Del Mar mission which produced a trouncing. However she has regrouped well and after scoring in an allowance race, she got caught up in a quick pace in the Cash Run against Infinite Diamond who ran a giant speed figure winning that. She isn’t a likely winner but she does have tactical speed, her best race was on a sloppy track and if you wanna take a flyer at 30-1, it’s not the worst play.
Apropos - Jimmy Toner has been on fire lately (28% last 90 days) but this filly looks like she is in deep here for her first try against winners.
Lynx - Ran second to Atomically in FLSS before running third to the aforementioned Infinite Diamond in latest. Got super high fig in that last outing and I’m guessing regression here cutting back to 7 furlongs. At GP going from 1 mile to 7f is technically a route to sprint and David’s numbers on the cutback (7% in 56 starts) are terrible compared to his overall stats.
Undervalued Asset - typical lightly-raced Chad Brown early season stakes entrant. Broke maiden in fashionable manner over deep Aqueduct track in early November earning solid figure (TG 9). Obviously gives up experience to rivals but despite this being a representative field, there is reason to believe that she can be right there with the contenders. Irad sticks and while she is unlikely to be undervalued, she can win.
Red Carpet Ready - shocked maidens at 37-1 first time out at Churchill this fall, blowing away a maiden special weight bunch by 10 over a sloppy track. A month later she dusted off a group of listed stakes fillies, drawing away after stalking the pace to win the Fern Creek Stakes by 3. Veteran Kentucky trainer Arnold usually pretty quiet during the winter but lures Saez to ride the daughter of Oscar Performance, who is best known for his turf progeny. She earned big speed figures both starts, has had 70 days to recover, drew a good post position where her tactical speed is an advantage and to us looms as the filly to beat.
Positano Sunset - broke her maiden at Churchill last out after a runner up effort at Keeneland against the wildly touted Julia Shining. Ran good (7 TG) in that winning effort and had had plenty of time to recover and rates a solid chance to be in the mix here.
Adeliese’s Smile - Will likely be frowning after getting thrashed by these.
Sweetest Chant (Gr III) $175,000 3 year old fillies 8.5 furlongs turf
Sweetlou’sgotaces - Flashed early speed when stretched out in wire to wire score over less than firm turf in the Tepin at Aqueduct on Thanksgiving weekend. Has consistently run fast figures and she has the versatility to be a big player here. The downside is that Rosario hasn’t exactly been sharp and Handel is 0-24 in graded stakes and 0-43 at GP lifetime.
Padma - switches to the grass after proving to be no match against Infinite Diamond in the Cash Run on the dirt. The Tapit filly also stretches out to two turns here though her pedigree suggests that both moves should be within her scope. If she is a square price you’d have to consider her here.
Malleymo - closed from the clouds after a faulty start in the Wait a While, her US debut. The race didn’t come back with a strong speed figure but the two year old turning three fillies haven’t been a stellar group. Obviously needs to not spot so many lengths leaving the gate but isn’t impossible here. Does have a synthetic track win in Ireland if the race comes off.
Metaphysical - Took awhile to get through the maiden ranks but raced well in her initial try against winners. Still needs to do better and softish grass is a mystery though she too has a Tapeta win.
Alpha Bella - Broke her maiden last out in her turf debut with blinkers added. Pletcher finds a soft spot for her initial stakes foray though like others she needs to improve to get on the board.
Bulsara - Was wrangled back to last in the Tepin behind Sweetlou’sgotaces and finished well to be 4th that day. Followed that up with an allowance score at Turfway, sweeping past the field to win rather easily. Left in her wake that night was Wet Paint, a Godolphin/Cox runner who captured the Martha Washington at Oaklawn last weekend. Not a huge fan of Mr Reyes on the grass but he likely adds to the price and if she is anything near the morning line and the turf has some give in it, she is a definite play. Moving it to the Tapeta likely slices her price quite a bit as she is 2 for 2 on that surface.
Cairo Consort - purchased for $875k last November at Fasig Tipton after running third in the BC Juvy Filly Turf, she paid immediate dividends for the new connections, winning the Ginger’s Brew last month. Pletcher wheels her right back with the worlds hottest jock aboard once again and she may be the favorite in here but she is vulnerable. She just hasn’t gotten much faster since the Fall and while she can certainly improve (I’d expect it) I don’t know if that move forward is coming today and at a short price I will hope it isn’t.
Heavenly Sunday - she is 2 for 2 with both wins coming without her having to be extended much. Ships in from New Orleans for Cox, adds Gafflione and her TG’s numbers are solid. If she gets a decent trip, may be a big contender.
Stephanie’s Charm - closed stoutly last two but I just believe she took advantage of slow races more than anything. Her trainer had very good stats in his native Puerto Rico but is a novice with grass runners and has yet to win a turf race.
Holy Bull (Gr III) $250,000 3 year olds 8.5 furlongs (KYD pts prep)
Lord Miles - Exits decent try in the Mucho Macho Man when he rallied well out in the middle of the track to be 3rd and he might have won if the race was 1 mile and three jumps. That said the TG was ordinary and he had a good setup with blazing fractions up front followed by a staggerfest to the wire (last 1/8 in 14.1). He gets the rail, Irad and blinkers but has to improve once again and often horses that close a lot of ground in fast paced, one turn races don’t look quite as good behind the slower pace dynamics of a two turn race. This race is also a first finishline race meaning the stretch run is shorter than when going 1 mile.
West Coast Cowboy - This is not a good field for the Holy Bull but it still doesn’t appear to be soft enough to get this cowboy in the picture as he has to improve A LOT. He’s not my huckleberry.
Shadow Dragon - Respect Mott but not sure why this guy is here as his first stab at stakes horses came against New York breds and he made no impact.
Cyclone Mischief - finds a soft graded stakes after looking sharp beating up on an entry level allowance bunch 27 days ago. Stretches back out to two turns again though it’s more likely that he regresses from that big fig in his last than repeats it as it was a big jump. This is just such a weak race for this level he might be able to win even if he takes a small step backward. Off lasix and the fact that Romans hasn’t won a graded stakes since 2020 despite many chances are also things to consider.
Mr Bob - got totally lost after breaking poorly in the Mucho Macho Man, making up ground late as the race collapsed. Rosario takes over and he adds blinkers and has run a pretty good fig before but has regressed since.
Legacy Isle - set blazing fractions in the Mucho Macho Man but gamely held on, ducking out late causing interference that cost him the win. My initial thought was I want no part of him coming out of that race, especially at a short price. Switches to Saez and might be loose on the lead, which at GP is always dangerous and again, this isn’t a bunch of killers. I will have to see how the main track is playing before I decide what I will do to be honest. I don’t love him but I’m always wary of two turn, short stretch races at GP where a decent horse might get a head start.
Il Miracolo - Aggressively spotted in the Remsen after breaking his maiden last November, got thumped up north and then didn’t show much in the Mucho Macho Man in his latest. Based on current form him winning would be a miracle.
Rocket Can - Didn’t show much sprinting at Saratoga but rapidly improved once Mott sent him to Kentucky. Has paired 8’s on TG and has the feel of a horse sitting on a big forward move, especially if he can get a nice spot stalking the pace from his outside post. The Bill Mott and Junior Alvarado duo pulled off the upset last Saturday, this one will not be a long price but IMO has an excellent chance of getting that combo back to the winners circle again.
The RB Lewis (Gr III) $200,000 3 year olds 8.5 furlongs 🚫 KYD pts
Arabian Lion - Not to be confused with Arabian Knight, this son of Justify bombed in the Los Al Futurity, chasing the pace before folding up. Typical Baffert workload since with a bullet in the holster last week. Mixed signals at best.
Newgate - the question I have about this colt is does he really want the distance? The chances of me wagering on this event are the same as me heading up to Lake George to swim this afternoon but if I did I’d be taking a stand against Newgate at a short price.
Worcester - I think this maiden is sitting on a big race and might upset the apple cart in the Lewis (Gr III). I mostly feel this way because I don’t like any of the others lol. Lost in the Baffert-mania over this race is that none of these really seem to be the quality needed to be a real Bob Baffert Derby contender.
Hard to Figure - Is.
A sort of forgotten race these days that used to be an important stepping stone race to the Triple Crown series is the Hutchenson stakes. Now run as an ungraded 6 furlongs race in March, it was used as an early season launch pad by a host of illustrious names of the past such as Spectacular Bid, Lord Avie, Swale, Housebuster, Fly So Free and in 1994, Holy Bull. We remember Holy Bull for his exciting two year old season, his scintillating wins in Florida Derby and Met Mile and especially his valiant Travers and dominating Woodward. A race that I had mostly forgotten about but where he showed great determination was the Hutchenson against good sprinter Patton who gave him quite a tussle. Check that race out ⬇️
None of these races is exciting. Most of these races have average allowance horses in them. Gulfstream has turned racing into a joke in south Florida. Trainers and owners don’t care about running their good horses here except a very few. Palm Meadows track hasn’t allowed any actual training on its dirt track for several days. Do people even know how bad it is here? Everything TSG has touched in racing is a joke. Her team of clowns 🤡 has made it a joke. A bad joke.