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The veteran jockey makes the list again after posting back-to-back hat tricks last Saturday and Sunday to retake the lead in the jockey standings at the Tropical at Calder session. Coa had begun the weekend behind Manoel Cruz and apprentice Luis Saez. Barring injuries to the big three, this one will go down to the wire Jan. 2.
O'Connell put herself into the thick of the fight for the trainers' title during the Tropical meet by sending out three winners last week. She is the winningest trainer in Calder history but still seeks her first local title.
Based at Payson Park about 90 miles to the north, Clement began his annual fall invasion at Calder by winning with three of the first four horses he shipped down the turnpike to run at the meet; the lone loser among the four finished second. His latest local success story came Sunday, when Strike It Rich, a nicely bred 2-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song, scored a popular maiden victory going a mile on the grass.
One Proud Cat
She has come out of nowhere to win two in a row. She improved 34 points on the Beyer scale to post a career-best 94 on Oct. 31, when she won a conditioned claiming dash, then stepped up in company last week and defeated starter -allowance opposition despite breaking poorly from the rail. Her trainer, Antonio Cioffi, has also been on a bit of a roll lately, winning his second race last week when Cancerbero won his maiden in his third career start. Cancerbero posted a 69 Beyer, 33 points better than his previous career best.
Like One Proud Cat, he has shown surprising improvement in a very short time. Lunar Fleet dominated an entry-level allowance race in the slop here last month, earning a 103 Beyer. That figure was 20 points better than his previous career best and 33 points better than his last-out figure. He returned last week and posted a game, 1 1/2-length win over second-level allowance types, earning a 97 Beyer. Not bad for a horse claimed out of a $25,000 conditioned claiming race by trainer Aaron Rivera late this summer.
The main track continues to be cuppy and deep but remained, for the most part, unbiased last week. Perhaps a slight case can be made for speed being an advantage Saturday, Nov. 21, but not enough to either downgrade front-runners or upgrade closers in the future.
Another weekend devoid of stakes activity. There is plenty to look forward to the following Saturday with nominations out for the two Grade 3 events remaining on the Dec. 5 Grand Slam I program - the Tropical Turf and the My Charmer. Both races offer a $100,000 purse and will be decided on the grass.
As usual at this time of year, both nomination lists are dominated by Northern invaders. Clement has three fillies eligible for the My Charmer, and other Northern outfits such as those of Josie Carroll, Mark Hennig, Barclay Tagg, Shug McGaughey, and Todd Pletcher also appear on the list. Most of that group is represented on the Tropical Turf nomination list, along with a pair from Kiaran McLaughlin's potent barn and one from turf specialist Angel Penna Jr. Assuming the weather remains dry, both races figure to offer full, very contentious fields and should provide some nice wagering opportunities.
WEIRDEST BET OF THE WEEK
First-time starter Deposit Only was dead in pick threes but was bet like she couldn't lose once the board opened for Sunday's sixth race, a mid-priced maiden-claiming dash for 2-year-old fillies. Not only did Deposit Only open at 1-5 and close at 8-5, she was also pounded in exactas from start to finish. The probable payoff with Deposit Only on top of first-time starter No Argument, who was scratched at 7-1 before post time, and morning-line favorite Ashley Code was a mere $11, and it was only $10 with Speed Angel, who was bet late to 5-2 second choice.
I had seen Deposit Only breeze from the gate and pole several times in the last couple of months, and she had shown some early speed on many occasions. In her final gate work Nov. 14, she went her opening three furlongs in 36.17 seconds over a very cuppy racetrack before tiring under pressure, with her last eighth in nearly 14 seconds. She completed a half in 50.10 while finishing several lengths in front of stablemate Rosalinda. It was a good work but nothing to instill the kind of confidence she was receiving at the windows, especially with Speed Angel having run a 22.20 opening quarter-mile despite a slow start in her only previous race.
But after the gates opened, Speed Angel was surprisingly reined back off the early lead, leaving Deposit Only to briefly duel iwth longshot French Flame before drawing well clear on the turn. Despite drifting badly while tiring through midstretch, Deposit Only cruised to a four-length win over Ashley Code, who completed an $11.80 exacta after rallying belatedly along the rail. Speed Angel barely got a call while hung wide throughout in a poor performance off such a promising debut.
The most lucrative play on Deposit Only, however, was in the pick three, where Deposit Only completed a sequence of winners that were 7-5, 9-1 and 8-5. The resulting $322.80 payoff was more than double the approximately $144 a parlay on the same three horses would have returned.
Not a lot to recommend Saturday based on workouts, but here are a few thoughts on some of the recent moves turned in by horses competing on the 12-race program.
* Book Says Yes (2nd race): Showed an improved turn of foot in his Nov. 15 blowout from the gate, in which he easily won a set of three, covering his middle eighth in a zippy 11 seconds flat and finished up under some heavy urging. Perhaps the addition of Lasix will help, but he's been away a long time and could need one off the bench.
* Saratoga Matt (4th race): Returns for his first start in a year, but performed admirably off a similar layoff in the past. Flashed some speed of his own in his gate work on Nov. 21, although he was under some heavy pressure through the final quarter. His half-mile split of 50.06 was the second-fastest of 17 runners I timed who went at least four furlongs that morning, and he galloped out five-eighths in around 1:04.
* B L'S Who's Who (4th race): He's usually a pretty good work horse, and that half-mile bullet over a deep track last Sunday was another very strong move, especially considering the rider kept him well off the rail turning for home. Turf is the big question Saturday.
* No Argument (6th race): Wheels right back after being scratched at the starting gate while taking a little sneaky action for a slightly higher tag last Sunday. She finished in a dead heat for second among a group of six who worked out of the gate Nov. 14 while going the strongest of all at the end. Six furlongs could be a good distance for her right off the bench.
* Silk Ridge (11th race): One-time 2-year-old filly leader around these parts has never recaptured her form and still looks overmatched at this level, but she did show signs of life on Nov. 14, when I had her breezing a half-mile in 48.72 over a deep track that yielded precious few four-furlong works shading 49. Might be worth tossing in for at least a share of the gimmicks at what figures to be a decent price.
Other workers of note last week include undefeated 2-year-old Tony Baloney, who went a half in 47 from the pole, and Christina's Dream, who drilled a crisp half-mile in 49.10 while dominating a set of four from the gate.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Luke Polous
Last race: Nov. 20, 9th
Finish: 10th by 12
Was hustled along the rail, ran up on rival's heels, steadied and stumbled badly, at which point his rider lost an iron to forfeit any chance in recent sprint dash. Has the speed to be competitive under similar circumstances with a little better racing luck.
Trainer: David Fawkes
Last race: Nov. 21, 1st
Finish: 3rd by 3 1/2
Turned in a gallant effort at first asking, especially considering he hit the side of the gate and left behind the field. Recovered to join the leaders four wide turning for home but faded from the effort and perhaps lack of experience.
Trainer: Frances Gogas
Last race: Nov. 21, 2nd
Finish: 1st by 5 3/4
Not sure what has suddenly gotten into this vastly improved 3-year-old filly, who turned in her second straight impressive performance after opening her career with a pair of real duds. Has posted 80-plus Beyers in both those recent victories and should not only be a force in the $12,500 starter allowance ranks but might even win an entry-level allowance sprint in her current form.
Snuck In Love
Trainer: Anthony Pecoraro
Last race: Nov. 22, 5th
Finish: 2nd by head (DQ'd to 4th)
Northern invader got hooked from both sides by a couple of kamikaze pilots in run down the backstretch of a low-level claimer, and withstood those challenges before succumbing grudgingly to the late rush of battle-tested veteran Flint Mountain. Drifted late from the effort, and was disqualified from second, but should really benefit from having this race over the track.