Roll Call: Who Will Continue to Improve?

Wise DanSometimes it’s a feather in the cap on a racehorse’s career, other times it’s the last time their names will be mentioned in the same breath as their competition. Winning an Eclipse is great for the connections, yes, but gamblers can’t win a dime on these awards – Who can they bet on in the coming year? Who should they bet against? Each prospect has a different answer, so let’s dig in.

Wise Dan (Older Horse, Turf Male, and Horse of the Year) – If he’s anything like his predecessor in the three-bagger category (John Henry), you can bet this one for a looooong time to come. The key is him being a gelding, and with the versatility he’s shown this is either a year to repeat the process or try new things. Either way, he’s improved with age and every new task he’s tried. There probably won’t be much value to him unless he hits a long distance on the dirt again, but sometimes a free space on the bingo card can come in handy.

Royal Delta (Older Female) – She’s been a force from day one. Royal Delta has two ninth place finishes to her credit but no other real blemishes to report in a stellar (and continuing) career. With Dubai clearly dancing in their heads again, the connections are picking the beat up right where they left off last year. She’s at Payson Park with the ever-patient Bill Mott revving up for a 5-year-old campaign that will be hard pressed to duplicate her previous body of work. She keeps coming up with ways to win though, and despite different pace scenarios and surfaces she seems to get a little better each time. Good luck with tossing her outside of another World Cup disaster.

Zagora (Turf Female) – Fahgetaboutit. For $2,500,000 she’d better be pregnant tomorrow.

Shanghai Bobby (Juvenile Male) – Can’t fault the campaign he put together, it won him the award by a landslide. Yours truly thought the story ended at the top of the lane in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he showed another gear in drawing away while aided by the inside running. I, like many others, question his ability to go much further in star status or distance than he’s already shown. That’s not to say he can’t handle the distances put forth early in the spring, but there is an entire year of classic distances awaiting the son of Harlan’s Holiday. He’s a fine mix of pure sprinter and route horse, but the route horses in his pedigree weren’t exactly shouting for a mile and a quarter… and isn’t that the goal? The horse that made him run down the stretch, He’s Had Enough, also took a healthy beating at the hands of another Pletcher runner named Violence. He won a four and one half furlong race to kick off his career, and while he stretched his speed from there how far can it stretch? Todd Pletcher has also voiced that Violence is pointing towards the Fountain of Youth… wouldn’t that be the preferred target for your two-year old champion? Hmmmmmm…

Beholder (Juvenile Female) – No question, she is a very, very nice filly. She’s come to hand rather quickly for a Mandella trainee, but the win in the Juvenile Fillies could not have been more in her wheelhouse. She has boatloads of speed and Mandella is no fool – With the track behaving as it was that weekend speed was your greatest asset. He was aware that the speed from the east wasn’t quite as quick as she was, and that Executive Privilege had perhaps plateaued and would be a vulnerable favorite. The rail draw sealed the deal that day, and wire to wire she went. Don’t judge harshly on the first race off the layoff – Not many from this barn fire right off the shelf but she put in a gutsy enough performance to hold second. She was, however, beaten by a filly that’d danced every dance and lost each time – Tyler Baze also lost the whip on Renee’s Titan and she got the job done anyway. She also appeared gassed around the 6 furlong mark. I’ll be using Beholder on Santa Anita’s surface, but I will not be singling her. As with most leaving Arcadia, I don’t usually bet horses leaving that track for another surface until they’ve had a run over it. The dirt is simply not tiring compared to other tracks and tends to run into them around the 1/8 pole.

I’ll Have Another (Three Year Old Male) – He earned it. What a spring campaign for this horse, with great prices along the way. But, unless you’ve got the yen to pluck this horse out of retirement good luck.

Questing (Three Year Old Female) – It was the closest race and I’m frankly not a fan of the outcome. I realize that she put in an entire years worth of work, but I wasn’t on the premises for all of these “Breathtaking” scores so I guess I missed out. My Miss Aurelia looked ultra-impressive and GAME in gutting out a filly with that much more foundation under her….but it’s all for not. Questing doesn’t strike me as one who will improve leaps and bounds until she relaxes….and it’s obviously been a battle for two trainers now. She may have banged up her eye at Santa Anita but she just got outrun at Parx. With the fields no longer limited in age she’ll have a full helping of Royal Delta, Aurelia, etc through her four-year old year. She didn’t beat shlubs in New York but Zo Impressive did get hurt, In Lingerie ended up on the turf in her final start of the year, Grace Hall beat her in California, and Via Villaggio’s greatest lifetime win to this point was a four-horse race. Not sold until she shows capability of relaxing.

Trinniberg (Male Sprinter) – At least he’s only four, but his division has so many new faces on a daily basis it’s hard to say how his year will go. The Parbhoo stable just isn’t predictable when it comes to their spots for horses (see this horse in the Kentucky Derby), so who knows what direction he’ll go this year. He definitely didn’t duck anyone this past year so give credit where credit’s due, but he too was aided by a speedy main track Breeders’ Cup day. He’ll ship wherever, run different distances and fight to the end. But, he is on the one-dimensional side so rabbits are sure to be entered by trainers with closers at some point. The prices may not be there this year either. This is the division that has only seen one back-to-back winner in the Breeders’ Cup too, and Midnight Lute was an oddity. Demand a price if he defends his crown.

Groupie Doll (Female Sprinter) – Oh duh. Yes, she is a must use until a jockey shows a propensity for falling off. She’s been a machine since the addition of blinkers and lost by a scant nose in the Cigar Mile against males. Buff Bradley is connected in many ways with this filly and knows her like the back of his hand. She’s a fun one to follow but another one that provides peanuts in the payoffs.

Overall, this year’s batch of winners are a usable bunch in the coming year, some more than others. Best of luck to you in 2013 and may these champions have a safe and successful year at the races!

This blog was written by Canterbury Paddock Analyst Angela Hermann. Angela Hermann is entering her third year in 2013 as Canterbury’s Paddock Analyst after previously serving in a similar role at Lincoln Racecourse and Columbus Ag Park. She blogs about both local and National racing.

Who is Your Horse of the Year?

Wise DanAs 2012 draws to a close, the debate over the Horse of the Year heats up. It’s a contentious group this year without any overwhelming favorite. Who did you think was the best of 2012? Here’s a look at the field:

Fort Larned – He’d fit the mold of HOY most years, winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic as well as the Whitney (G1), but this year it’s not so cut and dry. While he leads the way in the older handicap division, this division has had its share of back-and-forth jabs for top honors, and he has lost a couple of times against horses not even mentioned in HOY conversation. While the length and five length defeats are understandable, the bomb in the Stephen Foster puts a significant blemish on his record. He did endure a rough trip that day but with the resumes his competition have put forth, it may cost him.

Groupie Doll – This filly has not ducked her competition this year and has become a new animal with blinkers. A win in the Cigar Mile would have bolstered her chances at this honor but she will attract attention for continuing her campaign past the Breeders’ Cup. In a division that doesn’t put many G1s on the table, she certainly rose to the occasion every time. You just don’t see many distaff sprinters overtaking HOY honors, Ta Wee being one of the few that comes to mind. Just think if the blinkers had been on since the start!

Game On Dude – Didn’t he kind of blow it? The boys came to play in his sandbox and he didn’t show up. As nice of a record as he’s put together he’s the big fish in a small pond. Any time he faces double digits in a field it just doesn’t seem to work out for him, where his weapon (SPEED) isn’t as effective with pressure. With the game of musical jockeys being played on him lately, it appears they’re working out the kinks and should have him ready for another good run at HOY next year.

I’ll Have Another – The Derby & Preakness winner would have been a slam dunk around June 1st, but he has had his reputation muddled with his sale to Japan and the Belmont scratch. Even if he is voted Horse of the Year, it’d revive the tales of O’Neill’s suspension, injury, etc. His name has all but disappeared from tongues of turf writers, and deservedly so. Just another casualty of the Triple Crown Trail in 2012 (And there were quite a few this year.)

Little Mike – Three turf horses are in the conversation this year, but he appears to be the least likely prospect to end up with the award. It’s not that Little Mike can’t run, it’s that he bounces. Good race, bad race, good race, bad race. That last bad race was a bomb, not the kind of impression you want to leave on those thinking of betting you in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Give the horse credit for coming from a place he normally doesn’t, but I don’t think that upset constitutes Horse of the Year.

Point of Entry – This is another of the grass runners in contention, but he too would be a mild surprise. Put an impressive string of wins together this spring/summer, but like Game On Dude found a lot of the same faces next to him in the starting gate. He’s another one with a bright future but this year probably isn’t his for a crowning.

Royal Delta – Bill Mott’s wonder filly kept right on rolling this year, though she took her share of defeat among a very impressive campaign. She racked up a lot of frequent flyer miles this year, taking in seven different tracks this year while only missing the board against males in Dubai. The field she beat in the Ladies’ Classic was as deep as has ever been put together for the race, and despite being taken out of her style she still drew off with authority. She can beat you in a number of ways and she’s only four – while she may have a tough time swaying votes from Wise Dan she would be in the hunt for me if not for that debacle in Dubai.

Wise Dan – The front-runner and deservedly so. Without Ron the Greek to spoil the party this would be a very, very easy decision. He still is an overwhelming favorite for HOY honors, and what I can say you’ve probably seen at one point or another on paper. He’ll run on broken glass if they put up enough purse money, and he’ll win on the front or from behind. While dirt may be his one weakness, he still gallantly made a run in the Stephen Foster and defeated his main HOY competition (Fort Larned) in the process. Milers generally don’t get their due in Eclipse voting, but this year may break the mold.

DRF has past performances available for all divisional contenders in the Eclipse Awards, available here.

Who would you vote for? Comment below with your choice or comments!

This blog was written by Canterbury Paddock Analyst Angela Hermann. Angela Hermann just completed her second year as Canterbury’s Paddock Analyst after previously serving in a similar role at Lincoln Racecourse and Columbus Ag Park. She blogs about both local and National racing.

Breeders’ Cup 2012: The Aftermath

Every year I have mixed thoughts on the Breeders’ Cup. This year it was another up-and-down affair, but overall Saturday went this handicapper’s way more than Friday. Race by race, let’s review:

Juvenile Sprint: Anti-climactic at best. Merit Man and Hightail put on a decent stretch duel for us, but the rail was obviously playing very well and Rajiv Maragh capitalized. Patrick Valenzuela doesn’t get many mounts in California anymore, and I can’t imagine he’ll keep the mount on Merit Man after letting a maiden slip up the rail and defeat him knowing how it was playing. The horse is still figuring things out and definitely gave away experience to Hightail – don’t get me wrong. It was just a hefty-pursed allowance race.

Marathon: I know, the race I hated and won. I still don’t love this race and I think a nine-year-old from Argentina coming up and winning it doesn’t really improve it. We didn’t see the winner all year and we may never see him again. He ran a heck of a race after being out of touch with the field for around a mile, but probably would have been the best at the distance no matter where he came from. He is just a specialist at races like this one and Americans never really are tested at it throughout the year. The runner-up is a classy horse, but does the bulk of his work on turf and may never try the dirt again. Atigun has a future in front of him but ran a pretty usual race for him. Couple of yawners, but that’s why they were the first two BC races carded.

Juvenile Fillies Turf: This was a fun one to watch. Apparently everyone and their mother loved Flotilla, but I was uninformed on the quality of her races in Europe. She received a masterful ride from Lemaire and very much deserved the win. The top five all appeared to get fair runs at it and came home strongly. There was a touch of trouble behind them, but the horses most likely wouldn’t have made much more impact with clean trips. Waterway Run was on the inside the entirety of the trip with Frankie Dettori, but when given any light of day really didn’t kick. The major disappointment was Spring Venture, who took a Woobine-ish (WIDE) trip from start to finish, and as a result was all but done at the quarter pole. Not sure why Husbands felt the need to travel 3-4 wide throughout AND swing out at least 7 wide on the turn, but they paid for it. She is a better filly than she showed but will probably appreciate a trip back to Canada.

Juvenile Fillies: The favorites performed as expected. Beholder used the speedy rail to her advantage and got the jump out of the gate….game over. Mandella put her in this race for a reason, and with speed holding the way it was he was right. Executiveprivilege ran her race but passing was difficult all weekend. She had been a little off in her last work and got weary down the lane (drifting) but simply appeared second best on the day. Going forward, neither of the top two have an overwhelming pedigree for long distance but as long as they stay on the West Coast they should be fine. The most formful race of them all was indeed formful.

Filly & Mare Turf: I’d compare this one to a game of bumper cars. The favorites encountered plenty of trouble, especially The Fugue. I should not have taken the bait with a horse ridden by a European jockey but considering he won the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf I was very disappointed with the ride on Ridasinya. Neither got a fair shot at the winner, with The Fugue taking all the worst of it on the outside. Ridasinya stayed in last until the head of the stretch, and then flew on to get fourth. Zagora was the filly who came out smelling like a rose, and with a powerful ride home she and Javier Castellano sprung the mild upset at 9-1. I cannot discredit the winner, as she came home in quick time and out gamed another nice one in Marketing Mix, but the exacta should have been filled by a European in some sense. Hats off to Chad Brown for having her ready to take on that tough field.

Ladies’ Classic: Santa Anita’s final BC race on Friday was everything it was supposed to be – the crowning of a champion and an exciting race throughout. Royal Delta is simply a machine and her race on Friday was by far the most impressive of the day. How do you beat her?! She can beat you in front, she can beat you from behind, and at whatever racetrack you turn her loose on. She’s in the right hands to carry this talent on as an older filly, and it was nice to see Mike Smith return to the winner’s circle in this race. The best part? No one really endured trouble in the running, although Questing supposedly hurt her eye. While she didn’t go to the lead, I don’t think I’m alone in being surprised at Royal Delta’s wire to wire effort. What appeared to be a speedy field was simply overpowered by Bill Mott’s filly, but give credit to both My Miss Aurelia and Include Me Out. They both put in their races and simply fell short. If we’d only put together an entire Breeders’ Cup with these types of races.

Juvenile Turf: Why was ANY European let off at this price? George Vancouver has a rich American pedigree and somehow went off at 9-1. Chad Brown’s colts both performed well, but this was another fairly chalky event. The single digit prospects all ran in the top spots, the longshots all trailed. The chart reads “Steadied” for a lot of runners, but most of the bumping was light and didn’t cost anyone the race. Dundonnell jockey (Doyle) rode the horse like he stole him around the turn, but ended up just a bit short around the sixteenth pole. Give the fourth-place finisher another chance if he returns to America.

Filly & Mare Sprint: Groupie Doll. What else do you say? Groupie Doll. Dust and Diamonds ran a nice race for second, but she ran into a sprinting buzz saw. Chalk, chalk.

Dirt Mile: Where have all the speed horses gone? On paper, this looked like a closer’s race. When Shackleford stumbled, Fed Biz took back and Emcee became Tapizar’s companion on the front end, the race changed completely. I still do not like Tapizar and he got the exact trip he needed to win. Take a look – This horse does not win any other way and got one to go his way. He got the trip at the right time on the right day and we’re happy for him. Rail Trip’s much improved performance on dirt surprised me a little, but not as much as the winner. Heck, even Delegation got up for a piece and THAT is a surprise. Good for the winning connections, not good for my wallet. Congrats to all that hit!

Turf Sprint: Ah yes, the one race that a horse for the course came in. Mizdirection and Unbridled’s Note showed some of the best recent form and filled a pretty decent exacta ($40). Their posts and their style suited this race better than most, and the local filly Reneesgotzip held bravely for third. Keep in mind that Santa Anita will host the Breeders’ Cup next year and these types will probably do well in 2013. The figures don’t show up as impressive, but the extra furlong and a half that most of these aren’t used to running catches up with them. A lot of contenders for this race spend a majority of their year running five and six furlongs, so expect plenty of early speed in next year’s renewal as well.

Juvenile: Wow. Shanghai Bobby isn’t bred to be a classic sort of horse but what heart he showed! While he only prevailed by a head, Pletcher’s colt looked all but done at the top of the stretch and bravely held off He’s Had Enough. Plenty is being made of the runner-up’s future prospects, but let’s see how the rest come out of this. The two West horses (Power Broker and Title Contender) appeared best on paper (the former defeated third place Capo Bastone handily prior), but didn’t show much after the first half of the race. Interesting to see who will show up on the Derby trail.

Turf: Little Mike? LITTLE MIKE? The speed duel expected up front didn’t materialize… and Little Mike got the jump on them all. The Europeans really seemed to show up but just weren’t good enough. I will gripe once more about jockeys that leave their horses with too much to do, but it won’t win me any more money. Tip of the cap and move along, as this race really made no sense to me before, during or after.

Sprint: Speed kills at Santa Anita. Trinniberg found the dirt to his liking and not surprisingly, nearly wired the field. Smiling Tiger was the only horse to crack the superfecta from further back than fourth early. Sum of the Parts, Trinniberg and The Lumber Guy all stayed in close attendance to FAST fractions, but the track has been playing to speed all meet long and the surface did not tire anyone out. I can’t say this was unexpected, but Smiling Tiger getting up for a piece was a little odd. The vet hadn’t shown much lately but brave race on his part. Despite the prices, the sprint went the way of a lot of short races at the fall meet – all but wire-to-wire.

Mile: I expected a big race from Wise Dan (pictured at top), but I didn’t think it’d beat Excelebration like that! Wise Dan pulls on those boots and punches the clock every time doesn’t he? All the projections for horse of the year are now heading his way, and deservedly so. Obviously is a fast horse, but was without closing competition in his previous races. Wise Dan ran his race and more often than not it’s a winning race. Animal Kingdom surprised a few but not all (10-1 at post time) in running down Obviously as well, but Motion is about as conservative as they get. His race off that kind of layoff was outstanding. If these two stay at the level they were at on Saturday, we may be in for quite a rivalry next year in Grade One grass races. Excelebration showed his fatigue from his recent race & travel. Moonlight Cloud… nowhere to be found.

Classic: Happy Birthday to Brian Hernandez. The two Classics didn’t disappoint this year and at least the masculine version yielded a price. Fort Larned and his connections caught right on to the track bias, and when Game On Dude didn’t gun for the front there they went. The rail was also playing kind to speed, and when a path opened up to his inside Hernandez shut the door quickly. Game On Dude is awfully good at Santa Anita, but take him out of his game and the wheels come off. Mucho Macho Man ran his typical race but seems just as willing to settle for pieces as wins. Flat Out’s not so tough without his Belmont main track but at least filled out the tri at six to one instead of seven to two. The Dude will come back to fight another day, and congratulations to the victors and runner-up. Their stories are hard to make up and the races their charges put in were commendable.

Congratulations to all who cashed as well, and best of luck on the upcoming Derby Trail!

This blog was written by Canterbury Paddock Analyst Angela Hermann. Angela Hermann just completed her second year as Canterbury’s Paddock Analyst after previously serving in a similar role at Lincoln Racecourse and Columbus Ag Park. She blogs about both local and National racing.