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From Coast to Coast

Firecracker looks ripe for an upset

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.
Guys Reward—Upset 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.
Free World—This 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.
Valentino Beauty—A 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.
Nikki’s Sandcastle—While 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.
Silver Max—Trained 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.
Villandry—Trainer 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.
Joha—Trained by 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.
Regally Ready—A 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.
Projected Pace: 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.
The Selection: Nikki’s Sandcastle over Regally Ready 


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Older Comments about Firecracker looks ripe for an upset...

I'm going with Free World
I'm going with Free World
I agree, Ashley! Nikki's Sandcastle has been one of my favorites for quite some time. I really think this race is going to set up well for him.
I agree, Ashley! Nikki's Sandcastle has been one of my favorites for quite some time. I really think this race is going to set up well for him.

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Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, and it was her love of reading and horses that led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few short years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and get to personally meet and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.


Before joining Horse Racing Nation, Ashley created her own blog Wired with Ashley Paige. The idea to venture into the world of blogging came to her when she realized that she had much to say about horse racing and no one to say it to at the time. Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation blogging as The Florida Filly. Using that moniker, she mainly covered racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues, and from time to time offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry as a whole. A move north to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the new From Coast to Coast blog for HRN, which is simply a revamped version of The Florida Filly. Don't let the new look and name change fool you, though. Ashley still brings to the table the same great coverage as From Coast to Coast as she did for The Florida Filly. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.


An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband Chris and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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