Excitement for the first race of 2014 is palpable. Opening night looks like it’ll be crisp but dry, which is an upgrade over the sloppy mess we began with in 2013. The card in store is eight races deep and features a lot of statebreds in the latter half. We’ll offer two pick fours Friday night, and the first looks a tad chalkier of the two. Since I like to do historical digging, here’s a little:
*Last year didn’t have a particularly dominant source track for winners, but Turf Paradise & Hawthorne led the way with about 20% each in the first two weekends (52 races). The surface at Hawthorne got pretty deep towards the end and conditioned its runners well to come up here, but I am not so sure that this year will be a similar scenario. The track stayed frozen for a good part of their spring meet and generally gave closers a heck of a time. Give them a second glance when they get to Minnesota. Turf Paradise runners seemed to benefit from the races offered in the first couple of weeks last year and their uninterrupted training regimen due to geography. There was no particular trainer that racked up these wins.
*The more alarming trend in the first couple of weekends was the lack of noise made by Tampa shippers. Though there were limited starters from said track, their usual good fortune dried up with a lone win. We’ll have fewer shippers from Tampa than before most likely so don’t be too harsh, but don’t accept too short of a number.
*Horses imported from 14 different tracks to win in the first two weekends of our live meet last year. The variety may increase even more this year with the new trainers showing up on the backside. With things changing the way that they are with our purse structure, condition book and stake races this is about all that can be used from the past seasons. It’s a fun time to be involved with the growth of Canterbury racing and the handicapping end of things has only increased in difficulty.
While many things have changed in the landscape of Minnesota racing, one thing remains consistent. The best Minnesota-bred sprinters start their Canterbury season in the 10,000 Lakes Stakes….and four of those victors have gone on to be named Champion Sprinter in Minnesota. On paper it appears to be a two horse race, and those two are bringing together a matchup that has been a long time in the making. Bourbon County has had a lot of time off to prepare for his initial meeting with Heliskier, but if these two live up to their peak form we are in for a heck of a horse race. They’ve gone about preparing for this in opposite manners, with Heliskier taking in a couple of races at Oaklawn Park while BC opted to ride the pine since July. Both have only lost once at their home track and both have put decisive margins on their age-restricted competition in the past. Heliskier comes off two defeats, yes, but they were against superior competition and he drew advantageously to the outside of the other speed with Alex Canchari aboard for the second time. They teamed up for a third behind Jake Mo in a freakish race on March 21st, but this two time defending horse of the year no doubt needed both starts off his September-February break. That alone could put him ahead of Bourbon County, but don’t underestimate the Rake homebred’s raw talent. His two statebred races were front-running blitzes, and the way he’s working we should expect a similar effort opening night. He will be the solid second choice barring a scratch, but even with the way he’s coming up to the race the excessive time off leads this gambler’s betting money elsewhere. If he’d drawn outside of Heliskier the story might be different, but the luck of the draw seemed to work the way of his elder foe and perhaps another day will come for this talented son of Dehere.
The conditions don’t label it a stake, but the fourth race of the day might as well be the “Frances Genter Preview” given the field that drew in. This one should go the way of the Rhone stable though, as his Sky and Sea is one of only two to race this year. She’s a neck shy of being undefeated, and that tough loss came against a nice bunch of fillies in Florida that would give this field a headache. The bigger question will be if the runners from the Northern Lights Debutante make any steps forward, as last year’s edition of the race came up light figure-wise and improvement will be necessary if any of them are to come within sniffing distance of S & S. The older mares have opposite styles in Friday night’s fourth, but neither appears to be threatening Rhone’s filly for anything other than a minor award.
We’ve all waited through a long winter for this…..enjoy opening night, make lots of dough and enjoy the show!
See Angela’s opening night race analysis here.