News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.
DWYER STAKES NOW A STEPPING STONE TO THE BELMONT STAKES
Belmont Park will host an important prep for the June 5 Belmont Stakes when seven 3-year-olds contest Saturday’s 93rd running of the Grade II, $200,000 Dwyer Stakes. Traditionally contested in July, the Dwyer will be run in May for the first time in 2010.
Drosselmeyer, who missed making the cut in graded stakes earnings for the Derby, tops the field for the 1 1/8th mile Dwyer. The Distorted Humor colt – who fetched $600,000 at the 2008 Keeneland September Yearling Sale – began his career on turf and synthetics but really began to blossom when switched to dirt, closing out his 2-year-old campaign with a maiden victory at Churchill Downs and launching 2010 with an allowance victory at Gulfstream Park.
Following a fourth-place finish in the Risen Star and a third place finish, beaten just a length, in the March 27 Louisiana Derby, WinStar Farm and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott briefly entertained the idea of running him back either in the Lexington or the Blue Grass, but elected to await the Dwyer. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux has the mount on Drosselmeyer, at 2-1 on the morning line; Drosselmeyer is assigned post position 2.
Also coming in from the road to the Derby is the lightly-raced but talented Soaring Empire, owned in part by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. Winner of two of his first three starts, the Empire Maker colt took a big step up in class in the Florida Derby, but lost all chance before the start when, bothered by the crowd, he dumped jockey Eddie Castro and grabbed a quarter, subsequently finishing eighth.
“It was a maturity thing,” said trainer Cam Gambolati. “He’s a talented colt, and we were behind the eight ball, trying to make the Kentucky Derby, and he just wasn’t ready. But the Dwyer is a great spot for him. A mile and an eighth at Belmont Park is a lot different, and it’s a great race from which to move forward. The Belmont, of course, is a possibility, but we’ll let him tell us where he’ll go next. Right now, he’s trained very well and I expect him to run well.”Castro is back aboard Soaring Empire, who drew post position 4 and was 5-1 on the morning line.
Another who spent a little time on the Triple Crown trail earlier this spring was Richard Pell’s Fly Down, trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito. A maiden winner at second asking last fall at Churchill Downs – defeating First Dude in the process – the Mineshaft colt took an allowance at Gulfstream Park in February, winning by a head and earning a 90 Beyer Speed Figure coming off three-month layoff. A ninth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby ended his Derby hopes, but he comes into the Dwyer off a bullet half-mile move in 47.60 on May 3 at Churchill Downs. Jose Lezcano rides Fly Down, with odds of 7-2 on the morning line, from the outside post.
Coming in from the mid-Atlantic are a pair of horses with familiar faces – James McIngvale’s Carnivore, who was fifth to Eskendereya in the Wood Memorial, and Earle Mack’s Turf Melody, fourth in the Gotham behind Awesome Act and fourth to American Lion in the Illinois Derby in his most recent start.
“He came out of the race fine, and he’s had plenty of time to recover from that trip,” said Turf Melody’s trainer, H. Graham Motion. “The track at Hawthorne seemed to be cuppy, and I don’t think he handled it well, if I were to make an excuse. The thought process is that this isn’t as tough of a group as the one going to the Preakness, and it’s a chance to run over the track. If he handles the competition and the surface, we’ll look at the Belmont Stakes in four weeks.”
Carnivore, who came back to finish second to Nacho Friend in an allowance at Pimlico on April 29, drew the rail and will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez at 10-1 on the early line, while Rajiv Maragh has the mount on Turf Melody, at 12-1,and has post position 3.
Rounding out the field are Bred to Win Partners’ Codoy, who will be making his first start on conventional dirt and who most recently finished fifth in the Blue Grass, and Sovereign Stable’s Remand, third behind Eightyfiveinafifty and subsequent Derby Trial winner Hurricane Ike in the Bay Shore on April 3 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Codoy, with Cornelio Velasquez up, is 15-1 and will break from post position 6, while Remand drew post position 5 at 3-1 on the morning line. John Velazquez has the call on Remand.
GOLD CUP WINNER RAIL TRIP RETURNS IN MERVYN LeROY
Rail Trip, whose biggest win came in the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup, will make his long awaited return to action in the Grade II, $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on Saturday at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif.
The Mervyn LeRoy, a 1 1/16-miles contest, is the first prep race for the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, which will be run for the 71st time on Saturday, July 10.
Rail Trip will have six opponents in the race named to honor of one of Hollywood Park’s organizers and its president for 34 years until 1985.
Owned by Mace and Samantha Siegel’s Jay Em Ess Stable and trained by Ron Ellis, Rail Trip is a 5-year-old Jump Start gelding out of the Carson City mare Sweet Trip.
A winner of six of nine with earnings of $787,790, Rail Trip has been idle since finishing third, beaten by one length, as the 5-2 favorite in the Pacific Classic last Sept. 6 at Del Mar. That effort came nearly two months after his 9-1 surprise win in the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup, the only Grade I victory of his career. He won that affair by three lengths over Tres Borrachos with a pace pressing journey.
No worse than second in five starts at Hollywood Park while winning three times, Rail Trip will be making his second appearance in the Mervyn LeRoy. He was second as the 3-5 favorite in 2009, losing by 1 ¼ lengths to longshot Ball Four.
Rail Trip, who will carry top weight of 121 pounds and break from post 5, will have a new jockey on board. Rafael Bejarano replaces Jose Valdivia, Jr., who is now riding regularly at Delaware Park.
Tres Borrachos, who has earned all of his entire career wins at Hollywood Park, including an 11-1 upset in the 2008 Swaps Stakes, has drawn the post-position directly inside of Rail Trip.
Fourth in his three most recent races, Tres Borrachos will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who won the Mervyn LeRoy with Molengao in 2007.
Dakota Phone will be looking to end a winless streak that spans more than 17 months. His last victory came in the Forty Niner on Nov. 28, 2008 at Golden Gate. He has lost 13 in a row, but has finished second or third in five graded stakes during that period.
Third, beaten 1 ¾ lengths in last year’s Mervyn LeRoy, Dakota Phone has only been off the board once in six tries on the Hollywood Park main track. Owned by John Carver, Halo Farms and George Todaro and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, the 5-year-old gelded son of Zavata has won four of 25. His bankroll stands at $437,810 and he will be ridden for the first time by Tyler Baze.
Second as the favorite in the Santana Mile on April 10 at Santa Anita, Slew’s Tiznow will be trying to stay perfect on the Hollywood Park main track. He won the War Chant in his only previous race here on Nov. 27, 2008. Joel Rosario has the call for owner-breeder Joseph Lacombe and trainer James Lloyd.
The complete field for the 31st running of the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap with horse, jockey and weights is as follows: Dakota Phone, (Tyler Baze, 117) ; Sangaree, (Martin Pedroza, 115); Slew’s Tiznow, (Joel Rosario, 114); Cigar Man, (Joe Talamo, 114); Tres Borrachos, (Victor Espinoza, 114); Rail Trip, (Rafael Bejarano, 121); and Art Currency, (Mike Smith, 113).
FLANZBAUM TOPS RECORD FIELD IN NHC TOUR ONLINE DERBY/OAKS HANDICAPPING TOURNAMENT
Dave Flanzbaum of Rolling Meadows, Ill., bested 821 other NHC Tour members to finish first in last weekend’s free NHC Tour online handicapping tournament. Flanzbaum amassed a winning total of $116.60 in the April 30-May 1 contest that required competitors to make mythical $2.00 win and place wagers on five mandatory races each day at Churchill Downs. The field of 822 was the largest ever for an NHC Tour online qualifying tournament. Flanzbaum will now receive a guaranteed berth in the $1 million (estimated) Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) on January 28-29, 2011 in Las Vegas. Flanzbaum will also receive roundtrip air travel and hotel accommodations at the Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa, site of the NHC.
Also gaining NHC berths and a free trip to Red Rock were third-place finisher Michael Harrington ($98.60) of Pensacola, Fla., and fourth-place finisher Robert Gianquitti ($97.00) of Lake Worth, Fla. Alan Levitt ($100.40) of Baltimore, Md., finished second to Flanzbaum, but Levitt had already qualified for the 2011 NHC, which opened the door for Gianquitti to barely snag the last of the three NHC berths available last weekend. Gianquitti had actually finished in a tie for fourth with Donald Bucholtz of Staten Island, N.Y., and the two remained tied following the application of the first tiebreaker, which was total number of first-place finishers among the 10 races. But Gianquitti prevailed on the second tiebreaker, which was highest single-race payoff, thanks to the win by Atta Boy Roy in Saturday’s Churchill Downs Stakes, which resulted in a $31.40 win/place payoff for Gianquitti. Interestingly, Gianquitti and Bucholtz had none of their four winners in common over the two days.
The April 30-May 1 tournament was the second of five free events this year restricted to NHC Tour members. The annual registration fee for the NHC Tour is $100 for Level 1 members who compete solely for NHC berths, and $500 for Level 2 members, who also compete during the year for at least $75,000 in additional prize money. NHC Tour scoring is based on a contestant’s five best scores at qualifying tournaments held around the country or online. At the end of the year, the highest scoring NHC Tour member can also win a $2 million bonus if he or she wins the NHC finals in Las Vegas.
All NHC Tour members also receive free membership in the Horseplayer’s Coalition, which conducts legislative advocacy on behalf of horseplayers, and they also receive free access to the NTRA Advantage program, which offers significant savings on products from John Deere, Sherwin-Williams, Toshiba and many other companies.
For more information about the NHC Tour, including how to sign up, visit www.ntra.com/nhctour.