07/12/2008 2:27AM

Saturday Notions


CHICAGO -- Curlin's grass debut in the Man o' War may be the single most compelling race on Saturday's busy schedule, but the cards at Arlington and Calder are far more interesting and engaging than Belmont's, which is not only short on quality but peculiarly arranged.

There's a $52k pick-6 carryover I won't be playing at Belmont, where cards seem increasingly to be set up to foil multirace players. The two best and richest races on the card besides the Man o'War are being run as the 3rd and 4th, preceding the pick-six sequence, while the clearly worst race on the card, a sprint for beaten $15k claiming fillies that should have been the first or second half of the early double, has been inexplicably slotted as the 7th. The finale, which ends both the pick-4 and pick-6, is a dismal statebred maiden turf race where the second and third ML choices are first-time starters, exactly the kind of race that should never be run as the last on the card. The placement of the 7th and 10th make the pick-4 and pick-6 unplayable for me, so I'll watch Curlin with keen, but not parimutuel, interest.

At Arlington, where I'll be doing a seminar with Mike Watchmaker and Marcus Hersh starting at 11 a.m., there are three intriguing grass stakes that serve as the local preps for the track's three big Grade 1 races August 9th: The G3 Arlington Handicap is a prep for the Arlington Million; the G3 Modesty for fillies at 9.5f will yield some longshot starters for the Beverly D, and the G2 American Derby for 3-year-olds is the prelude to the Secretariat.

The two favorites in the Arlington Handicap are both former Patrick Biancone trainees -- Cosmonaut, now with Carlos Martin, and Stream Cat, who has been transferred to Rusty Arnold. Cosmonaut, third in last year's BC Mile, will be shooting for his third straight Arlington Handicap victory, and for the third year in a row he looks like the lone speed on paper and a serious threat to wire the field. Stream Cat hasn't been out since Oct. 27, and 10 furlongs for a new trainer off a nine-month layoff isn't my idea of value at 5-2. Instead, I'll use Cosmonaut and Corrupt, an improving 4-year-old with all sorts of trips and excuses in his last three starts.

The Modesty is the best betting race of the three, with a field of 11 in which at least six have a real shot of victory. Ciao at 10-1 ML is appealing in her third off a layoff if she can get back to the form that got her within half a length of Bit of Whimsy in last fall's G2 Mrs. Revere, and Lemon Chiffon at 6-1 may have the most upside in the group, making just her fifth start and her first outside California. Ballymore Lady must be used at 5-1 off a sharp second to Dreaming of Anna last time out in the G3 Mint Julep.

The American Derby has more of a Million Day flavor than the other two in that it features two appealing European imports: Great War Eagle (Storm Cat-Cash Run), second in a pair of Irish G3's this spring, and 10-1 Blue Exit, in from France. They'll have to run down Tizdejavu, who got loose winning the G3 American Turf and G2 Jefferson Cup in his last two and looks likely to get loose again here.

Calder's Summit of Speed card includes four straight graded stakes at six furlongs worth a combined $1.3 million: the Azalea and Carry Back for 3-year-olds, then the Princess Rooney and Smile for older sprinters. Out-of-towners appear to have the edge in all four races.

The Azalea looks like a showdown between fillies based in San Francisco and Vancouver: Indyanne, a winner of her three career starts in Northern California by a combined 23 lengths, and Dancing Allstar, the pride of Hastings Park, who is 8-for-10 overall and 7-for-7 on real dirt.

The Carry Back has a solid favorite in Lantana Mob, winner of the G3 Hirsch Jacobs on the Preakness undercard, though he hasn't raced since then and has moved from Steve Asmussen's barn to Michael Trombetta's. But it's a weird race. There's not a single true frontrunner in the field, which may compromise the favorite's chances. Also, you have to figure out what to do with Golden Spikes and Gentleman James, who earned stratospheric 104 Beyers finishing a head apart and 10 lengths clear of the rest of the field in the local prep for this, the June 14 Unbridled. Those performances were 17-to-19 point career tops in sprints for both colts.

The G1 Princess Rooney features a rematch between the 1-2 finishers in the May 25 G2 Vagrancy, Looky Yonder and Dream Rush, both unraced since then. Dream Rush had a four-length lead after 5 1/2 furlongs that day but stopped late as Looky Yonder came from the clouds to run her down. That big move has made Looky Yonder the favorite, but I lean toward Dream Rush, who cuts back half a furlong and should improve in her second start of the year. Mistical Plan deserves a long look at 10-1 cutting back from 8.5f to 6f; the last time she did that, she won the Sunshine Million Oaks. Miraculous Miss, beaten just half a length at 43-1 in the BC F&M Sprint last year, should be up for a piece in her second start of the year.

The Smile looks made to order for the country's top-ranked sprinter, Benny the Bull, who is listed at 7-5 but could be odds-on. He beat 3-1 ML second-choice Man of Danger by only a neck in the G2 True North on Belmont Day, but was hampered by a slow pace and an almost-too-late ride. The Smile has plenty of speed to keep Man of Danger busy early and I'm looking for another closer, the vastly improved Rockerfeller (ML 6-1), rather than Man of Danger, to complete the exacta.

If you forced me to bet on the Man o' War, I'd probably try to beat Curlin with Grand Couturier rather than the better-known (and perhaps past-their-prime) Better Talk Now and Red Rocks. Grand Couturier got seriously good last summer, beating English Channel on the square at Saratoga and then running a fine third to Doctor Dino and Sunriver in a slow-paced Man o' War. If you forgive his BC Turf over a soft course he didn't handle, and his comeback at Belmont last month where he tried to rally from dead last into a 22.93 final quarter, he has possibilities at a price.

As I'm wrapping this up at 1:30 a.m. Central time, thunderstorms are pelting Chicago, so be sure to check course conditions and late scratches. And as long as we're talking Arlington, I never get tired of watching this one:

Emily More than 1 year ago
Asmussen chose the 1 3/8th-mile Man o'War over Saturday's Arlington Park Handicap at Arlington Park near Chicago, in part because the lure of stiff competition. Curlin should get it against a field that will include former Breeders' Cup Turf winners Better Talk Now and Red Rocks.
Pat More than 1 year ago
Curlin appears to hang if he is not ahead at the 9 furlong pole - not quit. While this would appear to be "un-turf" strategy, in Europe a relatively early brush to the front may leave everyone in the weeds! He is the best horse on the planet - if we ignore Somebeachsomewhere
yuwipi More than 1 year ago
The hoarsehorseplayer for President!
thehoarsehorseplayer More than 1 year ago
With apologies to Mr. Frost. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth.” Many years ago Racing found itself at a crossroads. Recognizing it was by nature a high-cost, high-end gambling option it could have chosen to market itself to the $200.00 player. This, of course, not only would have taken a non-existent confidence in itself, but ultimately would have also required a commitment to transparency and accountability. So it, “Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same.” Which is basically the multiple exotics, dime superfecta route. Make the game less like chess and more like checkers; a game of softball not of baseball. More about ticket construction, or parimutuel bingo playing, than hard-choice handicapping. Now, this was a legitimate option. The great Maw of Racing has an extraordinary appetite, insatiable really, the temptation to pursue a broader, if less sophisticated betting crowd the most practical of decisions. The problems with practical decisions, of course, is that sometimes what is beneficial for the short term is not necessarily beneficial for the long term. And what we’re seeing in the long term is that rinky-dink is begetting rinky-dink. The game, to any objective observer, is getting tackier and tackier and tackier. Even some of the architects of the Brave New World of Racing are seeing some cracks in their visionary structures. Still, once decisions have been made they’re hard to reverse, or so Frost tells us, “And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” But the thing is, to save its soul Racing doesn’t have to double-back. Not being one traveler it has the option of taking two roads at once. Let the gamblers have their gambling games, but let the investors and the puzzle solvers have the most accurate information possible on which to base their decisions. If Racing recognizes that the educated consumer is their best customer the game can recover its dignity. But the educated consumer needs to know (among a hundred other things he doesn’t know now) when a horse was gelded. Knowing when a horse was gelded makes handicapping a better game for many horseplayers in the way that another Stuporfecta wager never can. Here we run into the roadblocks, the negative energy that has hoovered the game into rinky- dink Suckdom: the “We can’t provide that because” (and there are always reasons) lament. Always the debilitating “We can’t” lament,” instead of the vigorous, vital, “Let’s figure out how to get this done.” approach. And so, who can be surprised that Racing weakens when all its institutions lack the vitality to be the best they can be? And as we’re seeing, it’s a predictable downward spiral. For the less sophisticated a consumer you have, the easier it is to push a second or third rate Racing product off on them. Or is that not what is happening? Are standards not being compromised? So, the real divergence in the woods seems to be between those who believe that Racing is the Great Sport, Handicapping the Great Puzzle, whose traditions must be diligently preserved and those who believe that increasing handle absolves all sins. Count me among those who still believe Racing can be a great sport, and handicapping not only the greatest puzzle, but the truest test of wits among sportsmen. But only if horseplayers demand excellence, accountability, and transparency from their institutions. Pursue excellence, handle will follow. Pursue handle and you’re going to have a hard time keeping a handle on excellence. But then, maybe one day, perhaps, in an over-crowded paddock at Aqueduct “I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
buffalo joe More than 1 year ago
Flipper, Don't know if my last post "ASMUSSEN FOR PRIME MINISTER" will get on or was lost in cyperspace which happens to me once in a while on this blog.Dosen't matter it will headline on The Star in the AM. Will be staying home Sunday, calling for 90 and thunderstorms. Call me when you are able to talk anytime after noon.
GunBow More than 1 year ago
Here's hoping that if Jess Jackson does run Curlin on the grass in his next race it's the Arlington Million. After Curlin's good but not great Man O'War, I just don't see how Jackson and Asmussen can proceed full steam ahead for the Arc. Original plans were to ship Curlin to Europe early and get in a prep for the Arc there. I would like to think that now, after the Man O'War, Jackson and Asmussen will seek additional evidence that a turf campaign is actually appropriate before subjecting the horse to transcontinental shipping/relocation. The Million would appear to be the perfect race in which to test Curlin before committing to the Arc; the distance of one mile+quarter is Curlin's best, the field will be formidable with a few second-tier Euros likely, the timing would allow for a final Arc prep in Europe, and the winners purse would put the horse over $10 million. If Curlin wins the Million, then Jackson and Asmussen can head over to Europe with the confidence that he would, at the very least, be competitive against turf racing's best. If he were to lose the Million, oh well, nothing lost, and the horse could return to the dirt for the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders Cup Classic/Clark. Racing in the Million would also guarantee US fans at least one more opportunity to see the champion. Otherwise, wouldn't it be ironic that after fans had finally been rewarded with a top 3 year old returning to the track, the horse would only make 2 starts in America? That is exactly what is likely to occur if Jackson and Asmussen stick to their plan and ship him to Europe early.
gocashbaby More than 1 year ago
Weight is the most overhyped handicapping factor. There is absolutely no evidence that putting a couple (5 even) pounds more on the back of a speeding 2,000 pound animal will slow it down sufficiently so as to cost it a race. Great, even good horses will carry the weight and win because they are simply that much better. Remember how Forego used to carry 138 and win regularly. I am not convinced that the difference between 118 and 113 pounds is a couple of lengths.
curious More than 1 year ago
This is, I know, off-topic, and for that I apologize, but Flipper and Joe--do you both lack e-mail address and telephones? I can't think of another explanation for why you would need to communicate with each other here, rather than directly with each other.
callmetony More than 1 year ago
After watching the man o war I think Curlin should finish his career out on dirt .Bring him to saratoga and then finish off with the breeders cup . Of course I'm a little biased as I'm currently already up at the Spa just waiting for the meet to start . See u @ Siros Steve !!!!!! I sure hope Harvey will be back .............
Unitas More than 1 year ago
For the most part, this is a very interesting, informative blog with various points of views and opinions, which is great, I love it. However, when one or two individuals use this space as their own personal message board (I'll paraphrase, "So and so, call me on Sunday" or "I'll meet you there tomorrow night"), it makes a mockery of what is being conducted and accomplished here. Please, lets stick to the nuts and bolts of racing, be it opinions, observations, comments, even good "bad beat" stories, and whatever else needs to be shared or vented in this space. Don't use this blog as a meeting board, because, quite frankly, the 99.9% of us who use this space responsibly do not care about your personal meetings or affairs. Show some respect here For Steve C. and the rest of us. Thanks.