Friday 29 May 2020

Saturday 30th May 2020: Cox on for Grade 3 Double in Kentucky

We may have to wait until September 5 for the Kentucky Derby itself, but at its home of Churchill Downs there are two Grade 3 events this Saturday and it seems in them trainer Brad Cox has an outstanding chance of landing a big race double underneath the Twin Spires.

We have three bets from the Kentucky track in all and one from Santa Anita this week, while it now appears we are only six days away from being able to handicap three Group 1 races in Britain at Newmarket as our bread and butter is finally being handed back to us!

21:08 Churchill Downs – Race 7 (Winning Colors Stakes – Grade 3) – BREAK EVEN

A good quality six-furlong sprint race for the older fillies and mares, one in which the likely favourite is Breeders’ Cup performer Mia Mischief of Steve Asmussen’s barn.  While she is undoubtedly good, she’s had plenty of chances without improving a whole lot in recent times and so should could struggle giving away 2lbs to some less exposed types.

Another who is very well fancied is Mark Casse’s five-year-old Spiced Perfection, though again I’m not convinced that on the balance of her form she would deserve to be a short price come go time.

The one who convinces most from gate 2 is Brad Cox’s four-year-old filly Break Even, the mount of Joel Rosario.  Having rattled off three on the bounce last summer she was caught close home by the flying Royal Charlotte at Saratoga, but it looked a lazy or overconfident ride from her jockey that day she’ll be a different proposition this time.

The fact that she went off odds-on in a Grade 2 contest in New York tells you something about her ability, and she is taken to land this $100,000 race.

22:44 Churchill Downs – Race 10 (Allowance Optional Claiming Race) – TOP SEED

There’s $83,000 up for grabs in this 1m½f event on the dirt track and the four to concentrate on appear to be Plus Que Parfait, Fearless, Gun It and the selection here which is Top Seed.

Undoubtedly, the second choice on the list is Fearless, the four-year-old of Todd Pletcher’s who was once favourite for a Grade 2.  While he is undoubtedly good and his win over Winking At Thedude from Gulfstream in February reads well enough, he may well just have his work cut out to keep at bay our horse who has untapped potential at the race distance.

That horse, Top Seed of Shug McGaughey’s, is only just beginning to get going in all truth and he was a very wide-margin winner over 6½ furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs recently.  While the form itself is nothing to write home about, it was impressive both visually as well as on the clock, and judging by his breeding he should be very much suited to going up in trip.

By Kentucky Derby winner Orb out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, Top Seed should thoroughly relish this and is taken to open up on the stretch under Corey Lanerie and record a win that may have connections thinking Breeders’ Cup later in the year.

23:16 Churchill Downs – Race 11 (Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes – Grade 3) – JULIET FOXTROT

Another Grade 3 event for the 4yo+ fillies and mares for $100k, though this time on the turf track and over a trip of a mile and half a furlong.

The one to be on from the inside gate is likely to be the former Charlie Hills trained Juliet Foxtrot, one of Khalid Abdullah’s fillies.  Now trained by Brad Cox, the five-year-old daughter of Dansili has done very well since going Stateside, winning at Keeneland and Arlington before going close in a Grade 2 as well as both the First Lady and the Matriarch Stakes at the top level.

She’s rested now, will appreciate this better covering of grass and should be just about peaking meaning she is the best of Cox’s two under jockey Florent Geroux, the trainer’s other runner Beau Recall being second on our list.

As well as the two stable mates, the likes of Altea and Mitchell Road hold definite place chances but aren’t ideally drawn and so are passed over this time.

23:37 Santa Anita – Race 7 (Honeymoon Stakes – Grade 3) – LAURA’S LIGHT

This Grade 3 race for the three-year-old fillies on the turf in California represents a terrific opportunity for Laura’s Light, a daughter of Constitution owned by Gary Barber.

Her win over just about this course and distance back in December against a couple of today’s rivals was dominant and, having followed up over a much shorter trip in February, it would seem she is as fit as anything and improving plenty.

It’s hard to see her not at least going very close in this $100,000 race and she may yet be allowed to go off at a reasonable price, with three in behind being hard to split for the places; Croughavouke, Parkour and Stela Star who can all go well.

Friday 22 May 2020

Saturday 23rd May 2020: Maxfield on the Triple Crown Trail

Hold tight, we’re almost there!  So far, we appear to be still on schedule for a June 1st restart in Britain at Newcastle before moving straight into Guineas weekend at Newmarket.

While that is an incredibly exciting prospect for us all, we can of course continue to keep things ticking over with some overseas bets and once again on Saturday night it’s America flying the flag for us.

Five stakes races worth at least $100,000 are taking place at Churchill Downs, while two more at Santa Anita for big money are both worth betting in.

21:08 Churchill Downs – Race 7 (Shawnee Stakes) – SHE’S A JULIE

This is a good quality event for the fillies and mares over 1m1f, one in which despite a wide draw our mare She’s A Julie of Steve Asmussen’s barn may just be able to make her class tell.

Both she and Chad Brown’s Dunbar Road have form with proper Grade I type Midnight Bisou, though it can be argued that She’s a Julie has fought that little bit better against her and still has more to come despite her rival having a year on her.

This race features plenty of representatives from top yards, Mark Casse saddling two with the older Moonlit Garden being the best of his pair although her better days may be behind her, while Todd Pletcher’s Another Broad will be another horse to consider for show bets.

22:12 Churchill Downs – Race 9 (Blame Stakes) – OWENDALE

This is another $100,000 race, this time for the older horses over a mile and featuring some pretty high-class performers who have taken part in huge races.

While the competition in this 14-runner field is pretty vicious and I get many of them rated so close to each other, including Global Campaign, Alwaysmining, Silver Dust, American Anthem and Diamond King, Owendale could just be that little bit better that the rest and is worth chancing.

His winning form last season entitles him to go well in this event anyway, but it’s hard to forget also that he’s been so highly thought of that he’s been pitched into some of the biggest races around.  Brad Cox’s runner was a pretty hot tip for last season’s Preakness Stakes, a race in which he finished third, while he also represented the barn in the Travers Stakes as well as the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

As a four-year-old he is entitled to improve and looks just the type to go on and do so, so he gets the nod under jockey Florent Geroux in what could be a race that sets him up for a crack at the bigger 1m/1m2f races later in the year.

22:30 Santa Anita – Race 5 (Daytona Stakes – Grade III) – TEXAS WEDGE

A good 5½ furlong turf sprint for the older horses, one in which we could see the emergence of a key contender for this year’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in the shape of Peter Miller’s five-year-old gelding Texas Wedge.

Having already taken a race around this course and distance on New Year’s Day, he was sent all the way to Gulfstream Park in Florida for his last start where he came off the rail to collar the decent Carotari on the line, giving away 6lbs too.

He has plenty in his locker and can get the job done once again here, probably at the main expense of John Sadler’s Cistron and Doug O’Neill’s Murad Khan at these weights.

22:44 Churchill Downs – Race 10 (Matt Winn Stakes – Grade III) – MAXFIELD

This 1m½f race for the three-year-olds could prove to be a very good event and a strong guide towards the upcoming Triple Crown races, starting unusually this year with the shortened Belmont Stakes in June.

Even if this ends up having to be a watching brief at the odds, Maxfield is more than worth a mention for the season ahead and so his return is a hotly anticipated one.

The Godolphin runner, trained by Brendan Walsh, was simply brilliant in taking the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October by 5½ lengths, doing so on his second start in the style of a proper horse.  Having been allowed to sit further back than ideal, he showed a terrific turn of foot off the far turn to easily brush aside solid yardstick Gouverneur Morris that day and has tons of improvement in him.

After chipping a bone he was ruled out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and of course he’ll need this run, but his class not to be questioned.

I commented after Keeneland that I thought Maxfield was the best juvenile in the States last year, nothing I saw at the Breeders’ Cup made me change that opinion and now despite the performances of Nadal and Charlatan this season, it may still be the case that he remains the best sophomore out there when he’s back to full fitness.

His trainer says he has filled out brilliantly and looks a proper horse, while it was always thought he’d show his best at 3 and 4 making his juvenile form seem all the better.

Attachment Rate and outsider Necker Island may also go well in a race worth $150,000 and offers 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

00:00 Santa Anita – Race 8 (Charles Whittingham Stakes – Grade II) – UNITED

Another turf race, this time an all-aged affair over a mile-and-a-quarter.  While this race is admittedly tight, the class of the runners on show means that the form should remain pretty solid and reliable and so even with just a couple of pounds in hand on private ratings, Richard Mandella’s horse gets the nod.

United, under today’s jockey Flavien Prat, was only just denied after having to take a very wide path on the turf at Del Mar over a mile-and-a-half in December while he’s proven his well-being with a win on the dirt since.

He should be spot-on for this and comes out just ahead of Originaire and Rock Emperor.

Friday 15 May 2020

Saturday 16th May 2020: Valedictorian to Bid Ceremonial Farewell to Gulfstream Opposition

With France now back racing in Britain doesn’t look too far away, but in the absence of York, Chester, Newmarket and Newbury this month we continue to look overseas for opportunities and it’s all about the States on Saturday evening.

After some protests LA County has allowed Santa Anita to reopen and we have two tips from there in their pair of stakes races, while earlier in the day Gulfstream Park in Florida host three good races of their own and we’ve gone for one in each of them albeit with prices as yet a mystery.

20:16 Gulfstream Park (Roar Stakes) – DOUBLE CROWN

This is a $75,000 stakes race for the three-year-olds only over 6½ furlongs, one in which there is a 4lb allowance for two of the horses including ours, though we’re in the lap of the gods slightly when it comes to what sort of starting odds will be on offer.

Assuming he’s a backable price, Double Crown remains a very attractive proposition in this and there is the possibility that the presence of Green Light Go, who had initially been thought of as a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Triple Crown horse, may mean his odds are not too prohibitive.

While Green Light Go’s defeat last time came in race conditions that did not suit him and he is bound to improve somewhat, his level of form doesn’t really come up to scratch with our horse in all truth and he also has to give the bang in-form gelding 4lbs.

For show bets, Cajun Casanova could be the one who runs on and gives the two big-hitters most to do, but assuming all things are equal this Double Crown should take some beating on the day.

21:52 Gulfstream Park (Powder Break Stakes) – VALEDICTORIAN

Another $75,000 stakes race here, this time for the fillies and mares over a mile on the turf.  Again, we have no idea at this stage what odds will be offered up but it’s assumed that Mark Casse’s Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Got Stormy will be that one who gets most attention.

In truth, her level of form lately hasn’t matched up to her best, she gives weight away and is drawn a little wide and so having been beaten at long odds-on recently under Tyler Gafflione she is passed over on this occasion.

Chad Brown’s French recruit Noor Sahara is drawn on the inside and is interesting, however the one who looks to be betting better as this year goes on is the six-year-old mare Valedictorian and she is given the nod.

She tired from second spot around the turn here in February to finish sixth in Grade 3 company with today’s rival Silver Kitten four lengths ahead of her at the line, and she is 2lbs worse off now.  However, she improved plenty next time when leading most of the way before tiring much closer to the line to run third over the track and trip in Listed company.

It seems another step forward is coming and, all things considered, it should put her in with a very fair shout of landing this and hopefully at a nice price from an ideal draw.

22:24 Gulfstream Park (Musical Romance Stakes) – J P’s DELIGHT

Another stakes race for the females, this time over seven furlongs and for a cool $100,000.  With any luck the prolific course specialist six-year-old Lady’s Island will be the one for money, making our selection much more backable.

She does keep moving yard though, isn’t getting younger and has been well placed to keep up her great record and so could be much more vulnerable here, especially to an improving four-year-old filly such as J P’s Delight of the Kathleen O’Connell barn.

After winning three races in 2019 and achieving a fine rating, J P’s Delight was out of her depth at 20/1 in a Grade 2 over this track and trip at the beginning of this year before winning easily at Tampa over seven and taking care of an odds-on favourite in the process.

She was down the field last time, but that was over six and she was sent off favourite which tells its own story, and so now she’s taken to win this large prize.  Lady’s Island is next best ahead of Wildwood’s Beauty, Bellera and Oceans of Love.

23:00 Santa Anita Park (Echo Eddie Stakes) – BIG SWEEP

This is a six-furlong sprint on the Santa Anita dirt track, one for the Golden State Series featuring California bred or California sired three-year-olds for $150,000.

The only filly in the line-up, Big Sweep, was impressive on debut in taking care of an older horse while giving weight away and should be well equipped in receipt of plenty of weight here to land this prize.

Others worth considering including Rookie Mistake, Club Aspen and Phantom Boss from an outer draw but as long as the price doesn’t prove to be too restrictive come Saturday night this should be all about Flavien Prat’s mount from gate 8.

00:00 (Evening Jewel Stakes) – BULLETPROOF ONE

This $150,000 contest is the fillies’ equivalent to the Echo Eddie Stakes, one in which Big Sweep could well have been entered.

Peter Miller’s filly Bulletproof One has been in great form, albeit at a lower level over at Golden Gate Fields, but at least she’s a proper dirt track sprinter and her overall form at these weights gives her an outstanding chance.

From the inside gate Smiling Shirlee has a strong chance under Mike Smith, but there are many in this field who have been going over various distance and/or on the turf and so cannot be assessed as readily as these two, though their overall ability doesn’t seem to quite stack up anyway unless they improve.  The who could claim a place is Bella Vita.

Friday 8 May 2020

Saturday 9th May 2020: Australia-USA Treble

The doldrums continue in Britain, though perhaps not for long, while France makes a racing return on Monday and with a vengeance too.

For now though we concentrate on the early morning races down under and one fairly deep turf event at Gulfstream Park on Saturday evening, with all three horses holding very strong chances.

06:45 Doomben (BRC Sprint Handicap – Group 3) – KEMENTARI

A good quality race, one in which many locals are going for Outback Barbie given her fine record when fresh.  However, it seems this is the reason for the choice but she has her work cut out here at the weights and is in fact 3 from 5 after a break, not the 100% scorer her reputation appears to project.

Godolphin’s Kementari on the other hand seems rock solid at the top of the weights and looks absolutely sure to put up a bold bid.  Interestingly, James Cummings’ 5yo is favourite on the early odds in Britain but seems likely to give best at the head of the market locally to Vega One, making our horse potentially good value on the Aussie tote.

Kementari’s recent form is consistently good, including when he was beaten by one of our selections Vegadaze at Rosehill in March in a similar race to this and he gets the vote to go two better than on his last two Group 3 starts and take this $175,000 race.

07:31 Morphettville (South Australian Derby – Group 1) – DALASAN

A good quality race for the three-year-olds and on the face of it the contest is very competitive, 14 runners lining up.  However, odds-wise this is dominated by three horses with Dalasan, Warning and Russian Camelot all clear of the rest.

The choice is Dalasan, ridden by Jason Holder and trained by Leon MacDonald and Andrew Gluyas.  Last running 56 days ago and hopefully appreciative of the break, the chestnut colt is on a hat-trick now and seems to be improving despite having had eleven starts already, more than some of his main rivals.

While locally there appears to be some doubt over his stamina for this 1m4½f trip having been doing his winning over a mile following a third placed finish in Group 3 company over six furlongs, it’s the race distance that in fact gives me greater confidence.

He is by Dalakhani and really should appreciate this greater test, while his form so far stands out in the context of this field.

Warning has had a few chances now and while he is a mile-and-a-half winner on softer ground, he too has been doing better over shorter trips and is by Declaration of War, albeit out of a Galileo mare.

Russian Camelot may be more comfortable going over further than his recent seven-furlong effort, though again both in terms of breeding and experience it could be that this trip on this sort of occasion is a little too much for him.

21:29 Gulfstream Park (Sunshine Forever Stakes) – SOCIAL PARANOIA

Gulfstream have come up with more quality than normal for this $75,000 stakes race, with two Todd Pletcher runners as well as representatives from Barclay Tagg, Michael Maker and Graham Motion in the full 12-runner field.

The race appears to revolve however around Mark Casse’s War Of Will.  The 2019 Preakness Stakes winner should perhaps have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf back in 2018 and is said to be even better on the grass than he is on the dirt, making his trainer and his supporters cause for much optimism.

However, while he will always be a Preakness winner, that race was not the strongest Triple Crown race you’ll ever see, he’s drawn wide here and there is every chance he’ll need the run having not been seen out since a below-par effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year.

He does receive weight, but really the profile of Todd Pletcher’s Social Paranoia excites me more in the context of this race and he is a horse who is set to improve over this extra half-furlong have been very impressive on his first start of 2020.