Archive for February, 2012

Grading the 2012 Kentucky Derby Preps: Union Rags Wins Fountain of Youth

Union Rags was the Kentucky Derby 2012 favorite going into the Fountain of Youth Stakes and proved his mettle with a facile score at Gulfstream Park under Julien Leparoux on Sunday.

G2 Fountain of Youth Stakes (2-26-12): 95 BSF (Union Rags)

Union Rags horse

Derby favorite Union Rags wins Fountain of Youth - photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Union Rags did not have to win the Fountain of Youth Stakes. He already had plenty of Derby graded earnings and was using his sophomore debut as a prep for the Florida Derby. It was nice to see a good prospect score despite not being fully cranked. The Michael Matz runner is the solid Derby favorite at this stage but let’s not get carried away with Triple Crown talk. His main rival and morning line favorite Algorithms scratched due to a bone splint injury and there was not much depth to the FOY field. Discreet Dancer was the controlling speed but spiked a fever earlier in the month and figured to have distance limitations.

Union Rags has been my top ranked Derby hopeful since November 2011 and showed plenty of promise at the Gulf on Sunday but there is still a long way to go and we will learn more when he faces better rivals at nine furlongs in the Florida Derby on March 31.

Dale Romans always seems to find a way to have a Triple Crown trail player and News Pending finished a fine 2nd in the FOY. Kent Desormeaux sensed the slow splits and made a smart early move aboard the 27.50-1 longshot. He was not match for Union Rags but ended up a clear second.

Discreet Dancer set the pace and held the show in a disappointing effort as the favorite. He is best around one turn.

Fountain of Youth Grade: B

Grading the Kentucky Derby 2012 Preps: Risen Star Stakes

The final major local prep for the Louisiana Derby was contested at Fair Grounds on Saturday and Kentucky Derby 2012 hopeful El Padrino nipped Mark Valeski a thrilling renewal of the G2 Risen Star Stakes.

G2 Risen Star Stakes (2-25-12): El Padrino (99 BSF)

El Padrino horse

El Padrino wins thrilling renewal of Risen Star - photo by Eclipse Sportswire

It was not easy by any means but overwhelming favorite El Padrino notched his first stakes win and garnered a much needed $180,000 in Derby graded earnings on Feb 25.

The Pletcher trainee settled into a nice stalking rhythm on the outside under Castellano with Rosie Napravnik and Mark Valeski intently tracking longshot Hero of Order.

Mark Valeski poked his head in front but was quickly joined by El Padrino and the two leaders matched strides and brushed in the lane with The Godfather getting his nose down on the line.

El Padrino was not flashy or brilliant in New Orleans but he proved he could win a dogfight and walked away win the victory. The versatile sort handles any footing and has fired in all five lifetime starts at Saratoga, Belmont, Aqueduct, Gulfstream, and Fair Grounds. He possesses all of the tools to win on the first Saturday in May and will have one more race before the big dance under the Twin Spires.

Mark Valeski had the most upside in the Risen Star but did not offer much value because he was coupled with Lecomte hero Mr. Bowling. The Larry Jones trainee did everything but win and the top two were well clear of the rest. He could continue to progress and looms a major player in the Louisiana Derby on April 1. El Padrino could end up in that spot as well.

Z Dager landed the show and was the only Lecomte runner to do anything. Mr. Bowling ended up last.

Optimizer ended up 9th for Wayne Lukas and needs to return to synthetic or turf.

Risen Star Stakes Grade: B-

Fountain of Youth Stakes 2012 Preview: Pletcher vs. Union Rags

The South Florida sophomores take a serious step on the road to Kentucky Derby 2012 at Gulfstream Park in Sunday’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes and Union Rags makes his much anticipated seasonal debut.

Union Rags

Union Rags is back in action at the Gulf on Sunday - photo by Eclipse Sportswire

#7 Union Rags was the most accomplished juvenile in the land despite missing the G1 BC Juvenile by a head. He won a pair of graded events in 2011 including a powerful win over Alpha in the G1 Champagne at Belmont Park in October. The talented son of Dixie Union should have caught Hansen under the Twin Spires but he failed to keep a straight course in the stretch. He is in great shape on the Derby graded earnings list and does not have to win this prep for the Florida Derby.

#2 Algorithms (8-5) tries to keep his perfect record intact for Todd Pletcher. This is an important race for him, not from a graded earnings standpoint, but he must prove that he can excel around two turns. He sat perfect outside tactical trips in both local wins against Gotham hopefuls Consortium and Hansen. Early-pressing types from inner posts dominate local 8.5 furlong events and the undefeated son of Bernardini should not have any excuses.

#5 Discreet Dancer (3-1) easily captured both local sprint starts and gets a class/distance test today. He spiked a temperature and missed a planned work on Feb 6 but drilled smartly at Palm Meadows on Feb 13 and Feb 20. He figures to set sail for the lead and will probably offer more value than Algorithms and Union Rags.

#3 Fort Loudon (20-1) lands an advantageous inner post and has enough positional speed to work out a forwardly placed journey at square odds. The Calder specialist got a spin over the local main in needed Holy Bull effort in the slop and can go better today.

#4 Casual Trick (6-1) looked great in his Churchill sprint maiden win last November and began his 3-year-old campaign with a fine 2nd in the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan 1. He threw in a clunker against El Padrino last time but may not have cared for the wet footing. His last was too bad to believe and the well bred Zito runner could rebound in a big way.

#1 Neck ‘N Neck (15-1) dons the hood and lands the cozy rail. He played bridesmaid to Discreet Dancer here Jan 7 and exits a slow renewal of the G3 Sam Davis.

#6 News Pending (20-1) is slowly improving for Dale Romans. He showed a nice late kick in a late turf route Feb 5 and might be better on that footing.

#8 Csaba (20-1) won twice in the Calder slop last year and is probably doing a rain dance. He does not have the numbers to compete here.

Here is HorseRacingNation.com handicapper Mike Shutty’s video analysis of the Fountain of Youth Stakes. My FOY wagering strategies can be found at the bottom of this post.

Jarrod Horak’s Fountain of Youth Plays:

$8 to win #3

.50 cent Trifecta 3-4/2-3-4/1-2-3-4-5-7 ($8)

.50 cent Trifecta 2-4-5-7/3/ALL ($12)

.50 cent Trifecta 2-4-5-7/ALL/3 ($12)

Risen Star Stakes 2012 Preview: El Padrino deserving favorite

The road to Kentucky Derby 2012 heats up in New Orleans on Saturday with the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes and El Padrino looms large for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Kentucky Derby logo

#7 EL PADRINO (2-1) is the deserving favorite following a visually impressive and fast Optional Claiming route tally at Gulfstream Jan 29. He owns fine positional speed and should win this with anything resembling his last. Is he better on wet ground?

#3 Afford (8-1) might be worth a gamble in here. He exits a decent Fair Grounds route tally in the Optional Claiming ranks and figured to relish two turns with Street Sense on top and Unbridled on the bottom of his pedigree. He won despite a wide trip last time and could end up saving ground from the cozy rail today.

The G3 Lecomte came back with a low number so I will toss all six entrants (#1 Mr. Bowling, #2 Adena’s Chance, #2b Hero of Order, #5 Z Dager, #6 Ted’s Folly, #8 Shared Property)  that ran in that below par local prep.

I am a bit intrigued by #1a Mark Valeski (4-1) but he will offer no value due to coupling with Lecomte hero #1 Mr. Bowling. Mark Valeski is on the upswing and tries a route of ground for the first time. Leading rider Rosie Napravnik ends up riding this one for trainer Larry Jones.

#4 Optimizer (6-1) appears best on turf/synthetic for trainer Wayne Lukas. 

#9 Tizanexpense (10-1) exits back-to-back local route (off the turf) tallies against softer company. He drew the outside post and owns ordinary numbers.

THE PLAYS:

$10 to win #3

$18 Exacta 7-3

$5 exacta 3-7

$1 Trifecta 7/ALL/3 ($7)


Grading the Kentucky Derby 2012 Preps: Baffert Sweeps Southwest

Red hot trainer Bob Baffert shipped his Kentucky Derby 2012 contenders to Arkansas on Monday and he walked away with two graded wins in both divisions of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes.

G3 Southwest division 1 (2-20-12): Castaway (92 BSF)

Bob Baffert

Bob Baffert is on a roll - photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Castaway overcame post eleven to win the first division of the Southwest for Bejarano/Baffert. The SoCal invader tracked pacesetter Majestic Stride and burst clear when that rival weakened. He cruised across the line almost four lengths to the good and paid $15.40.

Jake Mo was up for the place with Reckless Jerry rounding out the top three. The final time was nothing special and this event probably won’t produce a serious Derby contender.

Southwest division 1 Grade: C-

In the second division of the Southwest, Bejarano and Baffert struck again with SoCal invader Secret Circle.

G3 Southwest division 2 (2-20-12): Secret Circle (102 BSF)

Secret Circle tasted defeat for the first time in the G3 Sham and got back on the beam at Oaklawn Park on Monday. The swift son of Eddington intently tracked Scatman and wore that rival down in the late stages. The top two were well clear of show finisher Adirondack King and the final time was strong.

Secret Circle might not be a ten furlong horse but the game colt is fast and has a nose for the wire.

Southwest division 2 Grade: C+

Grading the Kentucky Derby 2012 Preps: San Vicente

Sunday’s Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita marked the much anticipated return of Kentucky Derby 2012 hopeful Creative Cause but Drill spoiled the comeback party.

San Vicente Stakes (2-19-12): 94 BSF (Drill)

Drill horse

Drill got back on beam in San Vicente - photo by Eclipse Sportswire

The San Vicente was reduced to a compact field of four after scratches and American Act made the running with Drill tracking the pace. Creative Cause was wide in last but raced within striking range throughout.

It was basically a two-horse race throughout with Drill wearing down American Act. Creative Cause found his best stride late and Let’s Get Crackin completed the quartet.

Drill beat Creative Cause in the G1 Del Mar Futurity last summer but lost to that rival in the G1 Norfolk. He tailed off badly in four subsequent stakes starts but got back on the beam for the recently hot Martin Garcia/Bob Baffert team. I once considered Drill a Derby hopeful and it was nice to see him rebound but he seemingly has distance limitations and took advantage of a perfect situation on Sunday.

Creative Cause was the overwhelming favorite and probably should have captured the San Vicente even if he was not fully cranked. On the other hand, this extended sprint was just a starting point to his sophomore campaign and he was already is great shape on the Derby graded earnings list. He finished up well and galloped out strongly in a useful prep for bigger spring goals.

American Act ran well in his first start vs. winners for Jack Carava. He beat highly regarded Baffert runner Bodemeister in his maiden breaker and is on the upswing.

San Vicente Stakes Grade: C

Grading the Kentucky Derby 2012 Preps: El Camino Real Derby

The road to Kentucky Derby 2012 made a pit stop in Northern California on Feb 18 and Daddy Nose Best edged Lucky Chappy in a thrilling renewal of the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

Kentucky Derby logo 2012

G3 El Camino Real Derby (2-18-12): 92 BSF (Daddy Nose Best)

I am not sure that the El Camino Real was a serious Kentucky Derby prep but it was an exciting race. Daddy Nose Best was full of run and just waiting for an opening, and the tactical threat made his move at the same time as late runner Lucky Chappy. The two shippers battled down the lane with the Steve Asmussen trainee getting the bob.

If I had to pick one of the top two in regards to making the Derby field, I would have to side with Daddy Nose Best. He landed the place in his dirt sprint bow at Churchill last summer and his dam sire Thunder Gulch won the Kentucky Derby in 1995. He owns a decent late kick and showed nice positional speed on Saturday.

Irish bred Lucky Chappy is expected to contest Dubai’s UAE Derby at Meydan for trainer Graham Motion on March 31.

Show finisher Handsome Mike now has stakes placings on turf and synthetic. Doug O’Neill’s versatile colt handles any footing and gave sire Scat Daddy a 1-3 finish in the El Camino Real.

El Camino Real Derby Grade: C

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