With Wise Dan
recuperating from a bout of colic, this year’s edition of the Grade 2 Firecracker Stakes is wide
open. While Silver Max has been tabbed the 8-5 morning line favorite, I feel
that this race is not in fact his for
the taking. With a competitive field of 8 lined up to vie for the winner’s
share of the $200,000 purse, the winner will have to earn his check rather than
run away with it all together.
winner of the G3 Tampa Bay Stakes earlier in the year, Guys Reward is no
stranger to the top tier middle distance turf runners. With larger than life Wise
Dan on the sidelines, this son of Grand Reward lands in a somewhat easier spot
than what he’s been facing. Even without the reigning Horse of the Year in the
line-up, this is far from easy pickings, and the stretch runner would need to
bring his “A+” game to get the job done here.
four-year old Thomas Amoss trainee has developed into quite the runner for
owner Maggi Moss. A winner of his last 5 starts, Free World has proven adept on
dirt, turf and all weather surfaces. The colt takes a big step up in class for
his 10th career start and will not have the luxury of being alone on
the lead, as the confirmed front-runner will have company up front. He does,
however, have the advantage of being the inside speed and will get first dibs
on the rail if he’s good enough. Moss and Amoss don’t typically throw their
charges to the wolves just for the sake of a paycheck, leading me to believe
that Free World has been training exceptionally well. Worth a gander.
cut below the best on a good day, this gelded son of Vindication lands in a
spot that does not favor him. His best race to date was arguably last year’s
edition of the King Edward at Woodbine in which he finished second by a head to
Riding the River. Since then, he has not done much against similar company,
winning just once, a NW3X event, in the interim. If you like the “3rd
off the layoff” angle, you may want to consider him, as trainer Thomas Drury,
Jr. has a high win percentage for that particular angle.
best on all weather, Nikki’s Sandcastle is certainly no slouch on the lawn.
Though previously unsuccessful at Churchill Downs, the chestnut gelding likes
both the surface and the distance, making him a formidable opponent. With four
front-runners in the field, the projected pace scenario also sets up in his
favor. If his odds stay around his 6-1 morning line numbers, he is definitely
worth a shot if you believe the speed will fall apart.
by the now infamous Dale Romans, this son of Badge of Silver is best known for
handing Wise Dan his lone defeat of the season in last year’s off the turf G1
Shadwell Turf Mile. Wise Dan avenged that loss at the Breeders’ Cup while back
on his preferred surface, but with the popular gelding still recovering from a
recent bout of colic, Silver Max is the one to beat. Despite owning a class
advantage over the other 3 speedsters, a duel with one or more of them for the
lead could leave the Grade 1 winner vulnerable in the stretch. Another tick
against him is the more than 7 month layoff he will have to overcome in order
to win. On paper, Silver Max may be the one to beat, and I’m looking to do so
by playing against him in this spot.
Charlie LoPresti’s superstar may not be back to defend his title, but that
doesn’t mean LoPresti’s gun in unloaded. Villandry stands in for Wise Dan and
will try to turn the tables on Regally Ready after that foe won the last
decision. Last out, the Mr. Greeley gelding ran out of ground late, but like
Nikki’s Sandcastle, Villandry only stands to win should all the speed hook up
and fall apart. Connections aside, I don’t see much to like aside from a
particular liking for Churchill Downs.
Joshua Flores, Joha has shown flashes of brilliance in his career but has
mostly just underperformed. A grade 1 winner at 2, Joha has not since
duplicated his juvenile form, with the exception of a listed stake win last
year. I anticipate that he will be part of the early speed but won’t hang
around at the end.
grade 1 and Breeders’ Cup winner, Regally Ready has finally begun to round back
into the form he displayed in 2011. While his last two races, which were wins,
were far from illustrious, everyone has to start somewhere, and those two races
were definitely a start. While he appears to be peaking, my biggest concern is
that he will get fried by the early pace. Of the confirmed front-runners, he is
the one I like best, however.
Silver Max, Regally Ready, Joha and Free World all prefer to contest the lead.
Should two or more of them hook up early, the second half of the field should
have more than enough pace to run at in the late stages of the game. Of the
second half, Valentino Beauty looks to fire the first shot in the stretch, but to
me, he’s not the most dangerous one in the second half of the field. That
distinction falls to Nikki’s Sandcastle.
Nikki’s Sandcastle over Regally Ready