Another Saturday is upon us, and you know what that means…time for some weekend warrior picks. This weekend we’ll weave our way through feature races at Colonial Downs, Delaware Park, Belmont Park, Arlington Park, and Hollywood Park. Then, on Sunday, I’ll be headed out to Delaware Park for a chance to take in the Del Cap live, even if the race is being run sans Rachel.
Delaware Park – Race 7 – The Delaware Oaks (G2) – 1 1/16 Miles (3;57 ET)
- #2 Bon Jovi Girl (3/1)
- #7 Payton d’Oro (6/1)
- #3 Livin Lovin (2/1*)
Whoa…we’re half way there. WHOA whoa, livin’ on a prayer! (sorry, couldn’t help myself)
We start things off with the 58th running of the Delaware Oaks. Everyone loves a good rematch, and for Bon Jovi Girl and Payton d’Oro, this will mark the 3rd consecutive time these fillies have locked horns, with each runner splitting the previous races. Can anyone say “rubber match?”
Bon Jovi girl has really started to turn things up a notch. I first noticed this in the post parade of the Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico, when I tweeted that she “made quite an impression” in the paddock. Out on the track she did not disappoint, but was unable to reel in Payton d’Oro. Note that she was bumped at the start of that race. She came back to Delaware to crush her rival in the Susan’s Girl, proving for all time that Bon Jovi Girl is a force in stakes races associated with the name “Susan.” She’s got the look of a very tough competitor here, and is the “horse for the course” play with a sensational 4 wins in 6 starts at Delaware (along with a place and a show finish).
Payton d’Oro is a fine filly in her own right, as evidenced by her triumphant march through the maiden, allowance, and stakes levels with 4 consecutive victories. My guess is that she didn’t like the sloppy track she faced in the Susan’s Girl last out, so with a return to more preferable footing, she ought to be able to improve on that performance. She’s a Medaglia d’Oro filly, so you know you can’t count her out of any fight, and to be honest, 6/1 is not a bad price at all. She’ll likely be the value play here and at such odds would be well worth a win wager, especially considering Larry Jones is involved. Is there a better trainer in the nation when it comes to 3-year-old fillies? Not for my money.
Livin Lovin is the runner to keep an eye on in the paddock. She’s a Birdstone filly, so we’ll get to see offspring of the two hottest sires this year square off in a relatively evenly matched race. She was 4th and only two lengths and change behind Gabby’s Golden Gal and Justwhistledixie, two very well regarded fillies who would likely crush this field, in the Grade 1 Acorn on Belmont Stakes day. In other words it would not be a surprise to see her in the winner’s circle.
Belmont Park – Race 9 – The Jaipur (G3) – 6 Furlongs – Turf (5:17 ET)
- #2 True Quality (3/1)
- #3 Heros Reward (5/2*)
- #4 Due Date (6/1)
I think it goes without saying that turf sprints are not my strong suit. With that in mind, I’ve decided that I can’t take the obvious selection and play Heros Reward as my top choice. It doesn’t mean I won’t have any money on him, as I likely will. It’s just that my top choices ALWAYS get burned in turf sprints. It’s like the curse of the Bambino. The rulers of the heavens must not want me to prevail in contracted grass events. So what’s a handicapper to do? Well, when all else fails, look for the speed.
True Quality makes his turf debut in the 26th running of The Jaipur this Saturday. Usually I’m not one to play first time turfers, and yes, I’ve paid the price at the window on numerous occasions for such hesitancy. Call me a stubborn old mule, it’s just that I prefer to have some evidence I can bank on in the horse’s previous running lines. I’m tossing that out the window with True Quality for two primary reasons. First, the son of Elusive Quality is a proven commodity from a class perspective as evidenced by his Grade 2 victory in the General George Handicap at Laurel Park back in February. Then, there’s the fact that he appears to be the lone speed of the field, meaning everyone else will have to catch him.
Obviously if someone is going to catch him, the likely candidate is Heros Reward. The son of Partner’s Hero is the most proven grass commodity in the race and boasts 10 victories over the turf (including a pair of Grade 3 wins). He’s been knocking heads with some good runners such as Mr. Nightlinger in his previous efforts, and it’s not hard to imagine him turning in a dominating performance on Saturday. It’s a risky proposition to play against him, and to be honest of the odds stay where they are from the morning line (i.e., only separated by half a point from True Quality), then it won’t make much sense to take a risk in trying to beat him. The whole key for Heros Reward would appear to be not letting True Quality get too far ahead in the early going. He’s got to keep it a bit closer than he has in previous races.
Due Date and Silver Timber both look very usable to me underneath for the exotic wagers.
Colonial Downs – Race 11 – The Virginia Derby (G2) – 1 1/4 Miles – Turf (5:59 ET)
- #9 Battle of Hastings (4/1)
- #4 Nicanor (7/2)
- #10 Lime Rickey (8/1)
It’s amazing to me how it’s always the turf races that come up so deep. In the older male division, we seemingly get some combination of Gio Ponti, Court Vision, and Cowboy Cal, not to mention worthy competitors like Better Talk Now, Wesley, and anything the Europeans decide to ship over. Here we’ve got 10 3-year-old colts in the 12th running of the Virginia Derby, and once again it comes up as the type of race that anyone entered could win.
I settled with Battle of Hastings as top choice for a few reasons. First, I need to get out of the way that I’m actually a direct descendant of a Norman cavalry commander named “Drago” who fought under William the Conqueror (aka “the Bastard”) at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He wound up settling lands in present day Scotland, and I like to think he may have commanded an ancestor of the Wallace clan from Braveheart fame (the Wallace family purportedly being descendants of Norman invaders, according to some sources). Obviously none of that has anything to do with the race at hand, but it’s an angle that is prominent in my mind whenever this guy races, so in the interest of full disclosure, I felt obliged to mention. As for the horse in question, he strikes me as a very consistent type that you play against at your own peril.
Obviously most of the attention in this race will be focused on Nicanor. I don’t think I even need to mention why, but I’ll do so anyways. He’s the much hyped brother of the beloved Barbaro. While he may have spent his career thus far in Barbaro’s shadow, his last two races have proven he’s something of a talented runner in his own right. My only fears with him are that he’ll be overbet by virtue of his connections, and he’s been on the lead wiring the field in each of his two wins. He’ll probably need to show a bit more versatility here, as this field has a good deal of zip signed on. Everyone will be rooting for him, and if he wins it’ll make for a smashing headline.
Lime Rickey is my longshot play. Call it a hunch bet, as I know his past performance lines aren’t the most impressive of the field. It’s just that you’ve got to pay attention to Lemon Drop Kid offspring whenever they are stretching out (in this case to 1 1/4 miles), and you’ve always got to be wary of them suddenly making a fairly large leap forward progression wise as they mature. Judging from some of his last efforts, he’s been right there. The morning line of 8/1 is very generous and quite worth a play.
The same can be said for Affirmatif, a horse who has generated a fair amount of buzz in his first 4 races. Like Lime Rickey, he’s at generous 8/1 odds, not bad for a runner who scored a 100 Beyer figure in his debut race.
Arlingont Park – Race 9 – The Arlington Oaks (G3) – 1 1/8 Miles (5:03 CT)
- #1 C S Silk (5/2)
- #2 Hot Cha Cha (8/5*)
- #3 Always in My Heart (8/1)
We move to Arlington Park for the 30th running of the Arlington Oaks. We’re only dealing with a field of 7 runners here, and I thought 4 of them had legitimate shots to wind up in the winner’s circle, including the above mentioned horses and #6 Peach Brew.
Hot Cha Cha is the top choice, but the odds aren’t very attractive, so I’ll be looking to beat the chalk. Hot Cha Cha may wind up proving the best, but I didn’t think there was quite enough in the past performances to take such low odds when better value presents itself elsewhere. Not surprisingly, I wound up on the Medaglia d’Oro runner C S Silk. C S Silk is rather intriguing as it’s hard to figure out what exactly this horse’s preferred surface is. I think it’s safe to say it isn’t dirt, so this race over the synthetics could play into her hands. She’s exiting a last out victory and has fired a bullet drill in the morning of July 9, so I’m going to guess that she’s ready for a prime effort.
Always in My Heart warrants a long look in the post parade as well, as you get the feeling this is a steadily improving daughter of Hennessy. This will obviously be the toughest field she’s faced, but another move forward is not out of the question. Likewise, as mentioned before, I think Peach Brew has to be left in the equation.
This may be a small field, but be careful here befor you tee up as this one appears to be more difficult than it may seem on first glance.
Hollywood Park – Race 6 - The A Gleam (G2) – 7 Furlongs (3:30 PT)
- #2 Coco Belle (3/1*)
- #4 Silver Swallow (6/1)
- #6 Lady Lumbejack (9/2)
We head out west to Hollywood Park, sadly for what may be one of the final times in the tracks history (apart from a brief 5 week meet later in the year). The 55th running of the A Gleam denoting a long and storied tradition at Hollywood that in all probability will be run at one of the other California tracks in 2010.
Coco Belle is the horse to beat here, and will be facing a distance (7 Furlongs) that she is unproven at thus far in her career. She’ll likely be on the gas early on and will look to wire the field right out of the gate. The only real threat to her running style should come from the Bob Baffert runner Cry and Catch Me breaking from the 7 hole. If these two get locked up in a speed duel, it would obviously boost the chances of the off the pace runners.
If the race does open up, suddenly Silver Swallow and Lady Lumberjack would be prime contenders. Silver Swallow tends to leave herself a bit more to do in the stretch than Lady Lumberjack does, so take your pick between these runners if you’re trying to beat the lukewarm chalk. Another horse to keep an eye on is Evita Argentina, who defeated colts in the San Vicente back in February at Santa Anita going 7 furlongs. Evita is only a 3-year-old, but obviously warrants some consideration as well. I also wouldn’t count She’s Cheeky out of the mix here, but ultimately had to take a stand against her as you can’t pick every horse in the race.
Hollywood Park – Race 8 – The Swaps (G2) – 1 1/8 Miles (4:30 PT)
- #8 Grazen (8/5*)
- #4 Misremembered (5/1)
- #7 Quidici Man (20/1)
We finish the day with the feature race from Hollywood, the 36th running of The Swaps. This race appears to be all about Grazen, the talented 3-year-old son of Benchmark who has posted a pair of triple digit Beyer figures in his last 3 races (along with a respectable 97). He’s a perfect 3 for 3 at Hollywood and would appear to be the controlling speed of the race on paper. No doubt he’ll be the key horse of many Pick 4 and Pick 6 wagers on the day. For me, the important thing here is that he’s still got room for improvement, and has handled in the past the two horses I thought rated the best shots as contenders.
Misremembered faced Grazen last out in the Affirmed Handicap and ran a very game 2nd to Grazen. Like his rival, there’s also still room for improvement here. He’ll likely have to hope somebody can wear Grazen down a bit to make him vulnerable in the stretch, but with another move forward anything is possible.
Quidici Man looks very underrated here to me at 20/1. I don’t think he’s a serious shot to win this race, but I’d certainly have him covered underneath on the exotics…especially at 20/1. He’s found a way to hit the board in 9 of 12 lifetime races. There are obvoiusly several others to consider as well, including Conservative, Advice, and Massone. In the end though, my hunch was that they’d all be running for place and show.
Best of luck to all!