Spring Forward or only 42 days left
Real Writing on Racing 💯
Last weekend was a slow one both literally and figuratively yet with daylight savings time getting fired back up, there is hope that we might actually be able to see this Saturday’s entire Louisiana Derby. At this six weeks to the Kentucky Derby mark, we have action galore with a marathon card chock full of stakes competition at the Fair Grounds as the New Orleans portion of the racing season winds down. Plus breakfast at Meydan as the UAE Derby and a slew of Japanese contenders (none named Ohtani) provides some morning hours graded stakes viewing prior to a pretty soft group vying for the $12 million dollar Dubai World Cup. Turfway also has a host of big fields and a six pack of stakes be run over their tapioca surface with the Jeff Ruby Steaks and its 100 Derby points to the winner as the headliner plus it’s only $25 bucks to get in the door! A bargain indeed to be there to take in two legs of the inaugural ‘Bayou Bluegrass 5’, a new 15% takeout bet combining three races at CDI track 1 (FG) and CDI track 2 (TP). To be fair, do forgive my mocking tone as I appreciate any low take wagers being offered and it’s a kinda, sorta interesting sequence though I am leery to partake as I prefer to eat pudding rather than bet races run over it. The $25 fee to walk in the door (it’s usually free) has elicited a lot of social media eye rolling but in the end, Churchill is gonna Churchill. There are even some Derby points to be doled out on the periphery of the trail Sunday at dusty old Sunland Park, home of the wrong replay DQ!
✅ This recent letter to the editor of the TDN hits on many of the unsettling truths that a great deal of industry insiders seem to miss or choose to willfully ignore. Check it out here.
📒 The Jockey Club Fact Book is an interesting look at various stats from the racing and breeding industry. It’s updated a few times a year and to checkout the most recent edition Click here.
👀 Could HISA be replaced? This piece tells of an interesting development emanating from a PA Racing Commission meeting. Believe me I know that a lot of people are fans of HISA because they are understandably fed up with the regulatory clown show that has been in effect in American racing over the last 30 or so years. However its flaws are substantial and most have very little chance of being corrected before inflicting significant damage, if even fixed at all.
🦀 In a sport where political debacles have become relatively commonplace, the Pimlico redevelopment bond deal has become a boondoggle for the ages. Read about it as the future of Maryland racing is murky.
⏰ This week’s ‘Turn back the clock’ section has a straight “The more things change, the more they remain the same” vibe. From a Steve Crist column in The NY Times from September 23, 1988:
“It's that time of year again: horses with mediocre form in Europe are piling onto airplanes to plunder America's richest grass races.”
Sounds a lot like any of our last few turf racing seasons doesn’t it? Check out the rest of the story for a fascinating look back including notes about a two year old named Easy Goer, a 15 horse Pegasus stakes at the Meadowlands televised live by ESPN, a synthetic track gone bad and the inaugural Festival of British Racing at Ascot
🌍 It’s Going in Circles Digest policy to not spend too much time analyzing foreign Kentucky Derby preps because for the most part, they are rarely a factor on the first Saturday in May. This year however, with the dearth of well-qualified domestic contenders, it seems as though some overseas potential participants might be ready to capitalize on that situation and here is the story behind one hoping to qualify in the UAE Derby Saturday morning.
🇦🇪 For a free program for the Dubai World Cup card click here. This isn’t a political statement, it’s just a program so you can tell which Japanese horse just won another big stakes.
💸 We aren’t bold enough to try to figure out the Fair Grounds Turf stakes and you are decidedly on your own at Turfway and Sunland Park. Fort Bragg will scratch out of Sunday’s Sunland Park Derby to take a shot at the Florida Derby next weekend.
Louisiana Derby (Gr II) $1,000,000 1 3/16 3yo (100 KD pts)
Shoppers Revenge - was off a step or two slow in latest, an allowance at Oaklawn, before he rallied wide on the turn and appeared poised to give Asmussen his 10k win but couldn’t sustain and settled for second. He is a little bit slow fig-wise with paired 7ish TG’s but a step up and better start not leaving so much to do might be enough to get him on the board at a decent price.
Instant Coffee - Skipped a lot of potential preps since winning the Lecomte (Gr III) in January which colors me a bit skeptical about his chances on the first Saturday in May. That said he ran very good in that spot (2 TG) and a repeat of that effort makes him dangerous here though this race does lack early pace. Overcame a similar slow pace scenario in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club but that was race lacking in prime contenders at the time. At a short price here we will likely try to beat him.
Curly Jack - was second in the aforementioned KYJC at CD but has not progressed as he was nowheresville in the Risen Star (Gr II) and if there is any logical reason for him to bounce back here, I haven’t seen it.
Sun Thunder - surprised when the runner up at 16-1 in the Risen Star (Gr II) after leading mid-stretch. Has rapidly improved since breaking his maiden on New Year’s Eve at Oaklawn with TG progression of 10.5 - 8 - 3.5 which leads me to think he might plateau or regress here as a move forward puts him in rare company. It is almost always a good strategy to bet against that final leap to the elite level though if he pair’s the 3.5 TG he is directly in the mix here. Remember that figs and results don’t always coincide with each other and the lack of pace may prove to be too much to overcome for a confirmed closer like Sun Thunder.
Disarm - generated a lot of buzz last summer after dispatching a tough Saratoga maiden race (Arthur’s Ride, Crupi, Rocket Can) on Whitney day. However he went into the witness protection program as he was unsighted until he re-emerged in an Oaklawn allowance race last month where he was a distant second to fringe Arkansas Derby contender Two Eagles River. Clearly he can improve off of that middling effort but he was running 6 TG’s last summer and returned with a 9 which isn’t ideal. Also has not broke alertly his last 2 starts and the presence of Rosario hasn’t exactly been a big plus this winter. Leaning elsewhere
Kingsbarns - the new leader of the highly touted yet lightly raced Pletcher contender list with Tapit Trice graduating to become a stakes winner a few weeks ago in the Tampa Bay Derby. This son of Uncle Mo exits a strong looking allowance effort at Tampa as well, though you couldn’t have scripted a better setup that day. He ran a 4.5 TG, a big jump from the 9 he received for his debut though he may need to improve a tad to get into the winners circle here. Interesting choice of Prat to ride as Irad and Saez, Pletcher’s main two, seem tied up with other Kentucky Derby mounts. His tactical speed is a big plus here as I’m not really sure who will even be in front as they turn down the backside. I do think that Kingsbarns will go off much lower than the 6-1 morning line, I’d make him 7-2 or thereabouts and he clearly is a solid contender here.
Cagliostro - improving colt has had two solid two turn efforts over the surface, just missing in an allowance on the Risen Star (Gr II) undercard. He is likely to be overlooked but continued progression could make him an upset possibility and unheralded jock Torres has been riding as well as anyone lately. My biggest question for him is the 1 3/16th distance, though you could say that about many of the contenders.
Single Ruler - in an alternate world where Jose Riquelme doesn’t get completely lost for a quarter mile of the Risen Star (Gr II) you could make an excellent case that he may have won the thing at 42-1. Desormeaux makes a change here to David Cohen who only has 8 more riding wins at the current meet than former Met pitcher David Cone, not the most confidence inspiring change. However with a better trip I do believe that he can compete here at a long price, though Cohen must keep him closer, especially if the pace doesn’t develop.
Tapit’s Conquest - another of the legion of the Brad Cox trained, immaculately bred, lightly raced, ‘never run a bad race’ colts comes into this off of a tough trip 4th in the Risen Star. The son of Tapit has steadily improved and has to be considered a huge threat in this spot and potentially in Louisville too. IMO the jock change is a plus and I believe M. Franco will ride him more aggressively, which again IMO will benefit him.
Denington - experienced son of Gun Runner broke through last out in an allowance after a couple of fair stakes attempts. Loses Lanerie to Baseline Beater which is interesting and from post 10 I’m a little skeptical that things will work out his way once again.
Jace’s Road - has alternated pretty good efforts with dreadful ones though he is due for a better one in this spot. Showed speed in the Gun Runner over this track and I’d assume Cox’s instructions to Frenchy will be to send him to the lead out of the outside post, with little other speed signed on, but there is no guarantee. How much pressure he faces if he does clear to the top will probably determine how far he can take them and the fact is that lone speed is always dangerous, especially the longer the distance and having a trainer that wins 41% doesn’t hurt. The last 2 bad races were both over sloppy surfaces and the weather forecast in the Big Easy looks pretty dry Saturday afternoon though unusually hot with highs nearing 90 degrees. The jury is still out over his ability to successfully navigate the added distance but anything close to the morning line makes him an interesting wire to wire play. It is unusual that his final work for this race was March 13 which is 12 days out, not the norm for this outfit.
Baseline Beater - Neil Pessin is the man but he needs to find a rabbit for this gelding who possesses absolutely no early foot and that puts him up against it in this spot.
Fair Grounds Oaks (Gr II) $400,000 1 1/16 3yo fillies
Southlawn - moved back to the dirt after a couple of weak grass efforts and dominated an allowance race over the course. That was the only race of her 6 that makes her remotely competitive but the younger Casse has been white hot over the last 90 day (28% w/3.12 ROI)
Christian D’Oro - Sunland Park shipper seems as overmatched here as she would have been at home in the Sunland Park Oaks against her stablemate, Flying Connection. Has high speed but unlike the Louisiana Derby, there appears to be ample early pace types in this spot and her path to being on the board is very fuzzy
Pretty Mischievous - took advantage of a soft early fractions and her main pace rival, Miracle, coming off a long layoff to wear her down in the Rachael Alexandra (Gr II). That race represented a large surge forward in speed figs (10 to 4.5) and regression would not be a surprise. Fadesville.
The Alys Look - rebounded from a runner up finish in the Untappable behind Pretty Mischievous (while getting a less than stellar trip) to beat odds-on favorite and stablemate Chop Chop in the Silverbulletday. She ran a solid TG (6.25) that day and has had 63 days to recover. Saez has to choose early where he wants to sit as the three inside are all likely to flash speed from the gate. Cox/Saez have 2.23 ROI from 259 starts. This group is tougher than her latest but she clearly has a real chance here.
Hoosier Philly - we were concerned going into the Rachael Alexandra (Gr II) with her very light work pattern (only 3 recorded works since November) and the inexperience of her pilot riding a filly with a target on her back in an Oaks prep. Well as it turned out, both seemed to be factors as Morales never appeared to get Hoosier Philly in a comfortable position after a bit of a stumble at the start and she had very little late in the game, fading to be beaten 8+ lengths. This race presents an entirely different set of circumstances and they are mostly positive ones. Amoss has worked her 3 times in the 5 weeks since her season debut and with more early pace signed on, this should be a truer run race. Morales may be able to get better positioning from the outside post in a short field as well. Her TG (9) was a regression from her 2yo form but she was set up for failure and I’m betting that she will be much better this time around. It’s your call on what price you are willing to accept.
New Orleans Classic (Gr II) $500,000 9 furlongs dirt 4&up
Heading into the Pegasus World Cup (Gr I) at Gulfstream in late January, we were skeptical about Art Collector. He hadn’t run particularly strong in a long time, outside of a race at a bullring or a 4 horse listed stakes where he walked the dog on the lead. So it was a bit of a surprise when he regained his best form and slingshot past the two California speed horses, Defunded and Stiletto Boy, on his way to a decisive 4 length score. That race has been identified as a “key race” with the vanquished pair of Cali shippers running one-three in the Big Cap (Gr I) split by Proxy who was 5th in the Pegasus. The well beaten Skippylongstocking and White Abarrio dropped in class and both won and then last week, Last Samurai took down the Essex (Gr III) after having won the Razorback (Gr III) a few weeks prior.
So this means you should send it in on Art Collector right? Well….no, no you shouldn’t. First of all he is likely to be wildly over-bet in the NO Classic, partially because every analyst alive will be sure to point out how “key” the Pegasus was. However it isn’t as though every single one of those next out runners wasn’t a horse that figured to have a big chance and with him lined up in the gate between 2 others with early speed, perhaps he gets stuck in a less than desirable trip? He ran great last time but betting on horses is about who will run great this time and at 4-5 I’d rather play him to regress than progress.
Last time the Louisiana Derby winner won the Kentucky Derby? Try 1996 and Grindstone and the only thing that is still the same is the yellow starting gate!