With the rain and snow gouging the East and Southeast regions of the country, horseracing fans were put on hold with the cancellations of Gulfstream, Aqueduct and many other tracks over the past few weeks. This Saturday, however, we are hoping for better conditions for the running of the Gotham at Aqueduct and the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs where more Derby points are up for grabs. Santa Anita also has a big Saturday in store for race fans. It’s Big Cap Day at the Great Race Place and the San Felipe Stakes will host the return of the Derby frontrunner, Dortmund.
The points are getting higher and the names are getting bigger. This weekend, the Gotham, TB Derby and San Felipe will showcase four of the top five Derby contenders (in my opinion): El Kabeir, Ocho Ocho Ocho, Dortmund and Carpe Diem. We also might see a lesser-known runner emerge with the heart of a champion. From a betting standpoint, it’s time to start looking for the spoilers.
We won’t find our upset in this race. El Kabeir is head and shoulders above this field and is at morning line 8/5. He has more graded experience and has been running with much better company than this. I’m actually quite underwhelmed by the field in the Gotham. However, El Kabeir had a tough duel with Far From Over in the Withers on February 7 and was beat, so it is possible. Classy Class took third in the Withers behind the two dueling speedsters and raced against Keen Ice and Frosted in the Remsen. The only other horse in the Gotham with graded stakes experience is Tencendur who ran with El Kabeir, Far From Over and Classy Class in the Withers. He was not a factor and couldn’t keep up, but has put in amazing works since that race. Do not count out the Todd Pletcher horse, Dontbetwithbruno, at 5-1. This horse is coming off a win at Aqueduct on February 1 and has put in very impressive works since breaking his maiden. This horse may not have the racing experience but he has Todd Pletcher. Dontbetwithbruno might jump up and grab some points so please do bet with bruno. I would play several exacta boxes with El Kabeir on top.
Tampa Bay Derby
These Florida tracks take a day and half to properly handicap. There are 12 races a day and the fields average between 8 – 12 horses each race. The TB Derby has a field of 9, and the anticipated return to the racing scene of the sensational Carpe Diem. While Carpe Diem has been sidelined since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 1, his challengers in the TB Derby have been racing in graded stakes company. Notably, Divining Rod, My Johnny Be Good and Ocean Knight, who won the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay on January 31. Irad Ortiz, Jr. maintains the mount and will be pressing Carpe Diem. I see Irad keeping him about four or five back until the final turn. My Johnny Be Good gave way to Ocean Knight and Divining Rod in the SF Davis at this distance and doesn’t appear to be all that interested in the 1 1/16th. He wins more races at shorter distances. Divining Rod can keep up with Ocean Knight and My Johnny Be Good, but probably not Carpe Diem. The 6 horse, Souper Colossal is interesting to me. Souper Colossal has won four out of his five career starts. His only loss was in the BC Juvenile where he ran with Texas Red, Carpe Diem and Upstart – that was also at the 1 1/16th, as is the TB Derby. The past performance analysis of the BC Juvenile indicates that Souper Colossal stumbled at the start, but dueled three wide; then comes back to the track on February 7 and wins the Texas Glitter Stakes at 5 furlongs with the guidance of Joel Rosario. Hmmm… has always raced at short distances and won, then goes to the 1 1/16th and can’t hang with the field at that distance, then comes back and wins at 5 furlongs, now back to the 1 1/16th in the TB Derby. Can trainer Ed Plesa have Souper Colossal ready for the stretch out this time? Rosario stays on board which should help, but Divining Rod, Ocean Knight, Carpe Diem, Ami’s Flatter and My Johnny Be Good all have more experience at this distance. But, with Souper Colossal at 6-1, I’ll give him a long look. I really want to upset Carpe Diem with Ocean Knight, but I know Todd Pletcher will have this horse ready to fire and I just can’t do it. There’s no profit to be made in this race. I’ll take a shot with Souper Colossal to fill some exotics.
The San Felipe
The 78th running of the Grade II San Felipe is certainly an interesting race to handicap. Dissecting the past performance reveals some familiar names, but only a few of these talented 3-year olds have been tested at the 1 1/16th.
In the post position is the Bob Baffert-trained Lord Nelson. This horse has been running with the best of them in his 3-year old career: American Pharaoh, El Kabeir, Imperia, Texas Red, and Calculator. He also has Grade I experience at this distance in the Front Runner which American Pharaoh won, and the Grade II San Vicente, a race in which Lord Nelson beat Texas Red. Lord Nelson has never hit the board at the 1 1/16th. The only advantage is he keeps the top jock Rafael Bejarano after their win in the San Vicente.
Ocho Ocho Ocho is undefeated in three starts. He has been working well on his home dirt in Santa Anita and is coming off a win at this distance. Ocho likes to get into a duel with other horses, and I doubt Mike Smith will have this horse in the front. Ocho wants to see his competition and then go get them. But, he’ll have to really bring his best game to catch the other undefeated horse in this race, Dortmund.
Dortmund has never been beaten in four starts. The Dynamic Duo of Bob Baffert and Martin Garcia continue their domination on the road to Kentucky and bring their well-traveled big son of Big Brown back to Santa Anita. I like this horse, a lot. He’s a fighter and a strong runner. He went head-to-head with a worthy foe, Firing Line, twice at a 1 1/16th in the Robert B. Lewis and the Los Al Futurity, and he won both times (a win is a win, regardless of whether it’s a bob or not). Dortmund should keep his Derby dreams rolling in the San Felipe and gather up more points for owner Kaleem Shah.
The Gomper is in the fourth spot. He hasn’t won a race since December 5 and he’s never run at this distance.
Kenjisstorm has yet to win a race. About the only thing going for him is he has been in races with Rock Shandy, Metaboss, Bolo and Prospect Park.
Speaking of Prospect Park, he’s won two in a row since Kent Desormeaux got in the irons, both races at Santa Anita. He certainly is the horse for course. He’s only had one race outside of the Santa Anita oval. Three in a row would be miraculous with the competition in this field however.
I like the next horse, Bolo, to be a spoiler … well, to at least hit the board. Bolo can certainly handle this distance. His usual pilot Mike Smith jumps off to ride Ocho so the aptly qualified Victor Espinoza takes over for Golden Pegasus Racing. Bolo is also coming off a two-race winning streak. Bolo has to his credit beating Metaboss at a 1 1/16th on November 14. I like the addition of Espinoza and will give this horse a look for the minor awards.
Pulmarack has the connections of Jerry Hollendorfer and Eclipse-winning apprentice Drayden Van Dyke, but Pulmarack has only raced as this distance once, and he finished second to Mischief Clem in the Cal Cup Derby. This is a much better field.
Sir Samson has an interesting resume. He’s actually been in a race with Dortmund before, but he was pulled up and never finished. Then, he comes back approximately six weeks later and wins at six furlongs, then gets plopped into the Grade II San Vicente and finishes third behind Lord Nelson and Texas Red. Since that race, Sir Samson has been putting in a blazing work tab at Los Alamitos. Joe Talamo keeps the mount.
Last in the gate is Pain and Misery. I have to recognize the Canterbury connection on this 3-year old. Pain and Misery won the Governor’s Cup at Zia Park with Canterbury jockey Ry Eikleberry in saddle. Richard Mandella got this horse from trainer Henry Dominguez after that win and brought him to California, where he finished second behind Bench Warrant on February 15 at six and half furlongs. Unfortunately, Pain and Misery just might have difficulty reaching the 1 1/16th in the San Felipe and is up against a better field than he saw at Zia.
For the San Felipe, I want to play some of the minors for a price. I believe Dortmund will remain undefeated and head into the Derby as the favorite after the San Felipe (that is until we see American Pharaoh). I’ll mix things up with Dortmund, Bolo, Ocho and Sir Samson in some exotic wagers.
@MizPostParade is a regular contributor to CanterburyLive.com . Follow her on Twitter and on her blog, One Lucky Mudder .
Saturday’s Road to Kentucky Handicapping Contest includes the entire Tampa Bay Downs card plus the San Felipe and The Gotham. It is free to enter and weekly prize money is $1,300. Entry deadline is first post circa 11:00 a.m.