By Tony Bada Bing
It’s Starting to Feel a lot Like Derby Time
With 10 weeks to go until the Kentucky Derby, the pretenders and lots of contenders are beginning to show themselves. In winning yesterday’s Risen Star, El Padrino not only stamped his Derby ticket with enough graded stakes earnings, but he more than likely has become the early Derby favorite. That is until today’s running of the Fountain of Youth Stakes. As a fan, handicapper or Derby Wars player, it really doesn’t get any better than this.
Gulfstream Park Race 8, Maiden Special Weight, 7 furlongs
Prince of Spain is the type of colt handicappers and horse racing fans alike look forward to seeing and then, hopefully bragging about to their more naïve friends. This three-year-old is by Giant Causeway (graded stakes winner and stakes producing sire) and Spain (Breeder’s Cup winner and multiple stakes producing mare). To say he is regally bred is an understatement. What does all this mean for us? Well, he’ll probably be over bet, giving us many higher priced options to choose from. Additionally, Giant Causeway’s offspring usually need a race or two of experience before scoring, usually want more distance than this and can be quite skittish in the gate.
So who do we turn our lonely eyes to? How about two second-time starters that just might get this tricky seven-furlong distance? Unbridled Fire, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, made the lead a little too soon in his last start, but is likely to learn from that defeat and shouldn’t mind the added 1/2 furlong this time out. Another top choice is Chad Brown’s Trend Setter, who missed the break in his debut and gets the benefit of blinkers for his second try.
Gulfstream Park Race 10, Gradde II Mac Diarmida Stakes, 1 3/8 miles on turf
This race is filled with hard-knocking, stakes-placed and high-level allowance types vying for the signature marathon race on Gulfstream Park’s turf. For me, I first had to decide whether those moving up from the allowance ranks could really break through and offer a bigger tote board price or will those that have already tasted success in stakes company hold the day while offering somewhat lower odds. Although I tried hard looking for that long priced contender, I had to side with later here.
Eagle Poise appears the better of the two Graham Motion trainees, as he took a 1¾ -mile grass marathon in his last start at Woodbine in December. This six-year-old shows the most upside among the stakes-placers in here, if such a thing can be said of a six-year-old. The elder statesman of the group, Musketier shows up on Sunday to run his first race as a 10-year-old, and you don’t see that often at this level. The old boy has been far more inconsistent of late, but he does still show up for a win here and there. Seven-year-old Simmard is fare more consistent, but most often for minor awards. Center Divider is the final experienced stakes-placing horse in the group to consider. He tires hard and if he can get loose on the lead or sit just off the other likely pacesetter, Newdad, then he’s got a chance. Ask your spouse to pick a number, if you can’t decide amongst these or go with my top pick – Eagle Poise. Your choice?
Gulfstream Park Race 11, Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes
The strange configuration of starting this 8 ½ furlong affair on the clubhouse turn only adds to the intrigue of this key Kentucky Derby prep race. There are three big names and a bunch of also-rans. I’m going with one of the also-rans in Casual Trick. For a full analysis, please see my posting at Thorofan.
Santa Anita Race 1, Maiden Special Weight, 7 furlongs (Not a Derby War Race)
Bob Baffert, an excellent trainer, no doubt, is currently in the midst of an extremely hot and extremely rare streak. As of Saturday, Baffert had won 16 out of the last 17 races he had entered a horse or two. I’m not sure if Equibase, the Daily Racing Form or anyone else keeps such training records, but this, we all can agree, is amazing. To give this current feat some perspective, Ted Williams, the last major leaguer to bat over .400, holds the record for consecutively reaching base via a hit or walk. Got a guess in mind? Sixteen times is the answer. I know it doesn’t sound impressive, but it is. So is Baffert’s current feat. Screw the handicapping, take one of Baffert’s horses in here – Tiz the Tide or Lady Ten. Even though this isn’t a tournament race, I it thought this was all worth mentioning…
Santa Anita Race 4, Claiming $25,000, 1 mile on turf
If I had my choice in handicapping, this would be the only other of the required Derby Wars races I’d pick. Turf affairs are known for producing dramatic results in full view of the wire with only a whisker, a nose and several heads separating most of the field. To keep it simple – take Farmer Giles. Some will be dissuaded by his trainer, who does most of his work upstate and some might think toiling in $16,000 just north is unworthy, but…Garcia jumps aboard and he’s very likely going to get some time and space on the lead by himself. Take him and hopes he hangs on.
If you’ve read this space for a while (thanks to my four fans), you’ll know I favor those looking for and finding the biggest prices of the day. Last weekend’s biggest bankroll went to James Durham aka Bozo854612 at $97.40, which was good for winning the $1,500 Friday Game. Even better, Durham had just three winners out of the 10 mandatory races. His biggest payout was Smartys Emperoress good for $50 in the win-place format. No clowning around there.
Compiled by Josh Chicorelli