05/29/2012 9:36AM

Memorial Day Stakes Thoughts


Without taking anything away from the way Shackleford refused to concede late in the Met Mile, Caleb’s Posse’s inability this year to close the deal has become an issue. Although Shackleford is a classic winner (since he is excelling in one turn races these days, it might be forgotten that he won last year’s Preakness) with a strong will to win, and while it is true he is in much better form right now than he was when he was trounced by Caleb’s Posse in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last fall, let’s be real: Caleb’s Posse still looked like he was one-to-a-million to catch Shackleford late in the Metropolitan even if he was going against the grain of a track kind to speed, and didn’t. And now, after three straight narrow defeats to start his 2012 campaign, I think what Caleb’s Posse needs more than anything else is a softer assignment to boost his confidence.

As for To Honor and Serve, the surprising favorite in the Met Mile over Caleb’s Posse, and who finished third, I thought there was a moment very early in the race when the door was open for him to get off the rail and get into a much better outside stalking trip. The opportunity wasn’t taken, and To Honor and Serve remained bottled up to upper stretch. Make no mistake, To Honor and Serve wasn’t good enough, certainly on Monday, anyway. But that also wasn’t his trip.

That was a fine win by It’s Tricky in the Ogden Phipps, but I don’t think it at all proves she’s a better horse than Awesome Maria, who finished third at just under 4-5. Trainer Todd Pletcher took responsibility for Awesome Maria’s loss right after the Phipps, saying in a most candid way that he did a bad job preparing his mare for this assignment. But I believe a huge contributing factor to her loss was the strategy used by jockey John Velazquez. Awesome Maria likes to be close up early, but she was allowed to drop farther off the early lead than she is normally comfortable with. Yes, the pace was quick (22.68, 45.78), but that’s no excuse for the tactics taken. A couple of races earlier, we all saw Buffum, in his first start in more than eight months, win off impressively going a mile after being close to early splits of 22.46 and 44.90. That should have been noticed.

It’s Tricky, meanwhile, capped a nice Monday at Belmont for Sheikh Mohammed. He also owns, in one fashion or another, Buffum, and Better Lucky, winner of the Sands Point Stakes.

Uncontested would have been a more appropriate name Monday for Contested as she ran off to an easy, unchallenged lead almost immediately in the Acorn Stakes, and remained well clear to make it her fourth straight lopsided score. Yes, Contested got a huge base on balls, but she is also a very good filly. I do still think Acorn runner up Zo Impressive will win a big race with a better set up. I also think that On Fire Baby’s empty fourth place finish combined with Mamma Kimbo’s recent flop in the Black Eyed Susan brings into question the strength of the Oaklawn 3-year-old filly form.

The female turf division in Southern California is uncharacteristically soft this year, but it looks like a compelling figure has finally stepped forward. Belle Royale was very good winning Monday’s Gamely to make it two straight here in the U.S. Belle Royale produced a powerful late kick without really being asked for much, and was a far more decisive winner than her half-length win margin would suggest.

One race before the Gamely, Roman Threat was clearly the best winning the Los Angeles Handicap over a capable group of seasoned sprinters. What Roman Threat has done so far is very interesting. The 4-year-old gelding made his belated racing debut last March, beating a compact field at an ice-cold 6-1 in fast time. He then made a big class jump up to the Grade 2 Potrero Grande and finished a narrowly beaten second to Amazombie, who is only last year’s champion male sprinter. And Monday was just his third start. Imagine what Roman Threat might accomplish when he actually figures this game out.