by Andrew Offerman
February 9 Fair Grounds
The Oracle was unable to blog the Road to Kentucky this week, so I’ll do my best filling in for the all-knowing one. I’ll keep the same format, but because I’m an employee, my selections and score will by purely mythical. I thought that the card provided some very difficult races, especially on the turf. I decided to take my chances with fairly high morning line horses, hoping to find a couple of good prices along the way. Best of luck this week and beyond. Race 1: Fair Grounds’ card started with a Maiden Special Weight route on a firm turf course. (seems like an eternity since the last firm turf course). The 6/5 favorite was Much Obliged from post number nine. Scratched for this, Much Obliged shipped in from north of the border for trainer Malcolm Pierce. I decided to take a stab with Remington Park shipper Winning Idea for Tom Proctor.The Result: Second-choice Ghoul and the favored Much Obliged were able to get away with fairly easy fractions (the ½ mile went in 50 and 3/5) and drew off in the stretch. Much Obliged pulled clear late and went on to win very easily. My selection lost a photo for show to Lantern.Maximum Points: Much Obliged 92Maximum Score: 92My Score: 0Race 2: The second race was a cheap state-bred claiming race. The favorite was No Surgeon, claimed from his victory back on January 19. He’d been very consistent of late, running a Beyer speed figure of 70 or more in his four previous races and in eight of his past 9 starts. I didn’t think that a lot of speed was entered in the race and was contemplating playing either Big Herm or Jathan Tyler, I chose the latter because it was a higher price on the morning line.The Result: As it appeared on paper, Big Herm and Jathan Tyler vied for the early lead with Big Herm holding a one-length lead through the early stages. Jathan Tyler pulled even and eventually took a short lead as they turned for home. However, No Surgeon got just enough pace to run at and was able to take control in deep stretch. The pace-setters came in second and third. Two races, two favorites… not what I need to be successful the remainder of the afternoon.Maximum Points: Jathan Tyler 110Maximum Score: 202My Score: 110Race 3: In my opinion, the third race of the day was by far the most difficult on the card if you did not like the California invader. I hated Tiffany Marie because she had already started for a tag and did not show very good works over the conventional dirt found at Fair Grounds. Unfortunately, I thought that everyone else had a fairly equal shot and settled on a first-timer, Clearly Taylor.The Result: One horse that I overlooked, bred and owned by Valene Farms, took the field from gate-to-wire at a square price of 5-1. A Kwik Deelite debuted in the Lousiana Futurity and didn’t run a step. However, Julien Leparoux took the horse out of the twelve hole and, with a killer-crossover, was able to get to the front and never looked back. The chalk ran on for second and the very experienced Miss Dylan, in career race number seven, ran third. My selection ran fairly well, closing ground up the rail, but mid-pack doesn’t get you any points!Maximum Points: A Kwik Deelite 204Maximum Score: 406My Score: 110Race 4: The first stakes-race, The Pan Zareta Stakes, on a card filled with six-figure purses, offered a six furlong sprint for older fillies. I thought that it was fairly wide open. I gave Sutra, Tres Dream, Graeme Six and Atlanta Highway a fairly even chance and I sided with Atlanta Highway because Albarado chose her over a few others in here and she would likely be the highest price among my selections.The Result: Graeme Six pressed the pace set by Sutra and really was never seriously challenged as she went on to win with relative ease. The top three choices on the morning line all hit the board as another dirt race proved to be very formful. My selection never got to the front as I had hoped and ran what can be described poorly at best.Maximum Points: Graeme Six 138Maximum Score: 544My Score: 110Race 5: The Colonel Power Stakes was carded as the fifth race of the day at Fair Grounds and offered many intriguing options for the public. I settled on the Natural Speed who ran well in his only start on the turf and looks formidable here at a decent price. The five and one half furlong turf sprint was loaded with talent. Many multiple stakes winners were signed up to run and it certainly looked like there would be points to be had in here.The Result: Stormin Baghdad and Natural Speed, both Asmussen entries, hooked up in a little bit of a speed duel early and the favorite, Euroears, sat just off their pace. Euroears, ridden by Ryan Zimmerman, continued his lifetime unbeaten streak and rang up career victory number five by overtaking the Asmussen barn in mid stretch. Stormin Baghdad bettered his stablemate for second and Natural Speed held third. Not nearly as many points as I expected were given out here.Maximum Points: Euroears 122Maximum Score: 666My Score: 198Race 6: The Grade III Mineshaft Handicap featured seven horses including Grasshopper, Magna Graduate and Silver Lord. I didn’t see too much speed in the race and hoped that Silver Lord, who was scratched from the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park in order to run here, would be able to make a fairly easy lead or sit just off of Stonehouse and cruise from gate-to-wire. Cory Lanerie had the mount for Steve Asmussen.The Result: Stonehouse cleared off to an early lead and the rest sat fairly close together in good stalking position with the exception of Grasshopper, who was content coming from farther off the pace. At they turned for home, Grasshopper was stuck behind the speed and very badly blocked. However, in midstretch, a small seam opened one horse off the rail and jockey Robby Albarado was able to sneak the favorite through the slot and draw off to a very nice victory.Maximum Points: Grasshopper 98Maximum Score: 764My Score: 258Race 7: The 21st Running of The Grade III Fairgrounds Handicap was the seventh race on the card and it featured a rare winter/spring appearance of Better Talk Now. The nine-year-old has raced primarily in summer and fall in recent years and recently pushed his career earnings over the $4,000,000 mark. I decided to side against the veteran and shopped for a mid-range price. I landed on Sterwins for trainer Malcolm Pierce. Hopefully this five-year-old will fire his best effort third time off the bench.The Result: Daytona got an early lead and never relinquished it in victory. Yet another favorite ran a winning race as the chalk parade continued. However, Jazz Quest provided the most points available in a single race up to this point in the card when the 21-1 shot ran second for some fat payoffs. My selection, Sterwins, settled a little too far off the pace and didn’t quite get up for place, settling for third. He appears to be better suited at longer distances.Maximum Points: Jazz Quest 274Maximum Score: 1,038My score: 314Race 8: The Grade III Silverbulletday was the next race on the card and it featured 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Champion Indian Blessing, looking to stay undefeated with career victory number five. I’ve not been extremely impressed by the way this horse has finished her races, especially the win in the Frizette and her most recent effort at Santa Anita. Proud Spell, the runner-up to Indian Blessing in the Breeders’ Cup, was making her three-year-old bow and looked to be the solid second choice. I choose Highest Class hoping that her affinity for the distance would pay off. Miss Missile, who ran in the Canterbury Park Lassie in 2007, was the longest shot on the board.The Result: Miss Missile was able to get to the front as Indian Blessing seemed content to sit slightly off the pace. However, as has become her pattern, Indian Blessing was able to open up a substantial lead about three-quarters of the way through the race and was just able to keep it together long enough to hold off a charge by Proud Spell who made a bold middle move before stopping and restarting her drive in the stretch. Highest Class ran a decent third and was just a notch below the top horses in this event.Maximum Points: Indian Blessing 77Maximum Score: 1,115My Score: 344Race 9: The Grade III Risen Star was the first double points race of the afternoon and featured the return to the races of Pyro, the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up. I played against this one and choose the other Asmussen entry, Z Fortune. Z Fortune gets the services of Garrett Gomez and has been very impressive in his young career. I thought we’d get a career best effort from him in this spot. The Result: Wow! Pyro made an extremely impressive move through mid-stretch as Bridgmohan took him from the rail to the five-path in what seemed like two strides. I would definitely say that it was the most impressive prep to date. It appeared that Z Fortune had the race wrapped up until his stablemate came to get him in the final stages. Visionare rounded out the trifecta on another ticket filled with favorites.Maximum Points: Pyro 172Maximum Score: 1,287My Score: 464Race 10: A N2X Allowance race over the turf was the second to last race of the day at Fair Grounds, and once again, it appeared to be a very contentious race. I settled on Final Refrain, a horse who had been rained off the turf in her two previous attempts to get on the lawn. Leparoux picked her over a couple of other charges and I hoped for a decent price. Her best career race was run over the Saratoga turf in early September. The hope is that the flat mile isn’t too short of a distance for her.The Result: We finally got a price in here; however, it wasn’t the one I had expected. Pleasantly Blessed won the head bob between her and, you guessed it, the chalk. Lady Digby couldn’t quite get up in the tight photo for Jockey Ramon Dominguez. Pleasantly Blessed was able to get in great stalking position behind pacesetter Emma Carly and with a little luck, scored one for the longshots.Maximum Points: Pleasantly Blessed 280Maximum Score: 1,567My Score: 502Turf Paradise Race 8: The Turf Paradise Derby appeared to come up a little bit light this year in my opinion. Last year Tie Rod, the winner of the 2006 Brian Barenscheer Stakes at Canterbury Park, ran away with an impressive victory. This year, California shippers appeared they would take a majority of the action. Both Meer Kat and Nikki’sgoldensteed looked fairly formidable and EZ Dreamer, fresh off of a huge Beyer, figured to be the local contender. I took a huge stab in here and selected Sheer Presence, coming off of a very impressive debut, with Turf Paradise’s leading rider Chris Landeros. Double points were available for the second time today, and it looked like the chalk parade would resume in earnest at Turf Paradise.The Result: Apparently, location didn’t make any difference, as chalk continued to be prominent throughout the nation. However, double points made the 7/2 California invader, Nikki’sgoldensteed, a decent price on a day full of short prices. Local challenger, EZ Dreamer pulled even with Nikki’sgoldensteed in the stretch, but he came up well short and was relegated to second. Meer Kat, the post time favorite, closed for third.Maximum Points: Nikki’sgoldensteed 252Maximum Score: 1,819My Score: 502Race 11: The final race on the card at Fair Grounds featured open Maidens at a distance of six furlongs. Centaur Farms Inc., had a live one in Trippi Rhythm who was bet down from his morning line of 10-1. I made a case for an Asmussen charge, Claxton, who was making his first career start. Nice works at Sam Houston appeared to make him a contender. The Result: Once the stakes races were over at Fair Grounds, the prices finally started to run. Bronze Medal, making his fifth career start and his first over the Fair Grounds strip, pressured the pace and drew off to win impressively. The biggest number of the day ran second as Indy Victor forced a cap to be placed on the show payoff as he ran second at 50-1. Seeking the Lead closed out the ticket for Jockey James Graham. Claxton definitely wasn’t speedy.Maximum Points: Indy Victor 536Maximum Score: 2,355My Score: 502Summary: The play of the day didn’t come until the last race on the card. Contestants would have received more than 20% of the possible points for the day by tabbing Indy Victor in the final race. Likewise, the second best play of the day would have come from tabbing the winner, Bronze Medal, in the finale at Fair Grounds. I struggled mightily as a majority of my horses finished between third and sixth place, not very impressive. Best of luck the rest of the way, I’ll be putting this back in the Oracle’s hands next week.