04/08/2016 2:31PM

CristBlog: Big Apple/Bluegrass Pick-4


Saturday, 7:00 pm: Exaggerator ($8.80) trounced seven opponents to win the Santa Anita Derby and complete an interesting and largely formful day of major stakes racing. Twelve of the 14 graded stakes were won at odds of 4-1 or less, including victories by seven morning-line favorites.

Exaggerator joined joined Brody's Cause (Blue Grass) and Outwork (Wood Memorial) in winning $1 million Grade 1 preps for the Kentucky Derby May 7, where undefeated 2-year-old champion Nyquist is the likely favorite. Another undefeated 2-year-old champion, the filly Songbird, will be odds-on a day earlier in the Kentucky Oaks after maintaining her dominance with an eased-up cakewalk in the Santa Anita Oaks.

Exggerator further confirmed the strong form of last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Nyquist, who won that race, won the Florida Derby a week ago. Brody's Cause, third in the Juvenile, won the Blue Grass at Keeneland earlier today. Exaggerator was fourth in the Juvenile.

Exaggerator, a son of Curlin trained by Keith Desormeaux, was far back early as 8-5 Danzing Candy cut out fast fractions that finished him by the quarter pole. Mor Spirit, dispatched as the 7-5 favorite, had been stalking from fourth, but flattened out as Exaggerator rocketed through the field. Mor Spirit held second with 26-1 Uncle Lino third and Danzing Candy fourth.

That was a lot of good racing in a very narrow window. Good luck if it wasn't enough and you're soldiering on to Santa Anita's $1 million guaranteed late Pick-4.

Saturday, 6:35 pm -- The only two odds-on favorites in today's 14 graded stakes both romped at short prices as Songbird ($2.20) stayed undefeated in the Santa Anita Oaks and Terra Promessa won the Fantasy at Oaklawn.

Songbird, widely considered perhaps the nation's best 3-year-old of any sex, will go onto the Kentucky Oaks as an odds-on favorite and might take on colts later in the year. Today she galloped to the front on the wet Santa Anita track, opened a six-length lead in upper srtretch, and was not asked to run hard thereafter. Terra Promessa had a more difficult time, working hard to hold off fellow Steve Asmussen trainee Taxable.

Saturday, 6:20 pm -- Salutos Amigos, the former claimer turned millionaire, rallied from last and outdueled Calculator to win the G1 Carter. The 6-year-old Salute the Sarge gelding, co-owned and trained by David Jacobson, has now won 12 of 38 career starts including 6 graded stakes. The Carter was his first Grade 1.

Salutos Amigos and Calculator both drifted wide and wider through the sloppy stretch, and Salutos Amigos might have been elevated to first had he not won the photo. Maybe the Aqueduct track is in fact slowing down -- Salutos Amigos's winning time was 1:23.15, 0.29 second slower than the much younger and less experienced Unified required in the Bay Shore.

Saturday, 6:10 pm -- Brody's Cause ($10.40), the only stakes-winner in a field of 14, returned to his good 2-year-old form of last year and held off late-running My Man Sam to win the Blue Grass at Keeneland.

Brody's Cause won the Breeders' Futurity over the same track last fall and then was a closing third to Nyquist and Swipe in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He made his 3-year-old debut with an awful 7th as the 2-1 favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby. The  Giant's Causeway colt has now won 3 of 6 starts for the Albaugh Family Stable and trainer Dale Romans, who also saddled Cherry Wine to finish third.

Brody's Cause completed a Big Apple/Bluegrass pick-4 that paid a fat $1288.40 for $2 (ABAA below.)

Saturday, 5:50 pm -- Outwork desperately held off 81-1 maiden Trojan Nation to win the Wood Memorial. Adventist was up for third with Matt King Coal fourth after dueling with the winner. Shagaf faded through the stretch after a threatening middle move to run fifth as the 9-5 favorite.

Outwork, second to fellow Todd Pletcher trainee Destin in the Tampa Bay Derby last time out, paid $6.80 as the second choice. He is a son of Uncle Mo, the sensational first-crop sire who is also responsible for Nyquist, the Florida Derby winner and early Derby favorite. Mike Repole, who raced Uncle Mo, bred and owns Outwork. Outwork, Trojan Nation, Adventist and Shagaf all remain Derby possibilities.

The winning time of 1:52.92 was slow (and 0.30 slower than the Gazelle), but it is difficult to gauge the changing Aqueduct track due to the continuing rain. Everyone was struggling to some degree through the stretch, and Outwork was sapped by having contested an opening quarter in 22.91 with Matt King Coal.

In the Big Apple/Bluegrass Pick 4 willpays, Zulu is the favorite ($949 for $2) followed by My Man Sam ($1283), Brody's Cause ($1288), Cherry Wine ($1,544) and Donegal Moon ($2761).

Saturday, 5:25 pm -- Sheer Drama ($18.80) retook the lead from Stopchargingmaria in the closing yards to win the G1 Madison, a race where the four Grade 1 winners in the field ran 1-2-3-4.

Stopchargingmaria was arguably best as the 2-1 favorite, pressing from the outside much of the way, while Sheer Drama slipped through at the rail to challenge. Stopchargingmaria seemed to have her measured, but Sheer Drama came back at her on the inside. Wavell Avenue was a good third in her season debut, and Birdatthewire was belatedly along for fourth.

Sheer Drama, a 6-year-old Burning Roma mare who ran 4th to Stopchargingmaria in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, paid a generous $18.80 winning her third Grade 1 for owner-breeder Harold Queen and trainer David Fawkes.

Saturday, 5:15 pm -- The Bay Shore made it eight straight wins on the Aqueduct card for the Ortiz brothers, with Irad taking races 2,4,5,7 and 8 and Jose scoring in the 3rd, 6th and 9th. In the upcoming Wood, it's Irad on Shagaf and Jose on Matt King Coal.

Saturday, 5:05 pm -- Unified ($4.40), who won his debut at Gulfstream with a splashy Beyer Speed Figure of 99, made it 2 for 2 with a front-running victory in the Bay Shore at Aqueduct. The Candy Ride 3-year-old, owned by Centennial Farms and trained by Jimmy Jerkens, broke slowly but quickly assumed the lead. He was hounded by King Kranz through fractions of 22.65 and 45.86, then drew clear after six furlongs in 1:10.34 and stopped the timer in 1:22.86. King Kranz held second, 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner and 7 1/4 in front of Cocked and Loaded.

Shagaf is the clear Wood favorite in double and pick-3 willpays, but Outwork has opened as the 8-5 favorite over Shagaf (2-1) and Matt King Coal (5-2).

A two-hour telecast focussing on the Wood, Blue Grass and Santa Anita Derby has started on NBC Sports Network.

Saturday 4:50 pm -- There's going to be a delay to the start of the Bay Shore as Richie the Bull is undergoing a shoe repair in the paddock.

The doubles and Pick-3's into the Bay Shore had Unified a slight favorite over Awesome Gent with Cocked and Loaded a dtstant third choice, the three of them are currently within inches of one another in the win pool at 2-1/5-2.

At Keeneland, Undrafted had only two horses beaten at the top of the stretch in the G2 Shakertown, but finished strongly to run down Something Extra in deep stretch. The 6-year-old Purim gelding, owned by Wes Welker and trained by Wesley Ward, was making his first start since running 5th as the 7-2 favorite in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last Halloween.

Saturday, 4:30 pm --Lewis Bay, a distant second to Cathryn Sophia in her season debut, returned to the track and distance of her Demoiselle victory and was an easy winner of the G2 Gazelle at Aqueduct. The Bernardini-Summer Raven filly, an Alpha Delta Stables homebred trained by Chad Brown, was taken in hand and geared down in the final strides and was more dominant than her final margin will suggest.

The Gazelle is one of four graded stakes today for 3-year-old fillies -- along with the Ashland, Santa Anita Oaks and Fantasy -- that will largely determine the field for the Kentucky Oaks May 6.

Saturday, 4:15 pm -- In the Commonwealth at Keeneland, bettors had a hard time picking among Ami's Flatter (4-1), Ready For Rye (7-2), Holy Boss (3-1) and Barbados (9-2), and the four favorites crossed the wire in that order.

Ami's Flatter, who paid $10.60 after being strongly bet down from his ML 10-1 price, was winning his first stakes race and is now 3 for 3 at seven furlongs and 0 for 7 going longer. The 4-year-old Canadian-bred is trained by Josie Carroll.

Saturday, 4:00 pm -- It's 52 minutes to the Bay Shore but I'm putting in my Big Apple/Bluegrass tickets now as we begin the frenzied, overlapping-races portion of the afternoon.

Here's the play:

Since discussing the sequence on yesterday's drf.com webinar, I loosened my net at Aqueduct due to the wet track, and compensated by tightening up on the Blue Grass. I was initially planning to go 6 or 8 deep in that race, but upon further review decided to run 95 percent of my play through "just" four of them -- Cherry Wine, Zulu, Brody's Cause and My Man Sam.

Saturday 3:35 pm: Weep No More ($62.20) flew by the favorites at the wire to score a massive upset in the Ashland for 3-year-old fillies.

The three favorites were staging their own racelong battle, with 7-2 Carina Mia on the lead, 5-2 Rachel's Valentine stalking from second and 1-2 Cathryn Sophia a close third. Into the stretch turn, Cathryn Sophia made her move at the leaders and the three were across the track at the top of the stretch. The favorite was unable to pull clear and all three were tiring as the wire approached, when Weep No More came charging out of nowhere. Rachel's Valentina held on for second, with Cathryn Sophia third for her first defeat in five starts.

The outcome raised a legit question of whether Cathryn Sophia is going to turn out to be better going around one turn, given how she flattened out late trying it for the first time. On the other hand, Rachel's Valentina was very good holding second in her first start since October, and Carina Mia had not been out since November. Both should improve next time out when they are likely to take on Songbird in the Kentucky Oaks.

As for Weep No More, the Ashland was her third straight victory in a four race career. She had won her two starts this year in races at Tampa Bay Downs that appeared a notch or three below the favorites' best efforts, but is clearly improving. The Mineshaft filly is trained by Rusty Arnold.

Saturday, 3:20 pm -- Interesting betting in the upcoming G1 Ashland at Keeneland, which drew three oustanding fillies in Cathryn Sophia, Carina Mia and Rachel's Valentina. With 6 MTP, Cathryn Sophia, 1-1 on the ML, has been hammered to 2 to 5. Rachel's Valentina is right at her 3-1 ML price but Carina Mia, 7-5 on the line, is an ice-cold 4-1.

Saturday, 3:00 pm -- Awesome Speed, scratched from the Bay Shore, instead won the Tesio at Pimlico via the disqualification of Governor Malibu, who crossed the wire first by a nose but bumped the runner-up in deep stretch.

The Tesio winner gets an automatic berth in the Preakness May 21, a highly unfortunate "innovation" this year. An ungraded $100,000 race for third-stringers should not be qualifying anyone for a classic, and it will become a full-fledged disgrace if it keeps another, more qualified 3-year-old from running in the Preakness. If the idea was to attract interest in the Tesio -- despite scheduling it for the same day as three Grade 1 Derby preps -- it did not work: The race attracted a total in-race mutuel pool of under $68,000.

Saturday, 2:15 pm -- The rain at Aqueduct persists and the main track has been sealed and downgraded to "good." Also, Behrnik's Bank (#6) was just scratched from the Gazelle.

Saturday, 1:35 pm -- One down, 13 to go. The first and longest of the afternoon's 14 graded stakes went to Kid Cruz ($5.00), who collared 9-5 second choice Madefromlucky in upper stretch and prevailed in a long drive to win the G3 Excelsior at Aqueduct by a length. Madefromlucky was a tenacious second, six lengths in front of Turco Bravo.Kid Cruz, a 5-year-old by Lemon Drop Kid trained by Linda Rice, ran the mile and a quarter in 2:04.52 under Jose Ortiz. The victory was his first in a graded stakes since he won the Dwyer almost two years ago.

Fun fact: In 80 combined U.S. career starts, none of the five Excelsior entrants had ever been on the lead at the first call in any race. So it wasn't surprising that only two llengths separated the field as Madefromlucky led after a mild first half-mile in 49.13.

It's still raining but the main-track-onlies in the 12th were just scratched so maybe someone's looking at an optimistic weather report.

Saturday, 12:30 pm -- "They're off and running on Wood Memorial Day!" said Larry Collmus as the gates opened for the 1st at Aqueduct a few minutes ago, where Spooked Out wired the field to win the opener for Repole/Pletcher/Velazquez.

It's also Blue Grass Day at Keeneland and Fantasy Day at Oaklawn and Santa Anita Derby Day. As you can see from the timetable above, which I'll be filling in with the winners as the day goes on, there's a lot of good racing today and a lot of it will be going off at the same time, e.g. the G1 Carter at 6:08, the Fantasy at 6:09 and the G1 Santa Anita Oaks at 6:10. Is racing ever going to get its act together and present its major races in a coordinated fashion?

At the moment the main tracks are officially fast at both Aqueduct and Keeneland, but the outlook here in New York is not promising: Showers have already begun, with an 80 percent chance of rain each hour thereafter until sunset. The three grass races are still scheduled for a turf course currently labelled "good," but the four main-track-onlies in the 12th-race finale have yet to be scratched.

Speaking of scratches, the four discussed yesterday all were made official this morning: Awesome Speed and Never Gone South are out of the Bay Shore, and Cavorting and Thirteen Arrows are gone from the Madison. At Keeneland, also-eligibles Pinson and Hint of Roses are out of the Blue Grass. At Santa Anita, Dressed in Hermes was an early scratch from the SA Derby, and longshot Jade Princess is out of the SA Oaks.


Friday, 4 pm -- There are 14 graded stakes around the country Saturday, seven of them Grade 1's including three $1 million Kentucky Derby preps. The races range from stellar to subpar, but if you're a fan of all-stakes Pick 4's, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved at Aqueduct, Keeneland and even a hybrid of those two. Four different pick-4 pools will close between 4 and 5 pm ET (each vertical column is a separate pool):

It could have been even more confusing: Aqueduct originally planned to run yet another pick-4 on its own races 9 through 12, but scrapped it late Thursday.

There are forecasts for some rain at all three major tracks tomorrow. At Aqueduct, the rain is supposed to start around 9 a.m. and continue throughout the day with a 70 percent chance of rain at 5:30 p.m., post time for the Wood. The outlook is drier in Lexington, with snow showers expected late tonight but no rain in the forecast when the Blue Grass goes off at 6 p.m. At already wet Santa Anita, it's 50-50 for rain throughout the afternoon for the Santa Anita Oaks and Santa Anita Derby.

I'll be liveblogging as much of tomorrow's action as possible in this space, but for now let's take a look at the oddly-named Big Apple/Bluegrass Pick-4 (odd because the name of the race is the Blue Grass, not the Bluegrass, but perhaps some creative marketing type was talking about bluegrass music.) Below is my cheat sheet, and comments on each entrant for the four races. If you're new around here, "Top" refers to a horse's career best Beyer Speed Figure on today's surface type (dirt or turf), and "HWL" is the horse's Highest Winning Level.

There are several expected scratches -- Awesome Speed and Never Gone South are reportedly likelier to run in the Tesio at Laurel than in the Bay Shore; Cavorting is not on the grounds for the Madison, and 30-1 Thirteen Arrows also is unlikely for that race, but I'm leaving them alone in the chart until they're officially declared out.

Finally, the commenting function has been restored, so feel free to share your thoughts and pose questions in the comment section now and during the races tomorrow.