05/02/2012 8:10PM

Friday Churchill Thoughts


Let's take a look at Friday's stakes races at Churchill Downs.


The La Troienne features a rematch between the top two finishers of last year's Kentucky Oaks, PLUM PRETTY and ST. JOHN'S RIVER.  The former already has a race in 2012 as she dominated four rivals as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn on October 13.  Plum Pretty looked good at Oaklawn as she hopped at the start and was unable to make the early lead.  Instead, she rated kindly for Rafael Bejarano before taking over entering the final turn.  There were no anxious moments for Plum Pretty in the stretch and she received a big 103 Beyer.  Plum Pretty must tack on six pounds, but she'll get the jump on St. John's River turning for home and is taken to prevail at short odds.
St. John's River received a wonderful ride from Rosie Napravnik in the Oaks and she showed a ton of heart in overcoming a slow pace to win the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks in her subsequent appearance.  The Delaware Oaks was a slow race (80 Beyer), however, and St. John's River didn't do any running in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga, her final start at three.  She recently had surgery to correct a breathing problem and hasn't been out since the summer.  She's a good filly, but may need a race. 
JUANITA, a vet scratch from the Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne on April 21, figures to show speed.  It's unlikely that Plum Pretty will simply cede the advantage to her, though. 
MARISTAR ran well against males last year and will make her first start of the season for trainer Gerard Butler, who did a wonderful job with Pachattack last season. 
ABSINTHE MINDED couldn't beat Plum Pretty on her preferred surface, the main track at Oaklawn, in the Apple Blossom,  She's a solid mare that may be a bit below top, top class.


GOOD DEED was involved in a three-ply speed duel while between rivals for the opening quarter of the $75,000 Prima Donna Stakes at Oaklawn on April 6.  Unfazed, Good Deed shrugged off her pace challengers and drew off to win by almost five lengths.  She earned a career-best 91 Beyer Speed Figure that afternoon and worked quickly over the Churchill surface on April 27.  If you toss out Good Deed's last-place finish two back (it was in the slop), then you're left with a speedy filly on a four-race win streak.  She'll have to face other speeds in the Eight Belles and seven furlongs is somewhat of a question mark, but she figures to be in the thick of things turning for home and is in excellent form for Steve Margolis. 
CONTESTED won her maiden in facile fashion at Santa Anita on October 2 before going to the sidelines with a chipped ankle.  She returned to the wars on April 15 and didn't show any rust at all, winning an allowance race by almost six lengths.  Contested is pretty fast from the gate, but her comfortable outside post position gives Martin Garcia several options.
SMALL KITCHEN was inexplicably rated when stretched around two turns for the first time in the Fair Grounds Oaks and she eventually paid the price.  She reunites with Napravnik and should really appreciate turning back in distance.  She could be the speed nearest the rail and must avoid a prolonged pace battle. 
XUNLEI, a four-length winner of a statebred stake at Tampa Bay on April 7, is the only entrant with a win at this distance and would benefit from a fast and contested pace.


STEPHANIE'S KITTEN, the winner of the Grade 1 Alcibiades on polytrack and the Grade 2 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf over this course in 2011, received an excellent prep run in her first start of the season, the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 7.  Rated wide off a slow pace, Stephanie's Kitten finished evenly behind gate-to-wire winner Karlovy Vary.  The Ramsey homebred should be tighter for her second start back and figures to get a bit more pace to attack this time around.  The major goal is a trip to Royal Ascot in June so it's possible she isn't completely cranked up, but something approximating best should give her opponents trouble.
MORE THAN LOVE disappointed when failing to seal the deal in the $105,000 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs on February 4.  Blinkers were added to no avail in the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway on March 24.  The hood comes off and she returns to her preferred surface, but one must wonder if she's in the same good form that she displayed last year at Hollywood Park
DISPOSABLEPLEASURE, winner of the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes on dirt, returns to grass following a pair of even efforts in Grade 2 races on the main track.  Expect her to show improved early speed under Garrett Gomez, but she has yet to run a truly fast race.
RUN A RISK and TREASURED UP, recent allowance winners at Keeneland, fit the profile of lightly-raced fillies with good upside.


MUCHO MACHO MAN has finally grown up.  A 17.1-hand hulk of a racehorse, Mucho Macho Man competed in all three Triple Crown events last year despite being a late foal.  After exiting the Belmont with minor soreness, trainer Kathy Ritvo gave Mucho Macho Man time to fill out and he has returned with a vengeance.  In three races since the Belmont, Mucho Macho Man is undefeated with victories over good horses like Ron the Greek and Jackson Bend.  He'll get some pace to attack in the Alysheba and looms a strong threat from stalking range.
NATES MINESHAFT has been a revelation this winter at Fair Grounds for trainer Austin Smith.  He's won four of five races since undergoing stem-cell therapy on his sore ankles and his blazing early speed always makes him dangerous.  He put up a huge 113 Beyer when hiding from his opponents in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap on April 1 and he is 4-4 at this distance.  Nates Mineshaft may face some pressure in the early stages of the Alysheba, but his current form must be respected.
SUCCESSFUL DAN returned from a torn suspensory to win an allowance race over the Keeneland polytrack, but that race came back slow and he'll stretch out against some salty foes in the Alysheba.  On his best day, he's right there. 
FORT LARNED broke the track record for 9 1/2 furlongs in the Grade 3 Skip Away Stakes on Florida Derby afternoon at Gulfstream Park and has been much improved since blinkers were added to his arsenal.  He looms a contender as well.


A tough, tough race.  I'll go three deep in multiple race wagers with GUNG HO, SILVER MAX and HOWE GREAT.  Gung Ho made a strong run into a hot pace when chasing Hansen in the Grade 1 Blue Grass over the Keeneland polytrack and has winning experience on grass.  That was only his second start since being withdrawn (lame) from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.  Gung Ho would benefit from a good pace up front and drew a cozy inside post position. 
Silver Max and Howe Great may be the most talented horses in the race.  The former has won his last two races in front-running style, but drew poorly and could face other speed in the American Turf. 
After beating Kentucky Derby aspirant Dullahan in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes on grass, Howe Great finished evenly in the Blue Grass.  I don't think Howe Great enjoyed being in and among rivals for most of that trip, however, and he was late to change leads (indicating to me that he may not have cared for that surface).  He, like Silver Max, drew poorly and has some pace concerns that need to be addressed.


ON FIRE BABY didn't have the easiest trip when third, as the favorite, against males in the $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes to kick off her campaign.  She came out of that race with a virus, but returned with a professional tally as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes.  While it is a bit concerning that she skipped the Fantasy at Oaklawn to train directly up to the Oaks, On Fire Baby boasts wonderful tactical speed, draws a comfortable inside post position and could work out a good trip tracking the early leaders under Joe Johnson.  A multiple graded winner over this course, On Fire Baby shows a pair of stamina-building seven-furlong workouts in preparation for the Oaks.  A repeat of the 99 Beyer earned in the Honeybee would make her very tough. 
GRACE HALL has loads of talent, but she hasn't really run that super-fast race that we're accustomed to seeing from past Oaks favorites.  Grace Hall overpowered the promising Zo Impressive in the Gulfstream Park Oaks and is proven at nine furlongs.  She's obviously dangerous, but you're gambling, at a short price, that she'll run the fastest race of her career on Friday.
EDEN'S MOON missed four days of training before the Santa Anita Oaks with a bruised foot and she may have lacked the proper foundation to win that Grade 1 test.  She hasn't missed a beat in her workouts leading up to the Kentucky Oaks and should be a strong pace factor. 
BROADWAY'S ALIBI is also very quick from the gate, but she tries two turns for the first time and could be an underlay for Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez.  JEMIMA'S PEARL has been working in company with Bodemeister and would relish a good pace up front.
AMIE'S DINI chased On Fire Baby in the Honeybee and she couldn't get to the very talented Mamma Kimbo in the Fantasy.  She'll try her heart out, but the distance may be a tad too long for her. 
BELIEVE YOU CAN was tiring in the late stages of the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks and the extra sixteenth of a mile, coupled with a quick pace, may hurt her win chances.
SUMMER APPLAUSE showed ability this winter at Fair Grounds, is bred to appreciate the added distance and switches to Garrett Gomez.


Here are the top 25 winning Beyer Speed Figures from last week's races (4/16/12 - 4/22/12):

1.  TO HONOR AND SERVE - 105 - Westchester Stakes (G3) - 1 Mile - Belmont
2.  CHEROKEE ARTIST - 103 - OC 50k/N$Y -N - 1 1/16 Miles - Pimlico
3.  ENDORSEMENT - 102 - Texas Mile (G3) - 1 Mile - Lone Star
4.  MOBILIZED - 101 - Tiznow Stakes - 7 1/2 Furlongs (Cushion Track) - Hollywood
5.  SAGINAW - 100 - Carr Heaven Stakes - 1 1/16 Miles - Belmont
6.  RIVER BEAR - 99 - Robert S. Molaro Handicap - 6 Furlongs - Hawthorne
6.  STREAKIN' MOHICAN - 99 - Clm c-(32-28) - 6 Furlongs (Turf) - Hollywood
8.  PHILLY BOUND - 97 - OC 40k/N3X - 6 Furlongs - Penn National
9.  HIERRO - 96 - Derby Trial Stakes (G3) - 1 Mile - Churchill Downs
9.  PEACENIK - 96 - Clm c-8000 - 6 1/2 Furlongs (Cushion Track) - Hollywood
9.  POINT OF ENTRY - 96 - Elkhorn Stakes (G2) - 1 1/2 Miles (Turf) - Keeneland
12. PARODY - 94 - Alw 35000N1X - 1 1/16 Miles - Pimlico
12. P D Q KIDDO - 94 - Milwaukee Avenue Handicap - 1 1/16 Miles - Hawthorne
14. CLOSERWALK - 93 - Alw 48445N1X - 6 Furlongs - Churchill Downs
14. HEXBREAKER - 93 - OC 62k/N2X - 6 Furlongs (Tapeta) - Golden Gate
14. HUDSON STEELE - 93 - Henry Clark Stakes - 1 Mile (Turf) - Pimlico
17. ARGENTINE TANGO - 92 - Alw 26850N1X - 1 Mile 70 Yards - Calder
17. QUIET OASIS (Ire) - 92 - Wilshire Handicap - 1 Mile (Turf) - Hollywood
19. BOLD WOLF - 91 - Clm 10000 - 5 Furlongs (Turf) - Lone Star
19. CAT ON BASE - 91 - OC 25k/N2X - 6 Furlongs - Emerald
19. HUDSON LANDING - 91 - San Francisco Mile - 1 Mile (Turf) - Golden Gate
19. HUNTERS BAY - 91 - OC 80k/N3X -N - 7 Furlongs (Polytrack) - Woodbine
19. UNUSUAL HEATWAVE - 91 - Snow Chief Stakes - 1 1/8 Miles (Cushion Track) - Hollywood
24. DUBAI YOU X Y Z - 90 - Alw 62350C - 1 Mile (Turf) - Hollywood
24. MOONSHINE BAY - 90 - Alw 5000s - 5 1/2 Furlongs - Mountaineer
24. UNUSUAL JAZZ - 90 - Alw 69928N1X - 1 Mile (Turf) - Hollywood

*TO HONOR AND SERVE's lifetime past performances are available at the bottom of this blog post.

*STREAKIN' MOHICAN was claimed out of his track record-breaking performance for $32,000 by trainer Wilton Whitehouse from Bill Spawr.

*PEACENIK was claimed for $8,000 by trainer Craig Dollase from Jack Carava.


NOTABLES ON THE WORKTAB (4/23/12 - 4/29/12):

*ALPHA (cuts left shin, infection, Grabbed quarter) - 5F - 59.54B - Belmont training - April 28
*ALL STAR HEART (Splint right front leg) - 5F (turf, dogs) - 1:03.00B - Hollywood - Apri
*EGG DROP (tibia) - 4F - 48.00 - Hollywood - April 28
*EXCESSIVE PASSION (right foreleg) - 6F - 1:12.80H - Pleasanton - April 29
*HEAD HONCHO (undisclosed) -5F - 59.60H - Woodbine - April 26
*JOHN JOHNY JAK (Colic surgery) - 3F - 36.80H - Hollywood - April 27
*PACIFIC OCEAN (undisclosed) - 5F - 1:04.76B - Aqueduct - April 27
*PRESIOUS PASSION (Throat surgery) - 8F - 1:47.40B - Monmouth - Apr
*SASSY IMAGE (torn quarter left front foot, non-displaced chip right hind ankle) - 5F - 59.60B - Churchill Downs - April 28
*ST. JOHN'S RIVER (breathing problem, tie-back surgery) - 4F - 49.20BG - Churchill - April 25
*SMILING TIGER ("jarred up") - 7F - 1:27.60H - Hollywood - April 25
*STARS TO SHINE (condylar fracture) - 3F - 38.40B - Keeneland - April 26
*TRICKMEISTER (cracked heels in behind) - 6F - 1:16.00B - Aqueduct - April 28
*ZAZU (inflamed shoulder) - 6F - 1:12.00H - Hollywood - April 28


I know you have a good eye for lead changes and stride irregularities and I wanted to know if you will be holding Gemologist's stride against him when assessing his chances for the Derby...I worry about it somewhat after seeing Friesan Fire and ArchArchArch both run so poorly the past two Derbies.
Also, what do you think about the Blinkers off for Creative Cause? Thanks for any thoughts you have on these issues.

GEMOLOGIST paddles very badly with his left foreleg.  His action reminds me of The Pamplemousse, the Sham and San Rafael winner of 2009 that missed the Derby (and everything else) due to injury.  He has had good trips in most of his races and I wonder if he will suffer extra stress if in and among horses during the mad crush that is the Derby.  He is one of the five horses I will play in multi-race wagers so his poor action won't deter me completely, but I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't concerned about his long-term prospects.

I don't have a problem with the change of equipment for CREATIVE CAUSE.  He's a consistent performer with excellent tactical speed that seems to show up every single time.  He reminds me a great deal of Lookin At Lucky and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if he wins on Saturday.  He seemed to focus a bit better without blinkers in the Santa Anita Derby.  He didn't win, but he didn't drift all over the track either.  The Derby is very deep this year and I can't use them all.  Creative Cause is one of the horses that I will, reluctantly, toss on the win end. 


Mr Illman, would you please post the PPs for the old mare Sharon Brown? I'd be I'd be ever so grateful.

The past performances for Sharon Brown, the dam of the great Holy Bull, are available at the bottom of this blog post.


Congrats to Alan for finishing first in last week's HandiGambling exercise.

Penn National Rick's results spreadsheet is available at the bottom of this blog post.

Let's go with the Kentucky Derby for this week's race.  Note that Oaks/Derby Daily Double wagering will be allowed in the HG exercise.


Remember that you have a mythical $100 with which to wager on the race, and the entrant with the highest money total will receive a "Monthly Enhanced 60-Card Past Performance Plan."
Anyone going over the $100 limit will be disqualified.
Please post your plays and analysis to the blog. 

Please separate the play from the analysis and label the play "HG" with the program numbers (instead of the horse's name) for easier scoring.

In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference. One entry per person please.
I reserve the right to approve or deny any entries.
I know that there is a time issue for some of you, but let's remember why we began the HandiGambling races in the first place. The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses, and why we're betting them the way we are. I'm not asking for a novel, but if you could spare a sentence or two outlining your handicapping angles, and thought processes about wagering, it would be appreciated.

Best of luck to all.

To Honor and Serve.pdf656.57 KB
Sharon Brown.pdf42.37 KB
HGDERBY.pdf469.3 KB
Copy of Formblog Contest 4-27-2012.xls29 KB