Another weekend is upon us, and you know what that means; it’s time for weekend warrior horseplayers to zero in on the major stakes action occurring across the country. This Saturday in particular presents a plethora of opportunity, and we’ll be taking a closer look at the happenings at Calder, Belmont, Hollywood, Monmouth, and Arlington in an effort to pluck some winners from out of the air. The story lines run deep, ranging from another chance to see Benny the Bull, to the return of Papa Clem, and westward journey for Parading, who I was able to get a firsthand look at in the Dixie at Pimlico on Preakness Day.
First, a couple of notes:
- I’ve got to bid a bit of an emotional farewell to one of this year’s more prominent 3-year-olds in Pioneer of the Nile, who has been retired from racing due to soft-tissue concerns. I know I wasn’t his biggest fan, but I’m certainly appreciative of the traffic he helped generate for this site. Would you believe that despite my focus on runners such as Curlin, Zenyatta, and Rachel Alexandra, that the undisputed king of search engine traffic causing people to land on this site was none other than Mr. Pioneer (or misspellings of his name). Unreal. He was a blog traffic gold mine – which tells me he must have some seriously devoted fans out there, and my heart goes out to each of them as well. Of course, I can’t think of him without thinking of Mike from NY – who always pops into my mind when discussing Empire Makers.
- Secondly, the TBA homepage has undergone some serious revisions and is now ready to be unveiled to the public. Some folks spent a good deal of time putting it all together, so if you get a chance swing on over and let us know what you think.
Now back to the main event…
Calder Race 8 – The Carry Back (Grade 2) – 6 Furlongs (3:56 ET)
- #1 You Luckie Mann (9/5*)
- #5 Not for Silver (4/1)
- #2 Ask Joe (4/1)
Technically, the 35th running of The Carry Back is the 2nd leg of the “all stakes pick 4″ sequence at Calder, but I didn’t really have a strong enough opinion of the previous race (The Azalea – G3) to kick things off there. Plus, we’re covering 7 races here. Just like we can’t bet every horse in each race, there’s simply not enough time in the day to go in depth on EVERY stakes race this weekend. Back to the race at hand though…
You Luckie Mann simply looks much the best here on paper. The son of Exchange Rate has yet to finish out of the trifecta in 8 lifetime races, including 4 wins. He’s also the overwhelming “horse for the course” selection with all of his lifetime victories (4) coming here at Calder. The price won’t be very appealing, but he might be useful single if you’re playing the exotics.
Not For Silver looks like the most noteworthy challenger of the field. Trainer Michael Trombetta is having a sensational year (23%), and this is the runner with the most graded stakes experience in the field. On the downside, he hasn’t won since rattling off 3 straight victories to begin his career, but he ran into horses like Everyday Heroes and Capt. Candyman Can in the last two efforts that would likely destroy this field.
Truest Legend is a rather interesting “x-factor” type of runner in here. I’m not fond of the odds (3/1), but he certainly looks like he’ll be a pace factor in his return to the dirt. Ultimately I sided against him and went with Ask Joe for 3rd choice. It was a tough call, but Ask Joe’s victories at the stakes level on dirt tips the scale in his favor as far as I’m concerned.
Belmont Race 7 – The Man O’ War (Grade 1) – 1 3/8 Miles – Turf (4:12 ET)
- #7 Midships (3/1)
- #9 Gio Ponti (5/2*)
- #8 Dancing Forever (9/2)
Talk about some painful memories. It’s hard to believe that it was a year ago already that I took the family up to Belmont to watch Curlin in his turf “debut” in last year’s running of the Man O’ War and left with a healthy dose of heartache and pain. Looking over this year’s edition, I’m struck by the lack of likely pace outside of 3/1 second choice on the morning line, Midships. If he gets loose on the lead, this could be a gate-to-wire type of race. However, we are dealing with the turf, so that’s anything but a foregone conclusion. There are also some “x-factor” type invaders from Europe who could be close up pressing the pace, which might open things up for the closers.
Speaking of closers, we’ve got two good ones here in both Dancing Forever and Gio Ponti, and I think they both make logical contenders in the exotics. Gio Ponti is a horse that I’ve basically given the Rodney Dangerfield routine to in his last two races (“no respect!”), and he’s burned me both times. Suffice to say I won’t let that happen again. I’d prefer a better pace setup for him, but he’s proven to be a very valiant competitor. You don’t win $1.2 million in 12 lifetime starts by accident.
Dancing Forever supporters have to look a little bit further back for hist last victory in the Manhattan almost a year ago, and must also overlook two losses to Grand Couturier as well. It’s a close call between these two for the final selection spot, which seems to be a repetitive theme in many of the races we’re covering this week. I could also make a bit of a case for Marsh Slide here. Just be careful here as this looks like a race in which several contenders have fairly decent shots of winding up in the winner’s circle photo.
Calder Race 9 – The Princess Rooney Handicap (Grade 1) – 6 Furlongs (4:26 ET)
- #9 Marina Ballerina (6/1)
- #6 Game Face (3/1)
- #4 B.R’s Girl (8/1)
Moving back to Calder, the main story line for the 25th running of the Princess Rooney Handicap is the scratch of Indian Blessing, who evidently was given some antibiotics by trainer Bob Baffert who then decided that she’d likely test positive and be in jeopardy of having a win (should she have prevailed, which would’ve been highly probable) overturned. Good move on Baffert’s part to sit her down then. If she’s been fighting an illness, then give her some additional time off.
With the leading lady out of the race, most of the attention will probably focus on Game Face, a multiple graded stakes winner with nearly half a million dollars in lifetime earnings. I’ll be honest, my gut tells me that while the “real” Game Face of last year would easily handle this field, she’s probably a play against this weekend. I’m not sure what exactly happened in her last effort at Belmont, but trainer Todd Pletcher has been hard at work trying to get the classy daughter of Menifee back into her usual form. Given the fact that she’s the likely favorite, I’ll probably try to beat her – but I wouldn’t leave her off the multi-race exotic wagers. Not with the class she’s previously shown.
Marina Ballerina is the horse that really jumps off the page at me. She’s a perfect 3 for 3 at Calder, and has 4 wins at the 6 furlong distance. Even better, her recent form is most encouraging. There’s just so much to like here, and that recent bullet workout of 4 furlongs in 47 and 3 on July 6 makes me think she’s the one to beat. Of course, looking over the Daily Racing Form, it appears I’m not alone in that opinion, so don’t expect anything close to the 6/1 she was “blessed” with on the morning line.
Rounding out the selections, I was hopelessly torn between either B.R’s Girl or Jessica is Back. Ultimately I sided with B.R’s Girl for now, but that could easily change depending on who makes the stronger appearance in the post parade. In other words, that last effort for all 3 of my selections in the U Can Do It on 7/13 looks like the key race here to focus on from a past performance standpoint. They might run back in the same order if Game Face falters.
Monmouth Park Race 9 – The Long Branch ($175k) – 1 1/16 Miles (4:50 ET)
- #5 Papa Clem (2/1)
- #2 Atomic Rain (3/1)
- #3 Despite the Odds (7/2)
I’ll be honest, the entire reason I’m covering this race is because I’m very excited to see Papa Clem get back into the ring. This was a horse I was very excited about going into the Triple Crown season this year, and while the best he managed to accomplish was 4th in the Kentucky Derby, I’m still left thinking that he might have a decent future ahead of him. He’s been off since the Preakness, where he disappointed in finishing a distant 6th, but he won’t have to deal with anyone like Rachel Alexandra or Mine That Bird in this field. This race appears to setup well for him, and trainer Gary Stute may have found the right spot to get him back to his winning ways like we saw in the Arkansas Derby against Old Fashioned and eventual Belmont champion Summer Bird back in April.
Atomic Rain is another interesting runner, as the pace for this race might setup well for him as well. It goes without saying that I’ve got something of a soft spot for Smart Strike colts, and he’s certainly working his tail off in preparation for this effort. I’d give this guy a big shot to steal the race here. One last factor to keep in mind is that basically all of this horse’s better efforts have come over the main track at Monmouth. He certainly likes the surroundings here. Give him a long look in the post parade and consider teeing up if the odds are right.
Looking over the rest of the field, Despite the Odds is a rather aptly named runner, as he’ll likely take a decent amount of action at the windows. Despite his name (I had to use “despite” somewhere in this text without typing his name), the odds probably won’t be right for a runner that seems to do best when alone on the lead. He’s also a Speightstown colt, which to me suggests that the distance may be a concern, but he seems game enough to be a logical exotics contender. It’s kind of hard to be too harsh on a runner that is 3 for 4 lifetime. I just don’t think he can win this race is all I’m saying.
Calder Race 10 – The Smile Sprint Handicap (Grade 2) – 6 Furlongs (4:55 ET)
- #4 Benny the Bull (6/5*)
- #2 How’s Your Halo (4/1)
- #6 Yesbyjimminy (4/1)
It’s Benny the Bull time! By far one of my favorite sprinters in the world, the son of Lucky Lionel returns from a game 2nd effort to a very talented Fabulous Strike in the True North Handicap on June 6. That race was his first in nearly a year following an injury that sidelined him following a victory at Calder last July. Now he returns to the scene of the crime and looks to get back on the winning path. The race sets up very well for him, and trainer Rick Dutrow seems to be anticipating a victory for Benny. Something must be amiss in the world if Dutrow and I see eye-to-eye over something, but that’s definitely what appears to be happening here. I’m going all in on Benny and will likely single him in the Pick 4 at Calder.
How’s Your Halo makes the most sense to me if you’re trying to upset the heavy favorite. He’s proven at the distance and fares fairly well over the Calder main track. Even better, he seems to be in fairly sharp recent form.
Yesbymimminy needs to find some of that past magic that led to 7 straight victories at one point last year. It looks like an awkward start doomed him in his last effort, but perhaps with a clean break he can turn the tables on How’s Your Halo?
Arlington Park Race 12 – The Arlington Handicap (Grade 3) – 1 1/4 Miles – Turf (5:40 CT)
- #12 Cosmonaut (3/1)
- #9 Just as Well (5/1)
- #2 Public Speaker (20/1
We head to the midwest for the 74th running of the Arlington Handicap, and this one looks like it could be the biggest race of the day (despite the Grade 3 status). Cosmonaut looks like the class of the field on paper. The 7 year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid is a runner I’ve been fond of playing over the years, even if the wins have been a bit thin. He’s been averaging about a victory per year lately, which would suggest he’s already had his moment in the sun this year by virtue of having prevailed at Belmont back in May. I like that he’s dropping back down to the G3 level, as the upper stakes levels may be just a tad too much for him these days. All one need to do to appreciate what he’s been up against is look through his recent running lines. Names like Gio Ponti, Kip Deville, and Thorn Song feature quite prominently. Needless to say, I feel any of those runners would be logical selections if entered here. He’ll be involved in the pace, and with the exception of the Mott runner drawn to his immediate outside and the Rebecca Maker runner breaking from the 2 hole, could have things his way. Look for a big performance on Saturday.
Just as Well is a horse that should be moving well late. Note that last out in the Dixie he was just behind Parading, a horse we’ll hear more about in the next race we cover at Hollywood. Personally, I thought the Dixie was a fairly stacked race on the Preakness undercard, and Just as Well ran very, shall we say, well. Man, I obviously need to get a Thesaurus to look for some usable synonyms. Note that he’s also ran gamely against Kip Deville, and finished ahead of Court Vision in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap back in February. The son of A.P. Indy looms a very serious threat.
Stream Cat is another horse that makes some sense here, but I had to side against him as I just wasn’t enthralled with his past efforts. They were okay, but I’m looking elsewhere…which led me to Public Speaker. The son of Distorted Humor has obviously never faced the level of competition he’ll see today, but I love that he’s 5 for 9 lifetime. He would’ve had a close 2nd to go along with that but was disqualified and placed 4th two back in the Tin Man here at Arlington. I’m going to take a shot on this guy’s recent form and expect a minor award here in the Arlington Handicap. The odds should be worth such a play. Again, I’m not suggesting he’s a likely win candidate, but he makes plenty of sense underneath.
Hollywood Park Race 8 – The TVG/Betfair Hollywood Gold Cup (Grade 1) – 1 1/4 Miles – Turf (4:30 PT)
- #5 Parading (4/1)
- #6 Dakota Phone (6/1)
- #4 Bullsbay (8/1)
We wind up the day with the 70th running of the Hollywood Gold Cup. It’s sort of a somber moment as it appears likely that Hollywood Park’s days are officially numbered now. I’m not going to spend much time on that except to say that the idea of bulldozing Hollywood and turning it into yet another of the ubiquitous “strip malls” that dot our countryside during this, the “great recession” makes about as much sense as my picks for a maiden level turf sprint race - in other words, not a whole helluva lot of sense.
I’m going with Parading here, despite being a lukewarm favorite at 4/1 and doing the east-to-west coast thing that I seldom seem fond of. Basically it all comes down to how fond I was of the son-of-Pulpit’s effort in the Dixie. I know, I know…I’m a sucker for horses that I’ve seen in person. Perhaps it’s the familiarity aspect of it all. However, even if i disconnect myself from that experience, he still winds up as my top selection. The obvious “concern” will be how he handles the synthetic surface at Hollywood, but if it’s any indication (and these things are seldom apples-to-apples), he does have an impressive victory at the G2 level at Keeneland. Further, and not to try and stoke the flames of this argument again, but he is a fairly accomplished turf runner. Just take that into consideration is all I’m saying.
Dakota Phone and Song of Navarrone were a bit tough to seperate, and to be honest I’ve got them ranked fairly close to one another along with Bullsbay and Rail Trip. I thought both ‘Dakota and ‘Navarone would be moving well late, and it looks like this race will come down to the final sixteenth or so to decide.
Regarding Bullsbay – Yes, I picked him as an upset shot in the Stephen Foster and he totally burned me. Some might not think losing by a length in a quarter was being “burned” – but c’mon…he finished behind Einstein? How on earth was that even possible given the run that Einy had? Still, we’ve seen this story before, haven’t we? Kevin warns perpetually of the folly of discounting Tiznow offspring at long odds, then he goes and discounts one himself and….voila – huge upset victory. Just to play it safe, I made him 3rd choice. I figure that’s a nice way to not totally discount him, but not put all my eggs in the Tiznow basket. I don’t know….it made sense to me at 10PM Friday night as I wrote this, so work with it people!
Best of luck to all!