01/10/2014 3:29PM

DRF Plus Graded Stakes Analysis: January 11, 2014


Fort Lauderdale Stakes (Gulfstream, Race 9) by Byron King

SUMMER FRONT is at the top of his game again after going off form a bit toward the second half of his 3-year-old campaign in 2012. Last year at 4, he won two of five starts, but it was a losing effort in the Grade 2 Citation Nov. 29 that really caught the eye.

Reserved off a slow pace, he quickened when asked on the turn and battling the length of the stretch with the classy Silentio, ultimately missing by an nose in a tight photo that could have gone either way in a head-bobbing finish.

Seven for 12 on turf, he is a horse perfectly suited to the 1 1/16-mile distance of the Fort Lauderdale. And he has also performed well on the Gulfstream Park turf course, with a win and a third in two local starts. He fires on firm and good courses, and rates on top unless the grass comes up soft or yielding.

Intriguing at his morning line of 8-1 is SLUMBER, though that seems overly generous. Expect him to get bet down from that.

Fourth in the Grade 1 Turf Classic, he weakened to sixth as the favorite in the Canadian International on yielding ground. Perhaps that race can be excused due to the going.

He, like Summer Front, appears to perform best on good or firm turf. Use him with the top choice in the exotics.

TETRADRACHM has run Beyer Speed Figures of 96 or 97 in three of his last four starts, with the exception coming when he caught yielding turf at Saratoga. He is fast and has been competitive in graded stakes.

Despite those good numbers, he did lose as the favorite in his latest – finishing second in the Tropical Turf Handicap at Calder Dec. 7. He can also be even paced at times.

He seems best used on the bottom of the gimmicks.

Hal's Hope Stakes (Gulfstream, Race 10) by Kenny Peck

The Grade 3, $100,000 Hal's Hope drew a deep field, but one that's not necessarily long on pace. And that's, of course, an important consideration when handicapping this interesting race.

The pace scenario should obviously work to the advantage of a horse like CSABA, who draws inside and always runs well in these one-turn miles. He's cross-entered in the 9th race, the Fort Lauderdale, but as a Main Track Only entrant he'll only be considered for that race if if comes off the grass. His running style and Beyers make him a prime contender for this Hal's Hope, and he's tough to leave off any type of ticket for this race.

But SIMMSTOWN, who drew the rail, will offer more value. He's 10-1 on the Morning Line, and he is in good form for this race, coming off a sharp sprint score at Calder. He's two-for-two at this distance, both victories coming at this track, and given his post and the expected race flow he does figure to hold a tactical edge over most of these. This is his 2nd start off the short layoff and trainer Martin Wolfson wins at a very high rate with such runners.

NIKKI'S SANDCASTLE, like SIMMSTOWN cross-entered in the Fort Lauderdale, will likely run in the latter race unless the grass course comes up soft, according to trainer David Kassen, who spoke to DRF's Mike Welsch.

He's more accomplished on the turf than the main track but he has run well on dirt in the past, and his ability to stay close should give him an edge on the closers.

NECK 'N NECK is likely better than he showed in his return but this could be a tough spot for him to show it, unless he's able to stay close to the pace. He's at his best when he comes from off the pace, and though he has effectively stalked the pace and won in the past, those races were when he went slightly longer than this.

As far as betting:

I'll play SIMMSTOWN to win at 8-1 or higher, and I'll use him in exactas on top and bottom with CSABA. I'll also use NIKKI'S SANDCASTLE, though a bit more defensively.

Sham Stakes (Race 5, Santa Anita) by Michael Hammersly

It’s Southern California’s first step on the Derby trail, even if some of the big fish in the pond (Shared Belief, recently retired New Year’s Day, Candy Boy, Kobe’s Back, Tap It Rich, Bayern, Bond Holder, Tamarando, among others) are not here. But don’t take that to mean there won’t be ramifications from this as some talented sophomores are set to take part, some of whom you may know a whole lot better in the coming months. Before KRISTO ever set foot on the track his name had already been bandied about as a potential Derby horse. The colt, who cost $500K at auction, is by Distorted Humor, a Grade 2 winner and top sire who produced Grade 1 Kentucky Derby/Grade 1 Preakness hero Funny Cide. And the way the colt worked in the mornings for trainer John Sadler the buzz seemed to fit.

Well, it was a bit rocky at first as he lost his initial two starts, both as the 3-5 favorite. In his defense, both were sprints and while he showed tactical speed he also showed some immaturity. After those two sprints Sadler moved him to a route here Oct. 31 and the distance move and experience came together to produce what many had expected from day one – a big effort. He set the pace under pressure and drew off to win in a romp by 6 3/4 lengths. Sadler toyed with the idea of coming back at BHP for a couple of the big races there but instead opted to wait until racing returned to dirt. Well, the wait is over. The colt has been working in splendid fashion and while the water is much deeper – it’s first time vs. winners – at least none of the real big boys showed up. That means he can still get tested for quality but won’t be thrown into the deepest end of the pool. At least not yet.

This run will go a long way to determining when that happens.

From a tactical standpoint KRISTO has shown he can sit and pass horses, but as his maiden win showed he can also take control of things and dictate tempo. That shouldn’t be necessary here with a couple others lined up here who have speed and may be more bent on showing it.

That likely means KRISTO can stalk under Rafael Bejarano (and it’s great to see him take the call in a race where he likely had options) and then pounce turning for home. From there it’s a matter of whether he’s good enough and the presence of big maiden winners MIDNIGHT HAWK and TOP FORTITUDE may help keep his price palatable.

MIDNIGHT HAWK, part of the Bob Baffert armada, looked super whipping maidens in his debut at BHP Dec. 13. Unlike KRISTO however, he’s never routed and never raced on dirt. He’ll experience both for the first time here, as well as having to face winners. Still, you can’t deny he’s got talent judging by his big debut win, and as far as handling dirt goes, well, daddy was a monster on dirt (two-time sprint champion, also 2nd beaten a nose in the Grade 2 San Fernando, a dirt route) and ‘HAWK has been working in dazzling fashion on THIS track of late to indicate he handles the footing just fine.

In other words, this edition of the Sham looks fairly chalky, as the two favorites each appear to hold a strong hand.

If you’re looking for a price to hook up with those two, I’LL WRAP IT UP may be of interest. The son of Tapit (so we’re talking dirt pedigree) looked good whipping maidens at BHP Dec. 7, looking like a horse who may have turned the corner. With the focus on the top two, plus big debut winner TOP FORTITUDE his price may float up and he could help turn a short-priced winner into a 4-1 or 5-1 exacta payoff, and that’s never a bad thing.