Monday, April 30, 2007

Cobalt Blue Out? is reporting that Cobalt Blue, Merv Griffin's "derby horse" may not run in Saturday's Kentucky Derby after all. Trainer Doug O'Neill cites Cobalt Blue's recent poor performance in the Illinois Derby and lackluster recent works as the reasons.

Cobalt Blue has enough graded earnings off of his win in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes to qualify for the derby but doesn't appear to be improving and according to reports seems nowhere near ready to run in the derby.

This makes room for the fan favorite Tueflesberg, who would now qualify based on graded earnings, to run in the derby and give it all he has to wire the field.

Look for Tueflesberg, if he actually makes it to the race, to try to go straight to the lead and run his guts out.

Here's a look at Cobalt Blue in his prime: The San Felipe Stakes in March.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

"The Inglewood Zone"

Garrett Gomez returned to So-Cal and quickly got back into the winner's circle in the first two races at Hollywood Park on Sunday. Both were stakes races. The first was the Magali Farms Stakes for 3-year-old maidens and Gomez won aboard Rare Exchange who paid $3.60. The second was the Fran Valentine Stakes for 4-year-olds and up (fillies and mares) on the turf. He rode Nashoba's Key who also paid $3.60. Welcome back Garrett, for now.

Gomez, the country's leading rider, also made local news as his bid to build a 2-story home in his Duarte (adjacent to Arcadia) neighborhood was rejected by the city council. He apparently wanted to tear down his existing house and build a two-story 4-bedroom, 4-bathroom house on the propery but neighbors and the city objected because it violated city code.
The Pick 6 prize was finally snatched on Saturday. The three day record pool was enormous and 71 tickets had all 6 and each won $46,492. The regulars are a little annoyed at the way things have been playing out. The form is way off. Going from dirt handicapping at Santa Anita to the cushion track at Hollywood has made for some strange goings-on. From what I've heard some of the regular horse-players around here are considering sitting out a few days to see how this track is gonna play. Yeah right.
Also at Hollywood, Kentucky Derby contenders Tiago and Stormello had their final works in preparation for their trip to the Kentucky Derby. Tiago went 6 furlongs in 1:11.40 with his jockey Mike Smith aboard and Stormello went 5/8 in 1:00.80.
I haven't decided where I stand in terms of my "Derby trifecta" yet. I'll wait until the field is announced and I'm looking forward to reports on all the local horses from Churchill Downs this week. I can't wait for the Derby.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Liquidity Ready To Fire?

According to the Clocker over at Keeneland, Liquidity’s workout this morning was, "a spectacular appearance and gallop-out reminiscent of Curlin's earlier this week. Clearly a horse coming-up to the race firing on all cylinders." He also noted that Liquidity was wearing, “some mysterious padding around [his] lower legs protecting his coronet bands (the part between the ankle and hoof wall), typically used to protect horses that strike the ground particularly hard.”

Liquidity is no doubt considered a long shot in the Derby, finishing in the exotics in most of his grades stakes starts, but not quite seeming to figure it all out. Trainer Doug O’Neill has been trying some different things with Liquidity, most recently adding blinkers in the Santa Anita Derby. He ran 4th that day, and O’Neill say he’s removing the blinkers for the Kentucky Derby and adding a sure-win bridal, which keeps a bit firmly in the horse’s mouth.

The times this morning for Liquidity: 6 furlongs: 1:11.3 [:12.0; :24.0; :35.2; :48.2; :59.3; 1:11.3 - Galloped-out 7/8 in 1:24.0; 1M in 1:40.0]

So what do we make of this? I’m not sure. Maybe he’s a live price at 45-1 or maybe he’s finally putting it all together just in time.

O’Neill’s other runners currently at Keeneland also worked out today. Great Hunter worked 6 furlongs in 1:13 flat, and galloped out 7 furlongs in 1:26.2. The Keeneland Clocker remarked that the members of the California media on site seem to think that Great Hunter isn’t the “monster” that he was as a 2-year-old and then took the opportunity to take a crack at West Coast media in general and Brad Free in specific. You know what? That’s great. Ha ha. I’ll talk to you on May 6.

Cobalt Blue also worked today, going 6 in 1:11.3. The Clocker noted, “this was a full-out work, and when it was done, so was the horse.” Oh man.

Curb My Enthusiasm has video and notes from the O'Neill runners today.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Big Ol' Carryover

In deep stretch it looked like it was over. Neutrality had it.

But, Brahms Tudor and Saul Arias had other plans. Neutrality was clear by a couple near the 1/16 pole. The Pick Six was nailed. Hearts stopped. Babies screamed. Women clutched their purses.

Lots of bettors had Neutrality, one of the favorites, in the final leg of their Pick Six at Hollywood Park on Thursday. Lots. And with a 1/16 to go she had it won.

People were counting their money. Double checking their tickets and trying to contain their excitement. It was over.

But the finish line couldn’t come up quick enough for the 12 and Jon Court.

Brahms Tudor, 25-1, stalked the pace and found herself behind a wall of horses at the top of the stretch. Arias looked for room and eventually found some. After some maneuvering, she came up on Neutrality with 50 yards to go. She was on the inside, gaining steadily, but the finish line was near.

And…she nailed Neutrality at the wire on a head bob.

It was one heck of a dramatic Pick 6 carryover race. Tomorrow’s carryover is almost half a million.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

So-Cal’s Derby Hopes

Here’s a look at the 3-year-old Kentucky Derby contenders that have run at least two major races at Santa Anita, Del Mar or Hollywood Park. The So-Cal horses this year run the gamut from nice, solid picks (Great Hunter), Cinderella stories (Tiago) to horses that should probably make way for stronger contenders lest they get in the way (Cobalt Blue, thanks Merv Griffin!)

Here are my takes (ranked in order) along with notes on how each contender did in their major So-Cal races and where I place them on the morning line if the Derby were tomorrow:

Great Hunter 10-1
Won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in March, ran 2nd in the Best Pal, Del Mar Futurity and Hollywood Juvenile Championships.

The win in the Lewis didn’t really seem as exciting as Trevor Denman made it sound, but it was a win and he did beat Tiago and others (Tap It Light, Saint Paul) that day. He made a huge move at the ¼ pole.

He looked mature down the stretch in the Bluegrass (compared to everybody else) and seemed to be the only one not lugging in and out and in every other direction and checking out the Keeneland grandstand. He was about to unleash his kick at the 1/16 pole in that race when Tueflesberg slammed into him.

People seem to be writing him off too soon because he finished 5th and then those same people discount the race because of the fractions and the surface. Hmm… Check out his works leading up to the big one, he’s O’Neill’s best shot. Definitely in the trifecta. Danger, danger, danger…

Tiago 15-1
Won the Santa Anita Derby and ran 7th in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Broke his maiden by disqualification. He won the Santa Anita Derby with a huge final kick under some serious urging from Mike Smith.

In the Lewis he never really got unleashed, horses were in his way and he apparently wasn’t feeling it. It looked like he just gave up when he figured he had no chance of winning. But in the Santa Anita Derby he burst through a hole toward the inside. Migliore thought he had it won because nobody was looming on the outside, but… Believe it or not but I had the 9-8 exacta for $191 on a $1 bet.

His half brother is Giacomo on the mare’s side and apparently is line bred to Nasrullah and that helps his chances in the eyes of some.

He worked 1:25 for 7 furlongs on Sunday. He also worked 6 furlongs on April 16, so he’s been busy and Shirreff hopes to keep him sharp. He’s scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs either April 30 or May 2. He might shock again at 20-1 (or more! more?). He gets no love for winning the Santa Anita Derby.

It also seems like he needs to relax a bit before really unwinding and he may like the 1 ¼ distance. And he may have learned something in his last race. He looks like a smart one. Lookout!

Stormello 15-1
Broke his maiden in his 2nd race, a 53K Maiden Special Weight at Del Mar last summer. Won the Hollywood Futurity in December at Hollywood Park and the Norfolk Stakes last fall at Oak Tree. He ran 3rd in the Best Pal and Del Mar Futurity.

He has been busy. He ran second to Scat Daddy in the Fountain of Youth. He has tons of heart, tons, as he showed coming back to win the Hollywood Futurity after being passed in the stretch by Liquidity. He’d bred more as a sprinter but has been successful around 2-turns as well. He definitely belongs and he just might try to wire the field unless his connections try to rate him behind the leaders. May surprise.

Sam P. 25-1
Finished 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby and 2nd in the Robert B. Lewis behind Great Hunter.

He chased Great Hunter home (and gave him a scare for about ½ a second) in the Lewis and was the favorite in the Santa Anita Derby. He’ll lose the blinkers, a recent equipment change, for the Derby and will probably be in the mix along with a dozen others trying to close and make up ground around the final turn and in the stretch. Stranger things have happened…. Would be fun.

Liquidity 40-1
Hasn’t won squat except his maiden race. Ran third in the Real Quiet Stakes and 2nd in the Hollywood Futurity at Hollywood Park, 2nd in the Sham behind Ravel and 4th in the Santa Anita Derby.

He’s just been kicking around and hasn’t really impressed too much lately. He seems to have been more hype than anything else. If I remember correctly he was the morning line favorite going into the Santa Anita Derby but only really made one decent move in the stretch, didn’t respond when passed and gave way to horses that wanted it more. I really don’t know what to make of him. He might turn out to be a top 4-year-old.

Cobalt Blue 60-1
He won the San Felipe at Santa Anita in March and was 7th in the Best Pal at Del Mar. Merv Griffin seems to be the only person that believes this guy is ready for the Kentucky Derby. A lackluster recent work and a horrendous showing in the Illinois Derby show otherwise. But Merv was really excited after the San Felipe!

Cobalt Blue is either really inconsistent or he really isn’t ready for the derby. Recent works are uninspiring to say the least. I just hope he doesn’t get in the way too much along the backstretch.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Espinoza Rides For His Life

The clouds showed up and threatened but the rains never came. Just a few drops right before the 9th. The people came too, but not nearly in the numbers they did yesterday when sports fans from everywhere, enticed by the offer of a free baseball cap, filed in in large numbers. Yesterday was fan appreciation day and everything cost $1, except bets over $1. I met my pop in the pavilion, just before the 2nd race.

Yesterday, I overheard a guy ask his girlfriend, "what happens if the long shot wins?" They have a parade down Baldwin Ave., of course.

In the 5th at Bay Meadows a 15-1 morning line horse opened up at 2-1. He held steady for most of the wagering, eventually going off near 9-2. I put some dough on him and after about a 1:12, I found why he was 15-1 on the morning line. I think he’s still running.

The big one today, of course, was the Grade II San Juan Capistrano Handicap. Slightly more than a mile and 3/4 on the hillside turf.
Victor Espinoza and On the Acorn – a former claimer - out-gutted the field and took command in the stretch and at the end of the marathon race – by American standards - passed the favorite and class of the field, Sweet Return.

The win in the 9th was Espinoza’s first of the day and it tied him with Garrett Gomez for the jockey wins title at the winter meet at Santa Anita. Gomez has been riding at Keeneland for the last few weeks and Espinoza has been steadily gaining on him. Closing. Closing. Closing.

So the real drama was in the 10th. The last race of the meet. Maiden Claimers at 7 furlongs. Espinoza was on the favorite, the 2-horse – Ruthie’s Girl.

Just before the race, Trevor Denman announced: “If Victor Espinoza wins the race aboard Ruthie’s Girl, he will win the riding title. He is currently tied with Garrett Gomez.”

“Who cares about that, run the race,” yelled the guy next to us.

My dad turned to me, “he thinks Gomez deserves it.”

“He does, in a way, but…”

My dad turned to the guy and asked, “you think Gomez deserves it?”

They guy looked over at us, “no, I don’t care,” the old guy yelled, “I place parlayed him with the field.” We all laughed as the guy walked away yelling something, waving his cigar in the air.

Ruthie’s Girl broke a little slow and fell off the leaders early. As the field entered the turn near the 3/8 pole, Victor was pushing his horse, trying to will her in. Trying to will in the chalk for the masses who had been losing money all day on 2nd and 3rd favorites. Trevor Denman said, “Victor Espinoza is riding for his life out there.” Ruthie’s Girl just didn’t understand the importance.

In the end the girl never fired and finished 9th at 2-1. Gomez and Espinoza are tied now, and forever.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Santa Barbara 'Cap And More At Santa Anita

Just before 3 today the parking attendant waved me in. I was more than willing to cough up the $1 general parking fee (fan appreciation day) but the guy was either busy with something or word had come down to just let the people in.

I arrived 5 minutes before the 6th race. I had no time to handicap the race so I just picked up a discarded sports page, flipped to the back and went to the window to box the horses that were the consensus 1-2 in the paper. I bet a 9-2 exacta. 9-1 came in. No great loss.

I was really interested in the 7th race. The Grade II Santa Barbara, 1 1/4 miles on the grass. Fillies and Mares, 4 and up.

So, I went back out front and got a hold of a program and form. Papers in hand, I went back up to the Pavillion, across from the food court, aka the semi-indoor smoking section, crowded with tables and horse-players and gamblers of every sort. My pop was in there with the other regulars and I stood next to him at his table. There were no available chairs.

The 9 - Naughty Rafaela - looked like the one to beat and was being bet accordingly. She had several good recent races and good speed ratings, so I settled on her and began looking for a price to box her with in an exacta, looking for a reason to write off the two favorites at the top, Live Life and Solva . Mabadi looked like a live one. So did another horse that I can't recall. Suffice to say, I boxed the three of them. 6-8-something.

And the 8-6 came in. It paid 36 something on $1. Hooray for me. Trainer Bobby Frankel won his fourth straight Santa Barbara. Hooray for him. David Flores rode the winner.

Races 8-11 were typical fare for me. I hit an exacta that paid $6.60 in the 8th. Lost on a bunch of other stuff and got nipped at the line in the 11th on the back-end of my exacta, by a flying 8-horse that came from the clouds with Douglas Portillo aboard. Way to go Doug! It was such a close finish for 2nd that I was hesitant to chuck my ticket. Even after the race was official. Just in case.

The 9th was 6 1/2 furlongs of insanity. It was the Grade III San Simeon Handicap, 4 year olds and up. Normally an "about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course" but not today. It rained buckets here for the first time in months yesterday and the authorities are no doubt protecting the hill for tomorrow's big one.

So, the race was moved off the hill and the grass and when all was said and done five horses scratched. All the remaining runners were experienced sprinters on dirt and it was a free for all in the betting and handicapping.

I decided to exacta-box the two longest shots on the board. A 9/2 shot and a horse at 5/2. The two favorites at the time of my bet were 7/5 and 8/5. By the time the race went off my 5/2 shot was bet down somewhere into the range of 9/5 or 8/5. He was no longer the third choice.

As far as I recall the horses finished in exact reverse order of their odds at post time. Aaron Gryder rode Bofante to victory and in a 4 horse race the 2-9 $1 winning exacta paid $39.20. The winner paid $14.20. No show wagering. My horses finished 1 and 4.

In the 10th, a horse named Unbeatable East went from 35-1 to 15-1 in one tick with about 8 minutes to post. I already had a few bucks on him because he was a big class dropper. He went off around 25-1 and ran like it.

But for the day, I broke even and that's all I can ask for.

The big one tomorrow is the Grade II San Juan Capistrano, 1 3/4 miles on the turf, starting on the hill. The longest grass race in the country. I'll be there tomorrow and will be pouring over the form tonight so I can hopefully break even again.

Sunday is closing day at Santa Anita, and the last day to watch a race there being contested on old-fashioned dirt. I'm planning to bring my camera with me to get a shot of the dirt.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Oak Tree Gets Breeder's Cup '08

The powers-that-be have decided and announced that Santa Anita's Oak Tree meet will host the 2008 Breeder's Cup races.

The two day session will be held on October 24 and 25 and will be the first time that a Breeder's Cup race will be run on a synthetic surface as Santa Anita's dirt track is scheduled to be converted into an artificial racing surface this summer.

Apparently, the company to do the installation has not yet been determined and there is no truth to the rumor that they are awaiting a recommendation from Lava Man's connections.

For my money, the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita is the best place to hold the Breeder's Cup races as it is the most convenient for me. I may or may not attend though, because as my pop says, "win money during the week, lose it on the weekend".

Just for kicks, here's Lava Man in the '07 Big Cap. Props to partymanners on You Tube.

Curlin Leads Derby Watch Top 25

Derby Watch has released it's latest Top 25 heading into the Kentucky Derby and it's no surprise that Curlin (Arkansas Derby) leads the pack. They have him as a 5-1 favorite with Street Sense (2006 2-year old champ) right behind him at 6-1 and Circular Quay (Louisiana Derby) and Nobiz Like Shobiz (Wood Memorial), co-third favorites at 8-1.

Tiago and Dominican, the two winners of arguably the most prestigious Derby prep races (Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass Stakes) get no love at 20-1.

Great Hunter is stalking the field in 7th position, at 15-1.

Historically speaking, Curlin has a lot going against him at this point. He only has 3 lifetime starts, never ran as a 2-year old, he's never been tested and he's probably going to go off as the favorite. That's bad news. Not only does the favorite hardly ever win the big one, the winner rarely pays less than 10 bucks (4-1).

But just looking at him and his performance in the Arkansas Derby and the Rebel Stakes, he has an awful lot going for him as well. He looks mature out there, he runs straight for a 3-year old, he's big, strong and fast. And as of right now, he hasn't shown that he can lose a race.

But until we see him in the Triple Crown races, and specifically the Derby, the jury is still going to be out on the guy.

For me, I'm still kicking around my Top 10 list.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

San Juan 'Cap on Sunday

Sadly, Santa Anita will close it's gates to live racing on Sunday (reopens in October with the Oak Tree Meet). The Grade II San Juan Capistrano Handicap is the feature race on closing day. At 1 3/4 miles, and starting on the hillside turf course it is always an intriguing race. For years this has been one of my favorite races.

This year it's a small field. The probable starters are: A.P. Xcellent, Church Service, On the Acorn, One Off, Phar to Win, Runaway Dancer and Sweet Return (maybe).

According to the Daily Racing Form, the winner will receive an invitation to the Melbourne Cup (2 miles on turf, 3.8 million purse in 2006) in November.

Closing Day 2007 for the Santa Anita Meet will also feature the final race contested on natural dirt at the park. An new artificial surface is scheduled to be installed at The Great Race Place this summer.

Here is video of the '88 San Juan (back when it was a Grade I) from my You Tube page and my personal tape collection. Watch Shoe try to steal it on the lead with Fiction.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Curlin Bandwagon

Everybody loves a superhorse. So Curlin, after three impressive wins, including a 10 1/2 length victory in last Saturday's Grade I Arkansas Derby has emerged as the 7/2 betting favorite going into next month's Kentucky Derby. Bet down from a 12-1 morning line, he only has three lifetime starts and has never as they say "been tested".

Street Sense is 2nd in the wagering at 6-1 and a slight overlay off the 5-1 morning line.

The 3rd choice in the wagering is Circular Quay at 9-1 the winner of the Grade II Louisiana Derby.

For my money, Great Hunter looks great at 15-1. Looking at the Bluegrass, he ran on even terms with the top 4 but was checked in the stretch and forced out of the mix. There was no protest from jockey Corey Nakatani. Hmm, I wonder why?

Here is the article with the full odds list at the bottom.

Take a look at Curlin in the Arkansas Derby (props again to partymanners for the video on You Tube)

2007 Bluegrass Stakes

Dominican came up huge here. His speed rating was improving with each race before the Bluegrass and now this. He's going to be a dangerous longshot in the Kentucky Derby if he can handle the dirt track.

And despite finishing fifth, Great Hunter still looks ready for the first Saturday in May. He was checked badly in the stretch just as he was unwinding a huge kick at the 1/16 pole when Tueflesberg veered into him.

Street Sense
is still right there, although he looked a little green in the stretch, and after seeing him in his previous two races (Tampa Bay Derby, Bluegrass), I'd say he has lots of guts to go along with world-class talent.

Zanjero and Tueflesberg are also expected to emerge from the Bluegrass and reappear on the first Saturday in May.

These guys were practically walking through six furlongs in 1:16 and change on the poly track but man were they moving through the stretch.

It's too bad they can't get a straight on angle for the finish line at Keeneland.

Props to "partymanners" on You Tube for providing the race for us.