Month: March 2012

The Morning Line: Louisiana Derby

Mark Valeski Returns at the Fair Grounds

Mark Valeski duels El Padrino in the Risen Star

The final stage of the Kentucky Derby Prep season has arrived. It is the place along the trail that major graded stakes races are run and earnings are won. In the great city of New Orleans it’s the $1 Million Louisiana Derby that still has tickets for admission into the 138th Kentucky Derby. Lined up is a large field of 14 but only a few will be so lucky to have those tickets punched. Headlining the final step on the road from Louisiana to the Blue Grass State is a local connection that has the chance to beat this evenly matched field and become a serious Kentucky Derby contender.

Mark Valeski is a horse that only recently emerged onto the scene but did so in such convincing fashion. Prior to entering the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes here at the Fair Grounds he was just a lightly raced colt that stood no chance against the likes of El Padrino, a highly touted Derby Contender trained by Todd Pletcher. By the end of the race their margin of separation had closed all the way down to a nose. The battle down the stretch for 2nd place was a remarkable effort and deservedly credits him as the favorite.  (more…)

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The Morning Line: Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes

 Is There an Animal Kingdom in the Field?

Leading up to last year, the Spiral Stakes from Turfway Park produced zero Kentucky Derby winners since 1992 when Pat Day and Lil E. Tee swept the two events.  The race lost its stature, its sponsorships several times, and ultimately became a second hand race for connections to earn graded earnings for a possibly entry in the Kentucky Derby.  But time heals all wounds and the derby gods are always watching.  Despite the fact that Turfway opted to install a Polytrack surface instead of a traditional dirt track in 2005 , a Spiral winner was due to win the big one.  Last year, Animal Kingdom finally broke the spell and stormed to a thrilling victory in the Spiral Stakes and later repeated that effort in the Kentucky Derby.

Animal Kingdom’s victory not only vindicated the theory that a Polytrack horse could win on dirt, but it also launched Turfway Park’s reemergence on the road to the derby.  The 53-yr. old track has many roots in the Bluegrass State and the track’s premiere race looks to add to the state’s racing lore.  The G.2 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes will be run on Saturday with a 5:45 pm ET post-time.  The race has returned some legitimacy to Turfway Park, but it remains to be seen if a horse or possibly two can use the Spiral as a springboard to the Kentucky Derby in six weeks.  12 horses are entered for the 1 1/8 mile event.  (more…)

Score it 3-in-a-Row for Bob Baffert

Secret Circle Does it Again at Oaklawn 

Secret Circle, Bob Baffert and Rafael Bejarano remained polished in their return to Oaklawn. This time the victory is beginning to give this colt a little more attention on the Kentucky Derby Trail because he keeps getting better and racing well as the distance continues to increase. As for Trainer Bob Baffert it’s three in a row times two. The win makes it his third consecutive Rebel Stakes win accompanied by his third consecutive win in as many Kentucky Derby Graded Stakes Preps at Oaklawn. (Southwest 1st and 2nd Division – Rebel). If he doesn’t return Secret Circle to Hot Springs for the Arkansas Derby then I will be very surprised and have to question that decision. Based on his experience with this identical situation though I think he’ll opt to be back in Arkansas.

In 2010 it was Lookin at Lucky, also owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, that scored Bob Baffert his very first Rebel Stakes victory. After the race the colt returned to California and the Santa Anita Derby where he ran a gamely race but didn’t have enough to win again and finished 3rd. From there he was off to the Kentucky Derby. It ended with a disappointing 6th but he bounced right back and spoiled a Triple Crown bid by Super Saver with a convincing Preakness Stakes victory. (more…)

On Time To Shine

Gemologist Stays Perfect in his 3-yr-old Debut

An undefeated Kentucky Derby contender has returned to the scene. There’s no better way to shine than to reappear by scoring with relative ease and superior form and that’s what Gemologist displayed when he drew away from the field to win by 7 lengths at Gulfstream Park. The 1 Mile Allowance valued at $69,500 officially kicks off his road to the Kentucky Derby in 2012 and will lead him to a Kentucky Derby Graded Stakes Prep in April. Although he has still only raced in a single graded stakes so far in his career, trainer Todd Pletcher and WinStar Farms have this colt on a fascinating trail to the Kentucky Derby.

Ridden by Todd Pletcher’s number 1 jockey in South Florida, Javier Castellano, Gemologist broke soundly from the gate and took control of the lead at the opening quarter pole. Remaining in control of the race, he wasted little time putting this field to bed when he rounded the final turn and hit the stretch. By then his lead had gone to 3 lengths and by the time he crossed the wire he stretched it out an additional 4. His winning time was 1:35.95 over a track listed as: Good.  (more…)

The Morning Line: Rebel Stakes

Secret Circle Comes Back to Oaklawn

Secret Circle wins the Southwest - 2nd Division

The stakes are set for a very lucky day. Whether you decide that wearing green or drinking green beverages will summon the luck of the Irish, you are still going to need your handicapping skills ready for the G2 $500,000 Rebel on St. Patrick’s Day. The field for the 1 1/16 mile test will feature a packed house of 13 in the starting gate, all of which are hoping for a little bit of luck themselves. Leading the charge of contenders is a combination that put the finishing touches on another lucky day of racing when they capped off the Southwest Stakes Double by scoring them both; Bob Baffert and Rafael Bejarano.

The horse, Secret Circle, performed remarkably well here at Oaklawn his last time out and made Bob Baffert and Rafael Bejarano look even better. Though it was reported earlier that Castaway, their first winner in the Southwest double, was listed as probable for the Rebel, Baffert has elected to keep him in California until the Borderland Derby at Sunland next weekend. So it’s up to Secret Circle to once again finish the deal. Based on this colt’s racing career so far, it’s a deal that he is definitely capable of closing. (more…)

Creative Cause Bests a Very Deep San Felipe Field

Crop of Potential Derby Contenders Keeps Improving

Creative Cause Wins on the Outside.

Another Derby Prep weekend is in the books. As we creep inside of 8 weeks before the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby it is abundantly clear that we’re looking at a very deep crop of 3-yr-olds in 2012. The talent that we saw goes well beyond our winners which means there’s plenty of racing left before an overwhelming favorite can be tapped. What’s most exciting at this stage of the trail is that it is setting up to be one of the most anticipated years of major derby preps that I recently recall.

The basis for that is because the likely entries for each Grade 1 Prep include matchups that will draw a lot of attention. Namely the Wood Memorial is the first that comes to mind. After a brilliant stretch duel and win in the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday, Prospective is now being pointed towards New York to join the likes of Hansen and Alpha in the starting gate at Aqueduct. Now that’s what I call a pretty deep field.  (more…)

Race Results and Replays: San Felipe, Tampa Bay Derby and Swale Stakes

Grade 2 $300,000 San Felipe Stakes | 1 1/16 Mile | Dirt | Track Condition: Fast

#        Horse                       Trainer              Jockey              Win         Place       Show

  • 7  Creative Cause       M. Harrington  J. Rosario        $6.40      $3.40      $2.60
  • 2  Bodemeister           B. Baffert           R. Bejarano                      $2.80      $2.80
  • 4  Midnight Transfer C. Gaines           V. Espinoza                                       $6.00

$1 Exacta  7-2: $11.10     $1 Trifecta 7-2-4: $73.50     $1 Superfecta 7-2-4-6: $305.40

Fractions: 22.95  46.98  1:11.23  135.50  Winning Time: 1:41.84       Replay

Also Ran (in order of finish) Liaison, Rousing Sermon, Blingo, American Act, Tiz Point, Empire Way, Groovin’ Solo (more…)

The Morning Line: San Felipe Stakes

Two Trainers have Two Options Going

Creative Cause

And so we’ve arrived at the San Felipe Stakes, the final prep before the coveted Santa Anita Derby. The lineup is stacked full of possibilities and big names but headlining the show is a pair of trainers that will each be featuring their own pair of contenders. With the anticipation comes a variety of questions and most importantly expectations. In a weekend slated to feature three graded Kentucky Derby Preps from Florida to California we begin where the liveliest group of derby hopefuls are racing.

The G2 $300,000 San Felipe Stakes carries many different outcomes to dissect but let’s first take a look at the horse that is ranked the highest on our Derby Contender Rankings – Creative Cause by Giant’s Causeway and Dream of Summer. An important factor about this colt and this prep is that a very familiar face will be joining him in the starting gate, his stable mate Empire Way. Sometimes are more ideal than others but the timing of progression between the two seems to have prevented trainer Mike Harrington from going any other direction on the derby trail.  (more…)

The Morning Line: Tampa Bay Derby

Battle Hardened Looks To Repeat at Tampa Bay Downs

Battle Hardened, winner of the Sam F. Davis

Welcome back to Tamp Bay Downs for the final stop on the road from Tampa to Kentucky. The $350,000 Grade 2 Stakes has come a long way over the years since its inauguration in 1981 and now proudly represents itself as a race that has played a major role for two recent Kentucky Derby winners. Things really started picking up steam in 2007 when Street Sense recorded a record winning time of 1:43.11 en route to a Kentucky Derby victory. In 2010 this prep again produced a champion when Super Saver opened up his 3-yr-old season here with a 3rd place finish before ending up in the winner’s circle in America’s biggest race.

So it’s a rewarding race for connections that played their cards right but since that is the key ingredient to winning the Kentucky Derby we’ll have to wait and see how this field of 12 crosses the wire before we make a clear-cut analysis on their chances. But in the meantime we can still look at what order they’re going to finish here. The best place to start is with previous prep at Tampa Bay Downs, the G3 Sam F. Davis where 3 of the top 4 are back to give it another run.  (more…)

The Morning Line: The Gotham Stakes

Gotham Boasts Champion Hansen

When is enough enough?  When a trainer, jockey, or horseman scores their first win may be one answer.  But then that win makes the person want a second and then a third and then a fourth and so on.  To win your home track’s premier race of the season may be another possibility to say enough is enough.  But what if your home track is Churchill Downs?  For the current crop of 3 yr. olds in training, enough is a secured post position in the 138th Kentucky Derby.  In two months, 20 of the best will line up as individual beings in search of the most prestigous crown in all of racing.  One horse has already punched his ticket, doing so in dramatic fashion last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  His name is Hansen and as great of champion as he is, he still has a little more to prove before claiming a 3 yr. old crown.

New York City serves as the backdrop to the electric energy that will likely be radiating from Aqueduct on Saturday.  A sizable winning purse will be up for grabs as a field of 13 take to the post in the G.2 $400,000 Gotham Stakes.  Run at 1 1/16 on the inner track at Aqueduct, Hansen has drawn the 12 hole and has been installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite.  The field of 13 is one of the larger fields for the Grade 2 race in recent years and the allure of a $400,000 purse is mainly to blame. (more…)