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PHREAKNESS

The Filly will face The Derby Winner in The Preakness

The Filly will face The Derby Winner in The Preakness

The Preakness must suffer from the “middle child syndrome” — there can be no other reason why this otherwise unremarkable race has offered fans such rich drama and curious occurances over its 134 runnings. 

It’s the only Triple Crown race to have ever been run in two divisions, resulting in 2 different winners in 1918.  The clubhouse has been struck by lightning (1909) and even burned down (1966).  The race was homeless for several years in the late 1800s, when five runnings were held at Belmont Park. 

In more recent history, the Preakness has suffered a track-wide power outage (1998); a drunken (and suicidal) infielder ran out onto the track and punched at horses racing in the 1999 sprint race on the Preakness undercard.  Afleet ALex clipped heels with Scrappy T and stumbled to his knees, but his athletic jockey stayed on and the colt galloped home by daylight in 2005.  Of course, there has been plenty said about Barbaro in 2006.

This year’s drama has so far happened off the track: Rachel Alexandra was sold to Jess Jackson for the sole purpose of competing in the Preakness.  Ahmed Zayat then threatened on TVG that he’d stuff the gate with his own runners so that the filly couldn’t get in.  Marylou Whitney was even wrapped up in the controversy.  By Monday, all of the craziness was over, Zayat recanted and Rachel was in. 

It’s good that Rachel ALexandra will get to face colts.  She is a big, sturdy filly and should have no problems keeping up with the boys.  She’s already faster than most of them.  Borel is sticking with her over his Derby winner, which speaks volumes to her talent.  Borel will also do everything he can to protect her should the race prove to be too much for her.  I’m not worried about her physical condition or of her getting injured.  Rags To Riches ran in the Belmont, for goodness sakes.  So did Silverbulletday, my #1 favorite filly of all time.  Rachel will be fine.

She will also win.  As much as I’d love for Pioneerof The Nile to turn the tables on Mine That Bird, or even for Mine That Bird to continue the impossible dream, I believe Rachel has the speed and strength to win this race.  The pace will be much faster here than the Derby, with Big Drama and Take The Points in the gate.  But she can sit just off the leaders.  She also has a better tactical turn of foot than most of the colts.  Borel can put her anywhere he wants. 

If it rains, Mine That Bird will be dangerous.

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Filed under Graded Stakes, Handicapping, mine that bird, Preakness

THE INFIELD OFFICIAL DERBY PICKS

After today’s Oaks win by Rachel, the Derby has a tough act to follow. 

1.  PIONEEROF THE NILE:  This colt has been so good that he has overcome his name and found a place at the top of my list.  Bob Baffert was just elected to the Hall of Fame in Saratoga, which is good luck for those trainers with Derby horses:  Neil Drysdale was elected the year FuPeg won, and D. Wayne Lukas was elected the year Charismatic won.  Steve Haskin says the PNile had the best workout at CD and was the best-looking contender in terms of coat condition and attitude.  On track, the son of Empire Maker has done nothing wrong, except not race on dirt.  But the way he looked in his CD workouts put my questions to rest.  He has shown that he can win off the pace, or up on it, as he did in the freaky running of the Santa Anita Derby.  He has already beaten I Want Revenge twice, Chocolate Candy twice, Papa Clem and Mr. Hot Stuff.  He breaks from post 16, not bad for his usual closing style.  Garret Gomez chose PNile over Dunkirk, and I think he made the right choice.  Jon White says he will win the whole Triple Crown if he can capture this first jewel.    I won’t go that far.  Yet.

2. I WANT REVENGE :  Got out of Cali to avoid PNile and became the Morning Line Favorite by his brilliance on dirt.  TV star jockey Joe Talamo will ride the near-black colt, which will pull some bets in from the teenybopper set.  I Want Revenge has shown speed, heart and stamina with his wins in NY.  Trainer Jeff Mullins has won big stakes before, and owners IEAH have lived the Derby dream before, with Big Brown.

3.  GENERAL QUARTERS:  He is the sentimental favorite with the heartwarming story.  He is also a gritty competitor who has been versatile on a variety of surfaces. 

4. PAPA CLEM:  Can’t leave out the Arkansas Derby winner — beat Old Fashioned in a thrilling stretch duel.

5. FRIESAN FIRE:  If it’s a sloppy track, this son of AP Indy will be dangerous.  The Larry Jones trainee has been consistent all year.  He has never run over 1 1/16 miles, however, and the 7-week layoff is worrisome.

Longshots that I will play in my exotics: CHOCOLATE CANDY… REGAL RANSOM … DUNKIRK … and whoever else I get a hankering about before Derby.

GOOD LUCK, PLAYERS!  COME HOME SAFE, COLTS!

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Assume The Position

Friesan Fire has the best PP of the possible favorites, breaking from the 6 hole. It also looks like a rainy Derby Day (again), which will be even better for the Larry Jones trainee.

In post 15, Dunkirk will have a lot of work to do, but the auxillary gate won’t hurt his closing style too much, that is, if he isn’t the overrated allowance winner I think he is.

I Want Revenge will break from the “lucky” 13 hole, not where I’d like him. Young jock Joe Talamo will have his work cut out guiding the colt through the 20-horse gauntlet.

Pioneerof The Nile breaks from gate 16. Only 3 other winners have started at that spot, that last being Monarchos in 2001. Charismatic and Thunder Gulch are the others.

General Quarters got post #12. I like this horse; he is versatile on a variety of surfaces and has a great story with his retired HS teacher owner.

Horses with good posts that I will have to take another look at include Advice in #3, Papa Clem in #7, Regal Ransom in #10 and Chocolate Candy in #11.

Desert Party got shafted with the #19 post — no horse has ever won from that piece of gate real estate.

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PRELUDE to the DERBY

Last night, I stayed up late watching Derby stretch run montages on youtube.  I got teary-eyed over a few of them, Ferdinand and Barbaro most notably.  I am always amazed that Easy Goer could not get to Sunday Silence in the ’89 Derby, as the big black colt zig-zagged all down the stretch.  Strike The Gold, today’s oldest living Derby winner, was so far out in the middle of the track that he is just barely in the frame of the ’91 Derby stretch footage.  Thunder Gulch’s white blinkers stuck out like a high beam in the 1995 Derby, the very first time I picked the winner.  Cavonnier still looks like the winner in ’96, even though Grundstone wore the roses…Menifee almost makes it up to pass Charismatic in ’99… “not today” Point Given eats the dust from Monarchos, who wins “as fast as Secretariat”… ’03 winner Funny Cide shocks the Frankel duo of Empire Maker and Peace Rules…Smarty Jones wallows in the slop and becomes America’s Horse in ’04… what a stretch run in ’07, with Hard Spun ceding the lead to Street Sense as Curlin ranges up for 3rd…Big Brown blows the 2009 field away, followed by the filly Eight Belles, who would have been Zenyatta’s biggest threat, IMHO…and in eight days, another horse will join these legends of the track. 

The contenders are at Churchill Downs now, working out on the track’s signature dirt surface, recently certified by the NTRA’s new Safety & Integrity Alliance.  The horses come from jurisdictions that have banned steroids and cracked down on race day meds in the past 12 months, in hopes that severe injuries will become a rare occurance in the sport. 

Pioneerof The Nile worked out on the dirt yesterday, and turned in a sizzling 6 furlong drill.  This colt is ready to rock.  The polytrack question is irrelevant to me now.  He’s my top pick.

Pioneerof The Nile posts impressive dirt workout on Wednesday at Churchill Downs.  Photo from Bloodhorse.com

Pioneerof The Nile posts impressive dirt workout on Wednesday at Churchill Downs. Photo from Bloodhorse.com

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THE PLOT THICKENS

The Kentucky Derby is less than 3 weeks away, and I am so stoked over this year’s contenders that I practically twitter myself into a pool of rose-scented goo every Saturday when I watch the preps.  But you wouldn’t know that reading this blog, because life and work and school have trampled the Infield lately.  Here’s my take on the latest Derby headlines: 

OLD FASHIONED, my #1 Derby pick back on January 1 has been RETIRED!  GAahhh!  The grey colt with the white tail ran a fabulous pace-setting race in the Arkansas Derby, and nearly ran away with the whole shebang.  In the shadow of the wire, California invader PAPA CLEM got his head in front and drew off to a half-length victory.  PAPA CLEM was trying dirt for the first time and will be going to the Derby.  OLD FASHIONED suffered a knee injury during the race.  Today, owner Rick Porter announced the colt’s surgery went well, but he will never be able to race again at the top level, so Porter has sent him off to stud!  WOW.  That’s the Derby Gods for ya.  I still think Larry Jones will win the Derby — he’s still got Freisan Fire for this year.

Meanwhile, GENERAL QUARTERS ran off with the Blue Grass Stakes and will enter the Kentucky Derby the Sentimental Favorite.  GQ is the one horse in the one horse stable owned by Tom McCarthy, a former high school teacher.  McCarthy does all of the training and grooming for his star, too.  He is living every racing fan’s dream of having a colt good enough to make the field in the Derby.  You can’t overlook outsiders like General Quarters in Derby picks — remember Funny Cide?

   THE PAMPLEMOUSSE scratched out of the Santa Anita Derby because of tendon problems, totally deflating my early Derby enthusiasm.  I really wanted to see that colt in the Derby, you have no idea how much.  He will be out for the year recuperating, but the connections plan to bring him back to the races.  I will be eagerly awaiting his return.

I WANT REVENGE won the Wood Memorial last weekend in an impressive performance on a sloppy track.  The colt split horses in deep stretch and drew off with powerful acceleration.  He is dangerously good on dirt and will probably be the morning line favorite on May 2.  IEAH has done a swell job replicating their Big Brown success, and they appear poised to defend their roses.

QUALITY ROAD is the top Florida colt, having won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby in scintillating fashion.  He’s fast up front or just off the pace.  He soundly defeated Dunkirk, who will make it in the Derby though I don’t think he belongs (he may be Todd Pletcher’s 4th last-place finisher in a row).

Who do I think will win the Derby?  The horse who has beaten Papa Clem and I Want Revenge, who had to run out of his comfort zone and set the pace in the Santa Anita Derby, who is by a Belmont-winning sire and who is trained by a man who’s seen the winners’ circle three times before:  PIONEEROF THE NILE

I’ll have more to blog about the contenders in the weeks to come, as well as the Infield itself!

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FRUIT vs NILE

The Pamplemousse faces Pioneerof The Nile for Santa Anita Derby Dominance on Saturday.  Go Fruit!

The Pamplemousse faces Pioneerof The Nile for Santa Anita Derby Dominance on Saturday. Go Fruit!

 

Santa Anita will host the most anticipated matchup of the spring on Saturday, when The Pamplemousse meets Pioneerof The Nile in the Santa Anita Derby.  Will the front-running Fruit be able to carry his speed all the way to the finish?  Will PNile close in time to hit the wire first?  Or will Chocolate Candy surprise them all?

The Fruit may just be the freak of this year’s 3yo crop.  Sure, Quality Road has put up some big Beyers in the FOY and FL Derby, but he just doesn’t have the style of The Pamplemousse.  Big, grey, cute face marking, high white socks, carousel-horse-high knee action, funny name, and undefeated.  He likes to be on the lead, but he has been known to rate, somewhat.  Sure, he has pedigree questions, but as of today he has already outrun his sire, Kafwain, by winning at 9f, in a stakes, no less.  But there’s just something about him- he may not win the Kentucky Derby, but he’s got the Santa Anita Derby for the taking. 

Pioneerof The Nile looks to slice the Fruit at the Santa Anita Derby.

Pioneerof The Nile looks to slice the Fruit at the Santa Anita Derby.

PNile is a very good colt right now, getting better with each start and trained by a guy who knows how to win the Derby: Bob Baffert.  The son of Empire Maker has stuck out some close finishes in his career, but he has never faced a horse like The Fruit.  It will take every bit of his class and drive to pass The Fruit in the stretch.

Chocolate Candy, and to a lesser extent, Mr. Hot Stuff (seriously, who named this horse? his brother is Colonel John; this name sounds like a Chippendales’ dancer) are the upsetters-in-waiting.  Chocolate Candy has been plugging along in stakes at Golden Gate Fields, winning the El Camino Real and California Derby.  He’s by Candy Ride out of a Slew mare, so distance is not an issue.  His times and figures, while certainly quick, haven’t been as scintillating as The Fruit’s or PNile’s.  Mr. Hot Stuff was 3rd in the Sham behind The Fruit, but fans of the colt hope he gets better as the distances stretch, like his big bro.

At Aqueduct, the action moves out the the main track for the Wood Memorial.  I Want Revenge wants to turn in another devastating victory against Imperial Council.  I think Imperial Council will get the better of Revenge this time.  Revenge’s victory last out was his first run on traditional dirt, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he bounces.

April 4 is Part 1 of the Final Derby Preps.  The major contenders must keep it together the next 2 saturdays to solidify their places in the gate May 2.  Next weekend will be the Bluegrass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby — wow, time flies!

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Filed under Aqueduct, Derby Prepes, Graded Stakes, Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita

MARCH MADNESS RACES of the WEEK

Pioneerof The Nile is sharp for the San Felipe on Saturday. Photo from KentuckyDerby.com

Pioneerof The Nile is sharp for the San Felipe on Saturday. Photo from KentuckyDerby.com

This weekend the FOUR! Big Kentucky Derby Preps feature returning favorites and a few “bubble” horses who could jump onto the list in huge ways.

REBEL:

OLD FASHIONED looks to add another easy victory in Hot Springs.  Silver City comes back to challenge, but I think he’d be better sticking to sprints.  Poltergeist is also back after a lackluster performance in the Southwest, and though I hope he runs better this time, I don’t see him winning.  D.Wayne Lukas has Hamazing Destiny, a maiden winner, entered, and savvy players know you shouldn’t ignore a Lukas horse.  Old Fashioned’s owner, Rick Porter, chose to be at Oaklawn on Saturday instead of New Orleans, where he has Fresian Fire running in the Louisiana Derby.  I think he should make plans to dress for a winners’ circle photo.

LOUISIANA DERBY:

This is the best betting race of the entire weekend:  a nice field of dangerously good colts.  FRESIAN FIRE has dominated the Fair Grounds and is the morning-line favorite.  IEAH’s Patena ran a great 2nd in the Risen Star and is the wiseguys’ pick.  Giant Oak has run well all winter and could be sitting on a huge race.  Then there is Terrain, making his first start of the year.  The Cali-shipper Papa Clem hopes to replicate I Want Revenge’s poly-to-dirt powerhousing, and I think he just might be able to do it.  He ran 2nd to Pioneerof The Nile in the Bob Lewis Stakes in only his 2nd start; he is by Smart Strike, a triple-threat sire whose get include turf champ English CHannel and repeat HOTY Curlin!  My tickets will have Freisan Fire and Papa Clem at the top.

TAMPA BAY DERBY

Street Sense started his 2007 Derby-winning campaign in this race, where he nearly dead-heated with Any Given Saturday.  I don’t see anything like that happening this year, but still, this makes for an interesting Florida prep.  Hello Broadway is out from under Capt. Candyman Can and Quality Road and up against Sam F. Davis winner General QUarters.  Also stopping by is Zito-trained Nowhere To Hide, a son of Vindication who was 4th in the Risen Star.  I like Nowhere To Hide and General Quarters for this one.

SAN FELIPE

Many of the horses PNILES has defeated have shipped out for dirt tracks, like I Want Revenge and Papa Clem.  Facing the Baffert trainee at Santa Anita are six colts praying for PNiles to have a bad day.  Jeranimo looks promising, and I would not ignore this maiden winner sired by Congaree.  Also New Bay and Feisty Suances…but really, PNiles is the big horse, hooves and shoulders above this group.  I kinda wish Bob had shipped him out to a dirt oval, just for some better competition.

And that’s The Infield March Madness !!

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Filed under Derby Prepes, Fairgrounds Race Course, Graded Stakes, Gulfstream Park, Handicapping, Kentucky Derby, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita