Thursday 30 April 2020

Friday 1st & Saturday 2nd May 2020: Nadal a Real Ace in Arkansas Derby

Ordinarily we would have been getting stuck into the 2000 Guineas, 1000 Guineas and the Kentucky Derby this weekend and, while the ongoing lockdowns around the world have put paid to that for now, the Americans especially are doing their best to keep the show on the road for us.

Arkansas’s Oaklawn Park has a massive meeting this week, and so that is where our main focus goes beginning with a good fillies’ race on Friday evening.

Friday 1st May 2020 

23:09 Oaklawn Park (Fantasy Stakes – Grade 3) – VENETIAN HARBOR

A decent Grade 3 event for the young fillies over an extended mile trip on the dirt, one in which the standout filly is Venetian Harbor and she is backed to score.

Already a Grade 2 winner at Santa Anita having taken their Las Virgenes Stakes in February, she would appear to have everything needed in her locker to be able to take this valuable race for trainer Richard Baltas and jockey Flavien Prat, the rider being able all being well at the start to pick his spot from gate 2.

Having bossed things on her last start, she was barely shaken up until she rounded the final turn and she very quickly but around nine lengths between herself and the rest in the style of a very good filly, stringing out some fillies who’d been in very good form.

There are some improvers in behind who each warrant attention, not least Harvey’s Lil Goil of Bill Mott’s barn who could be an attractive price on the night, while Swiss Skydiver is the one to round off the 1-2-3 after her last time out win for Kenneth McPeek.

Saturday 2nd May 2020

After 99 dominations were received for a rescheduled Arkansas Derby that now takes on extra significance, 22 three-year-olds were still left at the declaration stage for the race and so Oaklawn have taken the decision to split this major Kentucky Derby prep race into two divisions.

Currently the Arkansas Derby is the last official prep for the Kentucky Derby which is due to be staged on September 5, though that looks likely to change, with winners of both divisions here being entitled to full qualifying points while both heats are worth $500,000, essentially bumping the prize money up from its original total of $750,000.

23:29 Oaklawn Park (Arkansas Derby Division I – Grade 1) – GOUVERNEUR MORRIS

Bob Baffert has both morning line favourites for the Arkansas Derby, beginning with the mightily impressive Santa Anita winner Charlatan.

The way in which he won last time was visually striking and his figures do stack up, however he had things all his own way then in claiming company on a fast track.  Having been all speed in California albeit it over a mile his breeding - he is by Speightstown who is a great source of sprinters and 7-furlong types - would lead me to believe he may not kick on as expected in this tough grade one event over 1m1f.

He could yet make a mockery of those comments of course, but at such a likely short price we can afford to take him on with one who’s breeding reads so differently.  Gouverneur Morris, by the tough Constitution and from a line of staying Tapit’s, has very strong form to date and will handle the rough and tumble of this race.

Beaten into second by Maxfield last year, in my eyes the best juvenile in the States, he’s already beaten Untitled this season and finished fourth to top prospect Tiz The Law in the Florida Derby and can as yet produce more in a fast-paced race, which Charlatan may yet make it.  Anneau d’Or is probably best of the rest.

00:04 Oaklawn Park (Oaklawn Handicap – Grade 2) – TACITUS

While the current sophomores are attempting to get to Churchill Downs via the Arkansas Derby, a whole host of former Triple Crown chasers take their chance in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap over 1m1f and it’s a fascinating race.

Former Derby favourite Improbable still has ability but is not at his best and is drawn wide, while Pegasus World Cup runner-up and recent winner Mr Freeze is very tempting given that he has the look of an improving horse.

The fact that he has saved his best work for Gulfstream though, allied with how far he was beaten by Mucho Gusto there is the Pegasus, means Tacitus looks to hold the edge despite being a few gates wider and carrying 3lbs more.

Tacitus has been frustrating to follow, but he has top-class form and will be staying on when others have cried off perhaps making this his day for the first time since winning the Wood Memorial Stakes last April.

00:43 Oaklawn Park (Arkansas Derby Division II – Grade 1) – NADAL

Another Bob Baffert morning line favourite, however much more justifiably in my eyes and at a much more backable price too.

Named after Rafa the tennis great, Nadal made a huge impression when he began his career at the turn of this year, going on to rack up three wins out of three as he climbs the ladder with ease and puts himself well into contention for the Kentucky Derby.

Having had to lay-up with a strong pace over seven furlongs in the San Vicente Stakes, Nadal did well to keep up to his work and just about see off his main rival that day, and a look at his breeding is very encouraging.

He is by Blame, himself a good seven-furlong runner as a young horse who went on to stay a mile-and-a-quarter well including when taking the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so it’s fairly safe to assume that there’s much more to come from Joel Rosario’s mount over this trip and he’s well fancied to score again.

Wells Bayou can go well in behind as can King Guillermo, but despite being well thought of Storm The Court should not be able to reverse placings with our selection.

Friday 24 April 2020

Saturday 25th & Sunday 27th April 2020: Head on Down to Echo Town

Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn take centre stage in the States on Saturday evening, the latter hosting two stakes races including the Carousel in which Breeders’ Cup runner-up Bellafina makes her comeback, albeit at a likely short price.

Saturday 25th April

21:53 Gulfstream Park (Unbridled Stakes) – ATTACHMENT RATE

Run over a trip of just over a mile, this $75,000 race features several horses who were on the Triple Crown trail until the coronavirus halted the proceedings.

Todd Pletcher brings maiden winner Dr Post to the race and he looks set to go off favourite, though even allowing for improvement his form thus far doesn’t justify his morning line odds of 8/5.

Relentless Dancer ran fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby last time and filled the same position in a stakes race behind Tiz The Law before that, something that may well mean he’s been somewhat dragged along by top-class opposition with his overall ability having been arguably slightly exaggerated.

The most fascinating horse in the race, despite his draw in gate 7, is Dale Romans’ Attachment Rate and he gets the call.  A winner round here in a maiden, he was a good third last time behind Mischievious Alex and Untitled in the Gotham Stakes, the latter having won since, and he may represent some value.

22:45 Oaklawn Park (Bachelor Stakes) – ECHO TOWN

This is a six-furlong sprint for the three-year-olds, a race in which former Breeders’ Cup Juvenile favourite Eight Rings makes his return for superstar handler Bob Baffert.

His overall form, and that of the Juvenile for that matter, doesn’t really match up to scrutiny so while his work has been good of late backing him at short odds on his first start down in trip doesn’t seem such a great idea.

He may also be challenged for the lead by contender Long Weekend which may not help matters, so the wise play is likely to be Steve Asmussen’s Echo Town instead.

Already reaching a good level in three starts this year, Ricardo Santana’s mount clearly has more to give and at morning line odds of 9/2 he’s just too tempting to pass up as a betting proposition.

Sunday 26th April

It’s an important Group 1 day in Hong Kong with the action kicking off very early and all eyes will be on star attraction Beauty Generation who is odds-on for the Champions Mile.  Better value bets are available though, including these three: 

07:50 Sha Tin (Chairman’s Sprint Prize – Group 1) – AETHERO

A very fine six-furlong sprint race, one in which for my money John Moore’s three-year-old Aethero holds all the aces.

His win here in November when beating the older horses was excellent and, while he didn’t fire quite as well on his next two starts, he can be forgiven and so appears at the weights to have too much if he is on his A-game under jockey Zac Purton.

Both Hot King Prawn and Thanks Forever can have a say in what is overall a very competitive event, but from the 5 barrier it would seem very unlikely that we won’t at the very least get a good run for our money with Aethero with the last hope being that he is allowed to go off at decent odds on the tote.

10:15 Sha Tin (Handicap) – TRANSCENDENT

This is another competitive sprint, this time under handicap conditions, but considering a forecast price of 4/1 and his very best form putting him well above the others at these weights we cannot ignore Transcendent.

Tony Cruz’s four-year-old reached a level that would see him very well handicapped in Hong Kong when trained in France last summer by Fabrice Chappet and so, while he hasn’t yet reached the same heights since moving east, he could yet prove to be well-in.

Having been off the track for nine months he made his debut in March at Sha Tin, winning nicely enough in a handicap off a mark of 80.  It’s possible he “bounced” next time when beaten at the same venue in a more valuable race off 85, but with his fitness supposedly spot-on now he still looks kindly treated overall.

He races here off 86 but seems a good deal better than that, entitling him to be favourite ahead of challengers Computer Patch, Shining Ace and Gold Chest who all rate as dangers.

10:50 Sha Tin (Handicap) – BUTTERFIELD 

Another valuable handicap finishes off the card, this time over a mile and with well over £100,000 offered to the winner we can bet this will be competitive.

There’s nothing wrong with the form racked-up by Preciousship, Hezthewonforus and Monica who are remain strong each-way contenders, however having arguably achieved better form already at these weights and having at least a year on his rivals the value is the Brazilian bred Butterfield.

Drawn in 5 which should be absolutely fine, Butterfield should be able to get into a good position early and take advantage of the drop down in trip he is taking this weekend which should be very much to his liking.

Progressing nicely over the winter when running over 8-9 furlongs, his form took a slight dip last time when he was beaten at odds-on over a mile-and-a-quarter.  In fairness he still only lost out by a neck that day, and with the perfect three-way rest between races a return to a mile we should see him take another step forward.

Should Butterfield manage any more improvement at all off this mark of 94 he has to go close, the final piece of the puzzle being the booking of Joao Moreira who should ensure he gets all the help he needs from up top.

Friday 17 April 2020

Saturday 18th April 2020: Scroll to be Hidden No Longer as Limelight Finally Beckons

As our social lockdown and horse racing suspension continues in the UK, we look for opportunities overseas with once again Australia and the United States bookending what will be a long Saturday.

Keep a sharp eye out for those very early off times in New South Wales, while the late action at Oaklawn is the highlight across the pond with two excellent graded handicaps taking place at the Arkansas track and we have a bet in each of them.

03:35 Randwick (Sprint Handicap) – TANIKO

This should be a very fast and furious six-furlong sprint handicap, and while its very nature makes it hugely competitive I feel that the way in which James Cummings’ Taniko shapes in her races could make her perfect for this task despite on paper there being a slight lack of pace for the distance.

She’s ideally placed in the 3 barrier to make her challenge as and when she wants to, something that should be professionally managed as always by Rachel King up top.  The Randwick specialist then gets the vote to land this valuable race having been given a much-needed rest since her last assignment along with a trial to dust off the cobwebs.

Dangers are everywhere as is the nature of the beast, with Miss Invincible, Trumbull and Snitz arguably the best of them and all at decent each-way prices.

05:20 Randwick (Champagne Stakes – Group 1) – KING’S LEGACY

This is a very fine Group 1 race for the juveniles over the mile, one in which there could be some very strong money near the off for Peter and Paul Snowden’s King’s Legacy so it may pay to get on at fixed-odds prices for once instead of opting for the Aussie tote.

This is only the son of Redoute’s Choice’s third racecourse start and he improved hugely to win in impressive fashion last time, making me think very strongly that he has a ton more to give yet and should be too good for this opposition.

That opposition does include Ole Kirk and Holyfield in fairness who have fair reputations of their own, but should something around 7/4 be available that may well be worth taking for King’s Legacy who can go on to land a sequence at the top level.

06:40 Randwick (All Aged Stakes – Group 1) – PIERATA

A competitive seven-furlong Group 1 race, the All Aged Stakes has been won by some very good types over the years and was last season taken by Greg Hickman’s Pierata who is taken to double-up.

The six-year-old is heading off to stud after this but gets his ideal conditions for his big farewell, so bearing that in mind along with the fact that his handler will have him in the very peak of his condition for his final start means it’s easy to see him having a little too much for this lot.

The main dangers are in-form types and regular recent runners Bivouac and Santa Ana Lane, but this should go to the popular Tommy Berry on board the son of Pierro.

22:14 Oaklawn Park (Count Fleet Sprint Handicap – Grade 3) – HIDDEN SCROLL

The choice of yours truly for the 2019 Kentucky Derby after routing his maiden opposition by 14 lengths at Gulfstream last January on Pegasus weekend, Bill Mott’s beautiful Juddmonte homebred didn’t kick on from there and fell off the Triple Crown trail very quickly.

With the benefit of hindsight, his fourth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and sixth behind superstar Maximum Security in the Florida Derby now don’t read too badly at all given that it seems he was never a middle-distance horse, so over sprint distances we can expect him to fulfil his promise this term.

He could be a Grade 1 animal at this six-furlong trip it is felt, something he went a long way to proving first time out in 2020 when going from gate to wire to score by 12 lengths.  On basic figures and at these weights, even the bare performance gives him a chance in this event anyway but the fact that there is unlimited potential in him means he has to be backed should he be 2/1 or better.

Of the others Whitmore and Flagstaff are most likely the main dangers, but it would be no surprise at all to see Hidden Scroll go off a short price for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November at Keeneland if we’re back to a full racing programme by then and so this race has to be within his capabilities.

23:16 Oaklawn Park (Apple Blossom Handicap – Grade 1) – CE CE

The highlight on Saturday is this $600,000 grade one over a mile and half-a-furlong and it represents a great chance for Michael McCarthy’s Ce Ce despite the wide draw in gate 14.

Ordinarily that wide gate might just be enough to put me off, but her form and potential are both outstanding in the context of this race which is over a trip long enough for her to recover should she get trapped wide early.  Also, some of the form she achieved which gives her such a great chance here was also achieved from a wide gate position, somewhat negating the doubts.

Ce Ce took an allowance optional claimer across at Santa Anita by 4½ lengths before landing the Grade 1 Beholder Mile at the same venue by an impressive 3¼ last month, putting her spot-on for this task even at the weights.

The competition is fair but she is on target to be a good price, the main dangers in the end perhaps being the likes of Ollie’s Candy, Street Band, Queen Nekia and Serengeti Empress who all boast strong form in the book.

Friday 10 April 2020

Saturday 11th April 2020: Addeybb to Add to Group 1 Tally

As the enforced racing ban in Britain continues, we rely on those much further afield to provide our action.  There’s a big night at Oaklawn over the in the States, but our selections come from down under as Royal Randwick’s fascinating run of group racing continues.

William Haggas, who got his duo down to Sydney just in time before lockdowns ensued, has a chance to land a clean sweep given that both Young Rascal and Addeybb have already won at Rosehill and have outstanding chances once again, though we begin with a good-looking two-year-old race.

04:20 Randwick (Percy Sykes Stakes – Group 2) – SEE YOU SOON

This is a fine opportunity for See You Soon who has put in at an inexplicably large price on the lead-up to this Group 2 sprint for juvenile fillies by British bookmakers.

She wasn’t great last time out in all fairness, but before that she was improving nicely having beaten major shout here Dame Giselle back in October, then finished second to her from a less opportune draw over five furlongs before filling the runner-up spot once more behind the same horse, albeit by a short-head and off level weights.

She is 7lbs better off with Dame Giselle now and is expected to make that count, so a bigger threat may well come from another at a very attractive price in the shape of Muntaseera.  Tom Marquand takes the ride on that one, but he may have it all to do as will likely favourite Away Game who looks too short to me.

04:55 Randwick (Arrowfield 3YO Sprint) – FLIT

This could be one for the Godolphin boys and girls as their Flit, a fine winner over the course and distance on soft ground in February, looks to have things just as she wants them for this valuable six-furlong sprint and she may well prove very difficult to beat.

Rachel King’s mount put in easily her best work in a very similar race to this a couple of months ago, beating Lyre at Group 2 level, and at these weighs she should have enough to take care of the likely favourite Cosmic Force.

Cosmic Force has already proven to be a good earner this season and last, but a look through his form suggests that on balance it would be unwise to expect his best form on softer ground and so his charge could be blunted somewhat.

Villami and California Zimbol may get involved but it’s James Cummings’ daughter of superstar Medaglia d’Oro who gets the vote for us.

06:15 Randwick (Sydney Cup – Group 1 Handicap) – YOUNG RASCAL

Although priced up pretty short by British bookmakers on Thursday, it’s possible that on the Aussie tote William Haggas’ Young Rascal will be a perfectly backable price in this fascinating two-mile Group 1 handicap and at these weights, he should go very close indeed.

Winning over a mile-and-a-half on his Australian debut last time at Group 3 level, it was clear that in these conditions he wants this sort of trip and so today’s assignment is perfect for him and jockey of the moment, Tom Marquand.

The contenders in behind him are numerous and include the potentially overpriced Angel Of Truth, former Brian Meehan horse Raheen House and last year’s Ebor winner Mustajeer.  But, although competition is fierce enough, Young Rascal had the potential to be a genuine Group 1 horse at home and clearly needed to stretch out last time, meaning we could just see him at his best this time around.

06:55 Randwick (Queen Elizabeth Stakes – Group 1) – ADDEYBB

We could actually be on for a William Haggas/Tom Marquand Group 1 double at Randwick as Addeybb has his perfect racing conditions in an event still worth over £600,000 to the winner, despite recent reductions in prize money due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In winning the Ranvet Stakes last time out he made a great start to his short stay in Australia, but he definitely needed the run that day and should be absolutely at his peak now for this important assignment.

If he is at or near his best then he would have been hard to beat anyway in this company, and yet he may not even be favourite because of the presence of Japanese horse Danon Premium.  While his form is striking though, he is not one who gets his desired firm ground here and who therefore may not be at his best.

Addeybb’s old rival Verry Elleegant, despite a busy campaign, could once again be the one to chase home the son of Pivotal while Master Of Wine looks a solid place contender.

One last word on Addeybb and Young Rascal; if you can take the Australian tote prices as overseas runners such as this will often be allowed to go off a bigger price than they should, and very definitely bigger than what traditional British layers will be offering.

Friday 3 April 2020

Saturday 4th April 2020: Early Morning Warning in Aussie Derby

Despite regular updates from the BHA, which are appreciated, we are really no clearer right now on exactly when horse racing can resume in the UK however our betting opportunities have not dwindled given the sheer amount of action on offer in the States as well as in Australia.

We have three good value bets on each side of the world this week, beginning with another big day of Group 1 action down under as the Australian Derby provides us with an early chance to get a short-priced favourite beaten.

5.55AM Randwick (Australian Derby – Group 1) – WARNING

A competitive Group 1 for the four-year-olds, one in which the likely favourite Castelvecchio has been well touted.  While his overall level of form definitely gives him a winning chance, the fact is that his best work was done at Moonee Valley on good ground over 1m2f and again at Rosehill over the same trip last time.

He’s also been beaten twice by Shadow Hero, though his own form seems to have flattened out and he doesn’t appear to want this mile-and-a-half trip.

The one who will clearly appreciate the race conditions though is Anthony Freedman’s Declaration Of War colt Warning, a grandson of Galileo.

Although beaten last time in the Rosehill Guineas behind Castelvecchio, he was scintillating at Flemington in the Victoria Derby back in November and finally gets the trip and ground he needs to show himself at his best, which should be enough to land this.  Quick Thinker is best of the rest.

6.35AM Randwick (TJ Smith Stakes – Group 1) – NATURE STRIP

A tight and competitive Group 1 sprint for the most part, but the one that stands out from the rest of the field is Chris Waller’s Nature Strip and he is taken to land the near £400,000 first prize.

He handled this track and similar underfoot conditions perfectly last time out when taking care of Redzel by an easy three lengths, and he was a Group 1 winner over this trip at Flemington back in November.

A five-year-old who is only getting better, he could be on for a new career high here but even if that doesn’t materialise he should have enough in his locker to take care of main rival Santa Ana Lane, who can come back to himself but has been easily beaten by the selection on his last two starts.

Of the three-year-olds, I prefer Loving Gaby with the fillies’ allowance to Exceedance and Bivouac, while last week’s column winner Vegadaze isn’t the worst 80/1 chance you’ll ever see for each-way purposes.

7.50AM Randwick (PJ Bell Stakes – Group 3) – SANGRIA

A six-furlong sprint for three-year-old fillies, the form in the grand scheme of things isn’t great but there could be some real value to be had in the shape of Sangria.

A winner last time out in a decent race at Flemington over 5½ furlongs, she should have conditions very much to her liking here and at the weights looks the one to be on at potentially 5/1+.

Likely favourite Rubisaki is the biggest danger on the book, while Godolphin’s Kiamichi could also run into a place and is priced up nicely too.

8.30PM Tampa Bay Downs (Allowance Race) – SERANITSA

This is an $18,000 allowance race on the turf track at 1m½f, one in which Brendan Walsh’s Seranitsa looks nicely clear of this field and from gate 2 she should be able to get the perfect trip around under jockey Antonio Gallardo.

Walsh is the trainer of leading Triple Crown hope Maxfield and is a handler we can definitely trust, his four-year-old filly making his seasonal reappearance after a good season in 2019 during which she was a winner, a runner-up and a third from six starts on the turf.

Her morning line odds of 5/2 seem fair enough to me, while in behind it seems to be very close between War Rose, Hungry Kitten and Pallas Athene who can fight it out for the minors.

10.20PM Gulfstream Park (Optional Claiming Race) – FIRST PREMIO

An interesting $48,000 optional claimer, one in which Mark Casse’s First Premio should have enough to see off his opposition.

Tyler Gaffalione’s mount is six now, but he performed well enough last season to suggest he can still run to a level good enough at level weights to beat the improving Halladay, who is drawn wide, as well as Kroy and the returning Colonist of Todd Pletcher’s barn.

11.09PM Oaklawn Park (Purple Martin Stakes) – EDGEWAY

This is a good quality fillies’ six-furlong sprint, worth some $100,000.  Many British punters will be familiar with Wesley Ward’s Kimari who was hot property at Royal Ascot last year where she was beaten just ahead in the Queen Mary Stakes, and while her form is strong it probably puts her more or less on a par with morning line favourite Frank’s Rockette.

At a morning line show of 3/1 though, the value in the race is the very speedy Edgeway of John Sadler’s barn, a trainer with nearly $130million in prize money to his name.  She has had just the one career start so far, rifling home over this course and distance under today’s jockey Tyler Baze to score by five lengths last month and she looks to be the real deal.

Kimari and Frank’s Rockette look nicely clear of the rest of the field, at least on the book, and so can therefore be used to compile exactas and trifectas etc, but it would be disappointing if Edgeway didn’t prove too good for them both from gate 4.