02/10/2014 11:23AM

Weekend Thoughts

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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.

Jim More than 1 year ago
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.
Ann More than 1 year ago
Not impressed with NTR. Track at Gulfstream was souped up to produce fast times. Again. Not good for horses, good for publicity department.
MICHEL More than 1 year ago
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)
Barry Taylor More than 1 year ago
Melatonin was the favorite and paid 40 cents on the dollar. Good call. Cougarontheprawl broke her leg, and Mark of a gem should never have been at 6/5, the only reason those horses were at those odds was because Mike Smith was riding them. Midnight Hawk had ever chance to win but wasn't good enough, GOD is not the same horse from this time last year. Your post is ridiculous.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Melatonin paid 4.80 that translates into 7/5 odds that is 1.40 on the dollar, if you put a couple of thousand dollars your return is $ 2,800.00 but that is not the point The ride was BAD put Bejarano on Los Borrachos and Smith on Melatonin and the result will flip.
jttf More than 1 year ago
cougarontheprowl was washed out on a cool day before the race. the horse was giving a warning sign. this game is too tough on the talented.
nick More than 1 year ago
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.
Ian More than 1 year ago
Nick, you are being unduly harsh on WTC. Let's give some credit to where credit is due. This is a different horse with the blinkers. If he doesn't get fanned wide at the top of the stretch in the Breeders Cup he wins. In the Donn after a 47 and change half they ran 2 sub 24 quarters and the final 1/8 in less than 12.1 therfore WTC would have had to run a final 1/8 in less than 11 3/5 to catch a runaway winner. If it's a less biased track for the SA Handicap even money will look like an overlay.
James Mcrae More than 1 year ago
hi nick not sticking up for buddie there but wtc def needed the race hes a classik distance horse or longer so being short on a shorter distance on a speed faveoureing track didnt help his cause and lea wasnt getting beat by anyone that day so he has a point is what im thinking take care bro
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Appreciate the feedback. I'm not trying to be unduly harsh on WTC, just trying to knock the pedastal Messrs. Crist, Watchmaker, and a few others have hoisted him on out from under him because he hasn't beaten anyone of note fair and square yet. Look at his record. Yes, he has been racing well since the blinked switch. But, he had no excuse in the Jerome, Palace Malice beat him fairly. I will also say if Palace Malace doesn't blow the start of the Travers, he probably wins that as well. WTC beat noone in the Penn Derby, and other than a displaced Game on Dude, who really races like a Grade II/III
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(cont'd)horse outside of California, he beat absolutely noone in the Clark. As for the Classic, yes he did fan a little wide at the end of the second turn, but that happens to closers on occasion. And, Mucho Macho Man was 3-4 wide all the way around that same turn, while much closer to some pretty quick split times on a track pretty favorable to closers that day. As for Gulfstream on Sunday, I know nothing about the track except that Groupie Doll circled the field in a 6&1/2 furlong race earlier. And you know, if a horse in your race is running at a track record clip, sometimes really good horses have to just race better and set a track record to win. I really do like WTC. I like his trainer a lot. I just think right now he is overhyped, and I didn't think he was the best 3yr old colt for most of last year, and not enough to deserve the Eclipse. And if he is even money in the Big 'Cap, I hope Ms. Ritvo sees fit to ship in 'Macho Man. I will be waiting for MMM at the Mutual Windows with money in both fists.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Not a bad effort at all for WTC's first start since the BC Classic I can't see a reason to criticize the horse based on what he did Saturday. It's a long season and I'm pretty optimistic based on what I've seen so far.
Joey Benson More than 1 year ago
Its his second start since the BCC. he won the Clark over GOD
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the correction. I forgot about the Clark as it was awhile ago..
David Craighead More than 1 year ago
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.
Brian Leckie More than 1 year ago
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.
B More than 1 year ago
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.
Elaine Parkinson More than 1 year ago
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.
Jay Stone More than 1 year ago
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.
Joey Benson More than 1 year ago
I think your very wrong..WTC will show this year the superstar he is this year..after his addition of blisters last year he turned into another kind of horse..at non speed favoring tracks and at 1 1/4 mile races I don't think he will be beaten..it took a freak performance on a track thats not gonna be his best to get beat even at 1 1/8
nick More than 1 year ago
Why oh why does everybody say Will Take Charge should not like Gulfstream Park? It is not a front end freeway like Santa Anita tends to be more often than not. If a big, lumbering closer like Giant Oak could navigate it well enough to win the Donn, then Will Take Charge should have no excuses.(need I remind anyone Orb won two graded stakes at GP last spring?) Wake up and smell the coffee, WTC so far is just a nice horse who has yet to beat anyone really good, in an honest, equal confrontation. He looked like he wasn't going to catch Lea even if they went around again.
nick More than 1 year ago
And I say that about Giant Oak with a great deal of affection, he is one of my most favorite horses . . .
Nicholas Briglia More than 1 year ago
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.
peter k More than 1 year ago
Agree and lets add gameness to the description . Its funny how all the attention goes to Candy and Hawk . Chitus' races have proved out winners and will be betting Icy Ride this weekend