04/16/2011 10:08AM

Blue Grass, Arkansas Derby, Graded Stakes


After Uncle Mo's shocking defeat in last week's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the door is open for The Factor to roll into Louisville with all of the Mo-mentum. 

The Baffert-trained colt will be favored as he seeks to extend his win streak to four in the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. 

At Keeneland, Santiva is the tepid morning line favorite in the Grade 1, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass, a race where the majority of the entrants have some things to prove as it pertains to the Kentucky Derby. 

It's a fantastic weekend to be a racing fan with the $1,000,000 Charles Town Classic featuring 10 older graded winners, good turf races from Southern California, and a plethora of other graded events in just about every division. 

Let's take a look at some of them:

Commonwealth Stakes - Keeneland - Race 7:
Trainer Charles Lopresti had a breakout year in 2010 with graded stakes victories from Successful Dan, Here Comes Ben, and WISE DAN.  Lopresti, historically, also does very well at Keeneland (9-35, 26%, $2.50 ROI over the past two years).  Over the past five seasons, with horses returning from 61-180 day layoffs, Lopresti is 7-28 (25%) with an ROI of $3.26. 
Wise Dan won the Grade 3 Phoenix here last season in his first start off a 160-day layoff.  It was a race in which he stepped up from a sloppy optional claiming win at Churchill Downs.  This afternoon, Wise Dan will run for the first time in five months and his last race, a win in a sloppy optional claimer at Churchill Downs, was very impressive.  Sent off the 7-10 favorite that day under Julien Leparoux, Wise Dan was immediately taken in hand by Leparoux only to wind up prompting a contested pace while down on the inside.  Leparoux didn't want control of the fence, however, and allowed Wise Day to be shuffled into the pocket entering the turn.  The gelding split horses to get back to the inside, took control of the race, and held sway to the finish.  It was a professional performance for the lightly-raced 4-year-old, and he has a good record (2-3) on synthetics)  He should get some pace to attack today with TAQARUB and COOL BULLET entered to his outside.


Distaff Handicap - Aqueduct - Race 9:
It's a small, but select field of five for this year's Distaff.  I've been very impressed with NICOLE H since she switched to dirt racing as she's only bombed once in five starts for trainer Mike Hushion (that being on the Breeders' Cup Classic undercard at Churchill Downs).  In her most recent race, the Interborough Stakes on New Year's Day over the Aqueduct inner track, Nicole H tracked the pace inside and had to wait for running room in upper stretch before exploding between horses to win in hand.  Hushion is 23-96 (24%, $2.22 ROI) over the past five years with horses returning from similar 61-180 day layoffs, and Nicole H could work out a good stalking trip from the outside.  She'll face tough rivals in SPACY TRACY and QUALIA, but she may be talented enough to get it done as the expected post time favorite.


Santa Barbara Handicap - Santa Anita - Race 9:
Although TURNING TOP slipped and almost went down en route to a runner-up performance in the Grade 2 Santa Ana on March 19, I was just as impressed with the performance of the winner, MALIBU PIER.  Trained by Carla Gaines, Malibu Pier went right to the front that afternoon and was immediately caught up in a prolonged speed duel with eventual third-place finisher Lilly Fa Pootz.  The pace was legitimate for the nine-furlong distance with splits of 23.28, 46.53 going up on the board.  In an interesting move, jockey Rafael Bejarano eased Malibu Pier off Lilly Fa Pootz late on the backstretch only to come again from the outside on the turn.  Malibu Moon put Lilly Fa Pootz away and still had enough to hold off the troubled Turning Top. 
Bejarano sides with Turning Top this afternoon, but both Malibu Pier and Turning Top will have to fend off the talented COZI ROSIE.  Away from the races since May 31 with an ankle injury, Cozi Rosie stormed down the center of the track to win the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap at one mile on February 21.  She beat both Malibu Pier and Turning Top that day, but must stretch out a quarter of a mile and I didn't love that she finished up the Buena Vista on her wrong lead. 
I think Malibu Pier can get to the front under Brice Blanc.  If they leave her alone, she may make them pay late.
Selections:  Malibu Pier, Cozi Rosie, Calle Vista


Charles Town Classic - Charles Town - Race 10:
All 10 entrants are graded stakes winners.  The last non-Breeders' Cup race in the United States that had 10 or more graded winners was the 2006 Arlington Million.  That pretty much sums up the quality of the Charles Town Classic, a three-turn race at nine furlongs over the main track.  Some of my favorites are in this race including the game TACKLEBERRY, and the somewhat-inconsistent DUKE OF MISCHIEF, but I'm going to go with the most recent graded winner, INHERIT THE GOLD.  The gray gelding won the Grade 2 Excelsior Stakes at this distance over the Aqueduct main track two weeks ago, and his winning streak is now up to five.  He's six-for-seven since returning to the races following a knee injury and his good tactical speed could have him in the second flight behind what figures to be a fast and contested pace.  The Excelsior wasn't much of a contest from a quality standpoint, but Inherit the Gold won it the right way in racehorse time.  The quick turnaround is somewhat of a concern as trainer Jim Hooper was originally going to bypass the Charles Town Classic in favor for the Excelsior.  Supposedly, the horse is doing so well that they're going to try the quick return and Inherit the Gold did win the statebred Mr. International Stakes at Aqueduct on January 26 off a 13-day break. 
TIZWAY may improve in his second start of the form cycle for H. James Bond.  He was part of the bunched-up finish in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, his first start since the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.  Plagued by foot issues throughout his career, Tizway can occasionally pop with a big effort, and has earned triple-digit Beyers in five of his last six starts. 


Toyota Blue Grass Stakes - Keeneland - Race 9:
A bulky field of Kentucky Derby aspirants will line up for the Toyota Blue Grass, a nine-furlong prep over the Keeneland polytrack.  While horses like KING CONGIE (hind muscle strain), and CRIMSON CHINA (bled during the Rushaway) have to return from some physical issues, SANTIVA has been away from the races by design following his runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.  It's a risky move for trainer Eddie Kenneally.  We saw horses off similar layoffs (Anthony's Cross, Silver Medallion) disappoint in the Santa Anita Derby.  I guess I'm just a believer in Santiva following the Risen Star.  That afternoon, he prompted the pace while 3-4 wide throughout and made the front in upper stretch before tiring in the final furlong.  The late fade is understandable considering it was his first race of the year and Santiva did perform well over this surface when second in the Breeders' Futurity as a 2-year-old.  Santiva has enough early speed to keep the pacesetters in his sights, and he may save a bit more ground this afternoon.
SENSATIONAL SLAM is a fascinating entry for Todd Pletcher as he stretches out three furlongs following a late-running score in the Fred Capossella Stakes over the Aqueduct inner track.  Sensational Slam wasn't visually impressive that afternoon as he was under the whip with three-eighths to run, but he may attempt to run with JOES BLAZING AARON early and he could be prominent heading into the turn.  Note that he won both of his polytrack races in Canada last year.


Arkansas Derby - Oaklawn - Race 11:
I have a ton of respect for The Factor's, but I wonder if someone, anyone, is going to try him in the early portion of the Arkansas Derby.  The Factor has never gone this distance, and may have been aided slightly by speed-favoring surfaces in his last two races, but he is strictly the one to beat.  I will try to defeat him, however, with NEHRO, an up-and-coming Mineshaft colt trained by Steve Asmussen.  Nehro may have taken advantage of a closer-friendly Oaklawn surface to win his maiden on Feburary 21, but he won with some authority, and he was much-closer to the pace when a good second at 36-1 odds in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at nine furlongs on March 26.  After being lightly-brushed at the start, Nehro tracked the leaders while in between rivals.  He had to wait a bit while down inside at the quarter-pole, but split horses nicely in upper stretch, finished solidly, and galloped out well.  He may have to come from a few more lengths back this time, but he seems to be rounding into good form.
SWAY AWAY lost a tooth at the start of the Rebel Stakes and may have been hindered by the speed-favoring nature of the track.  He was gaining on The Factor two back at seven furlongs at Santa Anita, and may be closer to the pace this time around with the addition of blinkers and Pat Valenzuela.

Some Quick-and-Dirty Selections:
San Juan Capistrano (Sunday):  JUNIPER PASS, CELTIC NEW YEAR, DAHOUD

For a more-detailed breakdown of the races, as well as drf.com Handicapper Mike Beer's take, check out the link below and click on the race name to the right of the video player:



More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.

hollywood1 More than 1 year ago
Shouldn't Gourmet Dinner be on the earnings list? Anyone know something?
PGM More than 1 year ago
Hollywood1, I believe he's off the Derby trail due to injury.
BigEasyBigChok More than 1 year ago
Alan and Vicstu, This is my attempt to get ya'll fired up for the Derby this year. It may be one of the best betting races as there does not seem to be a big favorite. Money will be all over the place and the general public usually has no clue so I am hoping the multi race pools and exacta and trifectas in the derby race will pay more as it will be more difficult for most bettors to hit. Less winning tickets = bigger payouts from the pools, right? So if you are right, Bombs away, maybe even more so than past years!! Know what you guys really mean though in that there is no 1 horse that inspires us but its the Derby!! BEBC
Hollywood1 More than 1 year ago
Thanks PGM and Annie for the info regarding Gourmet Dinner Went to Oaklawn for the first time Fri and Sat-loved it-would have loved it more if Nehro would have got there-oh well archx3 seems to be a likable guy
vicstu More than 1 year ago
Curt V., One more example. This type of reasoning infuriates and fatigues me so. Maybe you can explain Mr. Haskins' reasoning to me from his Derby Dozen (number 11: The Factor): "Most everyone is going to toss him after the Arkansas Derby, but that would be very premature. He was running over a much deeper track, had to contend with a horse on a suicide mission, was crowded into the rail, and displaced badly from being strangled. Garcia could hear him gurgling down the backstretch. Baffert will train him at Churchill and if he trains well he will run in the Derby, and this time will go hell-bent-for-leather, and pity any horse who tries to run with him. His winning Beyers consistently tower over most of these horses. Can anyone say Spend a Buck?" (Bloodhorse.com) Can you (or anyone else) explain the reasoning here? I agree with Haskin that the horse likely displaced from being strangled...but why will they be hell-bent-for-leather in the 20 horse Derby Calvary charge? Why does Haskin "pity any horse who tries to run with him"? Baffert said before the Ark Derby that The Factor's style was "hell bent for leather and the lead", and why pity the horse that runs with him? JP's Gusto and Dance City went strong for the lead and The Factor (for one reason or another) meekly let them have it...(?) Of course, if The Factor wanted to go and Garcia felt the need to strangle him, it did the horse no good and ended up displacing his palate (if you believe that). So, either the horse is over hyped or the strong rating hold did him in. You (Curt) are probably going on the premise that they knew they had to get the lead with the horse, and he was just out rushed to the turn and you do not buy the "strong rating hold" and "not letting the horse go to the lead" excuse. Because that would make Garcia guilty of a stupid move, and Baffert guilty as well if he was in on teaching a horse anything that has already told them it is the lead or bust...so, I understand that. I have seen too many jockeys panic on speed and blow rides on horses that need to be aggressively ridden early that I do think it was jockey caution and (20-20 hindsight) error. Except here they knew there was no rating the horse going in...so there is no excuse. And the horse may have displaced to boot. The difference between you and I is that I think The Factor is legit speed. If he is not, then everything else you have said makes sense. And time will tell...
Laura More than 1 year ago
Somario I'm glad you liked the analysis on Master of Hounds. He has an excellent pedigree for the Classics and has competed against some of the best in England and Dubai. Besides analyzing a horse’s pedigree, I look at their conformation and previous races, works, etc. to get an idea of how the horse gets over the ground. Bloodlines on paper only show a portion of what a horse should be capable of. Conformation, gait and running style all play a part in determining optimal surface and distance. I viewed Master of Hounds’ video pre-Breeders’ Cup as he galloped over the Churchill dirt. He had a very high, choppy, leg action and didn’t appear to want any part of the surface. Master of Hounds’ leg action is typically high, similar to that of Barbaro’s. However, viewing his races over turf and Tapita, he appeared to have a smoother gait and longer leg extension. The other factors one must consider are how much this horse has shipped recently and the original intentions of the barn. Master of Hounds was being considered for the English Guineas until Frankel destroyed the field in his first race of the season. It was announced the day after Frankel’s race that MOH was headed to the Derby. This will be his second overseas trip in two months. Sure, we have planes now, but the stress of shipping to new climates and time zones must take its toll. Hell, it does on humans. The only positives for MOH are that he has a distance-oriented pedigree, he’s run in large fields and he’s been to Churchill before. The English bookmakers have him listed at 20-1 for the Kentucky Derby. Curt V., Thanks!
vicstu More than 1 year ago
Curt V., "The Factor is not Seattle Slew?" Knock me over with a feather! When in the heck did I even intimate at that? Believe me, I NEVER compared anyone in this Derby field to SS... Can you say that? As for The Factor being overrated (speed-wise), I guess we will have to see. However, I would note, that now the patrol judge that was on the track is now on record along with Garcia, Baffert, and the track Vet, saying that he heard the loud tell-tale gurgling sounds along the backstretch after the race when he went to the horse. Like Calvin said, he is a much better horse than that race. It is obvious to me that Garcia took the horse back. TBTA, who has worked around horses for a long time, posted about Garcia's strong hold of The Factor. She saw it, I saw it, Baffert saw it, Garcia admitted to it. But you saw a horse get flat out sprinted to the first turn. OK...I can't argue what what you think you saw. Do I think The Factor will win the Derby? It would be a major surprise if he ran and wired the field. But, he is a nice horse with major speed. You do not need to be Seattle Slew to go to the lead and click off 22 and change and 45 and change in 2 turn races and hold on and win or hit the board. Big Brown did it, Hard Spun did it. In fact, Hard Spun hit the 4f mark in the Preakness at 45 flat and 6f at 1:09 and 3/5 seconds (second fastest 6f in Preakness history) and still hit the board at 9.5 furlongs. And he was moved too soon. Big Brown had all sort of pressure early on in the FL Derby and went 22 flat and 45 and change and 1:10 flat and won that race going away wire to wire from the 12 post. The name of the game is utilizing your strength, not overcompensating for your weakness...If The Factor is big league speed like Baffert says, you have to run him like Hard Spun or Bold Forbes, not Lookin at Lucky. If you are saying this horse is neither HS or BF, and is no threat at 9 or 10 furlongs, I can understand the logic. But, you have to roll the dice and let the damn horse run! If you are afraid he will run 21 and change on the front end (Mr. Baffert) then either see if he can win at 9 furlongs under pressure up front or do not run him over 8 furlongs. Because, the book on beating The Factor is out, now. Pressure early. I know you do not think he could run 21 and change outside of SA, but Baffert sure says it would have happened had Garcia let the horse go. But, what choice did he have? He does not hit the board off of the lead (displaced palate notwithstanding). The only shot The Factor has to win at 9f or above is likely to be wire to wire, at least as a 3 year old. My entire gripe is that Baffert and the media hyped this horse as a speed freak. Well, speed freaks run other "hell bent for the lead types" into the ground a keep on going. So, if you are correct and the horse was beat to the lead and Garcia's hold meant nothing---we are on the same page. blackseabass, Yes. You get it. Excellent post. Love your example. Another good example of what you are talking about is the Tampa Bay Rays. IF they are not hitting (like early this year), it is very easy to beat them. Simply pitch to them early and get them behind in the count. However, if the Rays bats are even swinging remotely well, if you try and pitch to them they will beat you 9 times out of 10 (like recently they have won 6 or their last 7). They are just too good on the bases and their pitching is good and their defense is great. However, if Madden (the manager) decided to not be over-aggressive on the bases, or if the team is not aggressive period, they fall behind and they are not built to play huge catch up ball. They can, but it is not how they are built. So, if the Rays bats are swinging, they will play aggressively. If they get a few guys on base and the bats are hitting, they are hard to beat. Early in the year the bats were not swinging and they were waiting on Evan Longoria to come back. Then, they went back to playing the kind of ball that won the AL east last year and got them to the world series in 08. Like the manager says, regardless of who they are playing, if the play Rays baseball they are hard to beat. This analogy applies to horses with a running style like The Factor. You cannot worry about the other speed in the race. If your horse is the fastest, make them pay hell for going with you. The Factor has never been passed when he is on the lead. Why not go to the lead? I said this about Big Drama at 8f and less and they finally did it in the BC Sprint and it paid off. Your race to your horse's strength, and you race to win. Besides, speed is not a terrible thing in The Derby. The horse who hits 9f in first place normally wins. Even Mine that Bird and Street Sense were in first at the 1/8 pole...You need that quick turn of foot that hits the gas with 3/8 to go (entering the turn at Churchill Downs). That is what made Big Brown the logical choice, and (to me) makes AAA a better choice than Nehro based on what I have seen. As for The Factor, I do not know what to think because he did not run his race. And if anyone thinks he cannot win under pressure go back and watch the San Vicente Stakes. But, can he win at 9f or 10f? Probably not.
jerry daker More than 1 year ago
When interviewed after the sugar bowl, Jinx Fires said his plans for Arch were " Oaklawn Southwest, Arkansas Derby and Ky Derby " Not hoosier or Rebel stakes those being paid workouts..This horse is primed and ready for the derby @ 10 / 1 w/o being run into the ground..Arch3X
Mike A More than 1 year ago
Calvin Well if there's one thing you can say about the "turf" horses entered......like many "turf" bred horses they definitely have the breeding to go a long way......We'll see what Animal kingdom does in his work on Saturday at CD's........Mike A
Yogi More than 1 year ago
I guess I'm another AW snob. Those numbers just didn't fit with the dirt figs. If this one scrambles, I promise not to try again. ...............................................Fin 3/8...............E/P.............S/P.............A/P Archarcharch .........................52.63.............55.22.........53.92..........54.57 Nehro......................................52.57.............55.25.........53.91..........54.58 Dialed In.................................51.73.............55.16.........53.44..........54.30 Shackleford............................50.20.............56.07**......53.13..........54.60 Midnight Interlude..................53.81.............55.11.........54.46**.......54.78 Comma To The Top...............53.33.............55.36.........54.34.........54.85** Toby's Corner..........................53.90.............54.10.........54.00.........54.05 Arthur's Tale............................53.35..............54.35........53.85.........54.10 Uncle Mo.................................52.30..............54.79........53.54..........54.17 Brilliant Speed.......................56.91..............52.02........54.46..........53.24 Twinspired.............................55.01................52.85........53.93..........53.39 Pants on Fire .........................52.36................54.92.......53.64...........54.28 Mucho Macho Man...............52.88................54.54.......53.71...........54.13
Curt V. More than 1 year ago
BSB, It's never pleasant when you need to go there, like yesterday...Ugh..I aint lookin' forward to tomorrow... Vicstu, I might not always agree w/U, Butts: I do read U, albeit, when I have a lot of free time on my hands..LOL....I remember like it was yesterday, UR story & the wife convincing you of her play..& UR substitution, & I then said, "great move for your marriage..."...I should have that problem..I knew you would come clean..I was just playing w/U..& I certainly knew I was correct, ahead of time.. U see, I've been dealing w/BSB a long time.....W/him, you better be right..He knows the answers to his questions ahead of time....& you being an attorney ? You know that too.... Now, the Factor ?...."What part don't you understand ?"........Let me put it this way, in terms you might understand.. Seattle Slew ? The fastest the Slewster ever ran an opening 2F's is 22 Flat......& the Factor aint the Slewster, by NO means..The Factor aint running a 21.3 outside of the Santa Anita runway. One cannot compare & compute that track to Oaklawn..I'll give you proof..He didn't do it..You blame the jock, I blame the horse. Talk is cheap. Garcia can say anything he wants after the race. All smoke & mirrors..You let that 6F record go to your head..He got out sprinted by 2 faster horses hell bent in getting the lead.. If he was as truly fast as the Slewster, he would have done it..Which brings me back to my premise...the Factor aint no Seattle Slew........Case closed...... On a lighter note..The more horses they enter in the Derby from those non-Dirt races, the merrier..They're making my job easier..I'm tossing every last one of them....I could care less what their pedigree says..or might not say..Crapshooting is not horse racing..They aint getting one plugged nickle of my money...... Animal Kingdom, Brilliant Speed, etal....Give me a break..Get rid of the graded purse money from these runners, & give the race the prestiege it deserves..