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Groupie Doll left the boys with a very tough act to follow Sunday at Gulfstream with her winning performance in the Hurricane Bertie. But Lea and Will Take Charge closed the show the way main acts are supposed to with huge efforts in the Donn Handicap.
I opined in this space last month, after he ran off with the Hal’s Hope in his first start for a new barn and first ever start on a fast dirt track, that Lea might be trainer Bill Mott’s replacement for Flat Out. But Lea might be more than just that. As big as Flat Out ran on several occasions, I’m not sure he ever ran as well as Lea did on Sunday. Yes, Lea had a good trip stalking the early pace, but because of his positional speed, it was a trip of his own making. The important thing is, after Lea broke the race open in upper stretch, the issue never was in doubt. And despite being taken in hand late (a reason why his win margin shrunk to 1 1-2 lengths), Lea still broke the track record, and left the remainder of the Donn field behind runner up Will Take Charge nothing but a distant memory.
Although he was only second best, Will Take Charge did not lose a thing in terms of stature. It’s a bit odd that while Will Take Charge won the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby, and Clark during his championship campaign last year, the two best races he ever ran (in my view, anyway) were his seconds in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and in the Donn. In any event, the Donn was Will Take Charge’s first ever start at Gulfstream and first outing since the Clark, meaning he figures to only improve off of it. Barring the unforeseen, there are many races this year in which Will Take Charge will be very, very hard to beat.
The big disappointment in the Donn was the empty showing by Revolutionary, which was not a surprise to those (including yours truly) who were less than impressed with his successful seasonal debut. There were those before the Donn who said Revolutionary’s last out win got a boost when runner up Falling Sky came back to win Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Sprint. But Falling Sky took a huge step forward Saturday. Just because he did, that didn’t guarantee Revolutionary would, which he had to do to even contend. He didn’t. However, the good news for Revolutionary fans is, it’s a long season, and there are more good races out there for older males than there are good males to fill those races out. It will be a failing of Revolutionary if he doesn’t win something good somewhere this year.
As for Groupie Doll, she was sensational coming from way back to win the Hurricane Bertie by the length of the stretch. It’s funny, for most of her 2013 campaign, including her repeat victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, Groupie Doll didn’t seem anywhere near as sharp as she was in 2012. But her fourth against males in her season finale last fall in the Cigar Mile after substantial trouble was an excellent effort. And that, combined with what she did Sunday, well, it just seems a shame to take a machine like her out of service right now. I get the beauty of going out on top, but …
The Donn wasn’t the only Grade 1 race at Gulfstream Sunday. The Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap was a Grade 1, too, but in official ranking only. The field was decidedly Grade 2 to 3 in caliber. Lochte’s 38-1 upset was as clear-cut as it was surprising. But the one I would want coming out of this race is runner up Imagining, who was simply way too far back early, and too wide.
On Saturday, perhaps the biggest news was the off-the-board finish at 1-5 by Game On Dude in Santa Anita’s San Antonio. It’s hard to tell if there was a physical issue that compromised Game On Dude’s performance, or if, at age 7, Father Time has finally caught up to this prolific stakes winner. But I know I certainly don’t understand why Game On Dude was out there banging heads on the lead with Blueskiesnrainbows through fast opening fractions of 22.75 and 46.26.
Yes, Game On Dude is a horse who likes operating on or near the early pace. But he has never been a need-the-lead-at-all-costs type of horse. On several occasions, Game On Dude has been extremely effective after conceding the early lead. It’s right there in his past performances. That’s why I found it a mystery to see him engaging in a needless early duel.
For those looking for silver linings, at least Game On Dude won the pace battle. He finished almost four lengths ahead of Blueskiesnrainbows.
And in a typical horseplayer whine, I liked Blingo last time out in the San Pasqual, and he barely lifted a hoof. He paid $33.80 without me Saturday.
Candy Boy gained a lot of fans after his win in the Robert B. Lewis, also run at Santa Anita, while Midnight Hawk’s bandwagon emptied a bit following his third place finish as the 6-5 favorite. I think that while Candy Boy ran well, he didn’t run quite as well as some would have you believe. Candy Boy had an absolutely perfect inside-out stalking trip, and he only prevailed by a half-length over Chitu, who did the dirty work forcing the pace. And though Midnight Hawk disappointed, I believe it’s way too early to write him off just yet. The Lewis was the first time Midnight Hawk was actually rated behind horses, and he became rank as a result. He also had a three- to four-wide trip, and lost by only 1 3-4 lengths. For what it’s worth, according to Trakus, Midnight Hawk raced 40 feet more than Candy Boy.
I admit I couldn’t have bet Falling Sky with counterfeit money in the Gulfstream Park Sprint, and I always give George Weaver-trained horses an extra look. But let’s give Falling Sky full credit. He was lights out, running away with the race after setting a fast pace under pressure.
The Gulfstream Park Sprint result almost completes what has been a subsequent success story for those who were unsuccessfully involved in the destructive early pace in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Palace Malice came back to win the Belmont and Jim Dandy, Oxbow came back to win the Preakness, Verrazano came back to win the Pegasus and Haskell, Goldencents later won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and Falling Sky is now 2 for 3 since the Derby. The only other pace players in last year’s Derby we’re waiting on are Itsmyluckyday, who did come back to finish second in the Preakness in his next start and who is on the comeback trail from injury, and Vyjack.
The Jury is still out on Lea. Sure he has looked great at Gulfstream. We need to see those efforts duplicated somewhere else though before the coronation.
Not impressed with NTR. Track at Gulfstream was souped up to produce fast times. Again. Not good for horses, good for publicity department.
The only "common problem" with Game on Dude and Midnight Hawk is MIKE SMITH, he is riding with so much fear he looks like a 10 pound bug boy, I was watching the races on Thrursday and you his mounts and results were: Race 4: Cougarontheprawl odds: 3/5 broke down Race 7: Mark of a gem odds: 6/5 finished 4th in a 5 horse field Race 8: Los borrachos odds: 9/5 finished 2nd. in a 6 horse field with one of the worst rides I have ever seen (by the way, it saved me because I bet the winner Melatonin big time)
Dear Mr. Watchmaker, I fail to see the the reason for all your hype around Will Take Charge's effort in the Donn Handicap. He had a very nice trip, saved a lot of ground, had room to move when he desired, and was no match for the winner. The fractions were honest, but not blistering for a 1&1/8 mile race, and it didn't appear to be a totally front track, as the winner wasn't on the front end. And as for being off since the.Clark, it was what, 2&1/2 months? Did you give Orb credit for his effort in the Travers for being off as long or longer before that? As for him not liking Gulfstream, why shouldn't he? He seemed to race pretty well on it Sunday. I think you are trying to build in excuses for him where there aren't any. And who else was in the field? A not so great Revolutionary, and anyone else? I noticed you seem to want to discredit Lochte's Grade 1 win by looking at the calibre of the field, but did you by any chance did you apply that to WTC's victory in the Clark before you voted for 3 yr old Eclipse champ? Other than Game on Dude, there was not a verifiable Grade 1 type horse in the Clark, and when 'Dude leaves California, he is no more than a Grade2/3 type stakeswinner. Will take Charge was lucky to win the Eclipse award, because for most of the year he was not the best 3 yr old in training. Please take him off the pedastal you seem to have put him on, until he does something to deserve it.
Hey mike I love the way you put things in print cause I very happy that you didn't wrote Midnight Hawk off just yet ! . Hey man he needs the blinkers next time out and he'll relax alittle more than he didn't. He'll be Ok as long as he stay's sound. He's one of my pick for the run for the rose's.
A good reason for Bafferts' horses' performances? Workouts. You need to see those Baffert bullets for his horses to run well. Chitu had that profile, and I almost cashed in on that $20 to win. Neither Midnight Hawk nor Game On Dude had the Baffert bullets. If those workouts aren't at least top 3 for the day, something isn't right. Especially in stakes races.
Lea was stunning and due to this particular race and connections and his coming off the turf, it sure did remind me of the emergence of Cigar. He could be just about anything on the dirt. Groupie Doll was also stunning and it's sad that she is leaving the game. I was a bit of a fan of Falling Sky at one time, but forgot about him to be honest. Also mighty impressive. But Game On Dude sorta broke my heart. Hope it was the terrible ride and not his age. Smith seems to blame himself yet I read something that implied that those were Baffert's instructions. Hard to point fingers and equally hard to judge where the horse is at right now. They say they are still pointing for the Big Cap. Supporters will probably get the best price on him in years. The criticism of this near $6,000,000 earner has been relentless and ridiculous. Anyone in their right mind would love to have owned this horse including each and every one of his naysayers.
Lochte was the most expensive horse in the race. The combined prices/cost of every other horse in the race was only $28K more than Lochte's $475K. He is also the only horse that I can remember whose Beyers improved in every previous race: Beyers: 41,63,64,71,79,81,83,84,89, and now he got about a 98 or so. I wish I'd been paying more attention. I butchered a $.10 super ticket 2,4,8 w5,6,7 w/5,6,7 w/all. Why I didn't put him on top is still a mystery to me. I won't miss those angles again... ever.
Will Take Charge lost nothing in defeat yesterday. He had everything going against him and did everything but win. It took a track record performance by a horse who is still Improving to beat him. He looked very impressive in the paddock and after a long tough campaign he still carries a lot of flesh. He is a grinder who just keeps coming and coming and if he stays healthy should have a great year. His only weak point may be he lacks the instant acceleration that some horses possess. When you watch that quick move that MMM has you see what may separate WTC from the real good ones.
I liked Chitu going into the race and I'm still very interested in him now. He was working very well going into the race and I preferred him to Midnight Hawk. He is sprint bred on top but has some distance breeding on the bottom. I think he is going to be a nice horse if he stays healthy.