Updated on 09/14/2013 11:29AM

DRF Plus Graded Stakes Analysis: Sept 14-15, 2013


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Natalma Stakes, Woodbine (Race 7, 3:49 ET, Saturday)

By Kenny Peck

No surprise that the Morning Line favorites for the Natalma, a Grade 2-C stakes race for 2-year-olds on the turf, are all horses with grass experience. READY TO ACT (#1) is the shortest of them all at 5/2, coming off a maiden win at Saratoga, but taking a light price against a field largely comprised of unknown quality is never a good idea. She may be worth trying to beat, as she also tries two turns for the first time, and the filly that she beat by just a half-length, Ruslana, finished 7th in her return, blowing another clear lead.

SPRING LIKEACOBRA (#4) is the close 2nd choice at 3-1 on the Morning Line but she was all out to win her grass debut despite sitting a nice trip behind a duel, and the horse she ran down, 59-1 firster, Morant Bay, was involved in that pace battle. The dam's other two winners were both best sprinting, and this filly also goes long for the first time. She's another who can certainly win, but value just isn't there.

APPRECIATING (#6) is, like firster MY CONQUESTADORY (#2), MADLY TRULY (#8) and SPRING LIKEACOBRA, from the barn of Mark Casse, who won this race last year. She comes off a maiden win at seven furlongs and her siblings who had success did well going longer on the grass. That solid late kick she showed in that first start also adds to the appeal, though she did benefit from race flow, as all of the top three finishers came from well off the pace, which was quick. That group includes LLANARMON (#7), who got the show, though that runner did have some traffic trouble.

MY CONQUESTADORY is the first starter from the dam, who was winless in two starts on the green, and her sire, Artie Schiller, wins with only 5% of his debut runners. UNSPURNED (#5), also the initial starter from her dam, Banga Ridge, is from a barn which wins at a good rate with horses trying the turf for the dirt time, and with stretch-outs, but Banga Ridge was best sprinting, posting all of her five career wins in such races.

For the top spot, I'll take a stab at some longshots, including SKYLANDER GIRL (#3), who comes off her only poor effort in five starts but she didn't have the best of trips there. She stands to take a big step forward in her first start on the grass as she's bred both sides for grass, by Stroll and out of a mare who was a turf champ in Canada. Also worth strong consideration are the outside three, all square prices: MADLY TRULY (#8), who is kin to a pair of turf winners. She didn't get enough pace in her latest but that should change today; SPANISH FLOWER (#9), who sports a pair of solid works since a solid debut try on the main track; and HENRY'S ISLAND (#10), who was near the pace in that last race, won by APPRECIATING, which set up well for the closers.

I'll box those four: #3, #8, #9 and #10 in exactas and key MADLY TRULY on top in trifectas.

Summer Stakes, Woodbine (Race 9, 4:53 ET, Saturday)

By Randy Goulding

The Grade 2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Considering what’s at stake it is a bit surprising that it is mostly a local affair and that it came up pretty weak. Pluck came out of this race to win the 2010 Juvenile Turf for trainer Todd Pletcher so there is precedence for using it as a major prep.

I’m going with the only horse coming from out of town, SCHOOL ON A HILL. He will be making his first start for Wayne Catalano who took over his training after he was sold following his win in a one-mile maiden special weight race at Arlington Aug. 22. It was an impressive win. He was stuck behind horses until a small hole opened up at the top of the stretch and he displayed a sharp burst of speed to take advantage of the situation. The horse that finished third came back to win a maiden special weight race on Polytrack with an 80 Beyer Speed Figure Sept 6. A one-turn mile will be a new experience for him but he has good tactical speed and he should be sitting in a stalking position early. He came back with a sharp five-furlong move at Arlington Sept. 7 and he could take a big step forward in his first start for Catalano.

The 5-2 morning-line favorite ASSERTING BEAR looks like the main threat. He improved dramatically when he won a maiden special weight race going seven furlongs at Woodbine Aug. 24 and he does have the home field advantage. It looked like TROPIC OF ARTIE was going past him mid-stretch but he dug in and won by a head. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of pure speed in the field so he could be the one they have to catch. He is a half-brother to Sovereign Award winner Inish Glora who won the Grade 2 Canadian going 1 1/8 miles so he shouldn’t have any trouble handling the extra furlong.

TROPIC OF ARTIE is an obvious player. He improved when he added blinkers in his second start and it sure looked like he was going to beat Asserting Bear but racing greenly he hung and had to settle for second. He is a full-brother to two-time turf winner Tropic Sea so it wasn’t surprising that the move to turf was another reason for his improved performance. He gets a key rider change with Patrick Husbands picking up the mount and like most of these he has a right to improve in just his third start.

DIG ALITTLE DEEPER is worth a close look at what should be a decent price. He was 33-1 in the Swynford but ran much better than his odds, rallying to finish second. He will be trying turf for the first time and while the past five years his trainer has a seven percent strike rate with horses trying turf the first time, this guy should love the move to grass. His sire was a Grade 1 winner on turf and is 5 for 27 with first-time turf starters. Plus two of Dig Alittle Deeper’s siblings are Grade 3 winners on grass. He is very attractive if he goes off near his morning line odds of 10-1.

Trainer Mark Casse has three entered and MATADOR looks like the most attractive, although, MY CONQUESTADORY has been working smartly and could make some noise if she starts here instead of running with her own sex in the Grade 2 Natalma, which goes as the seventh race.

MATADOR got off to a poor start when he debuted in the $150K Vandal and after being stuck on the rail he made a nice move mid-stretch but tired late. Casse has solid numbers with 2-year-olds stretching out to a middle distance the first time and it is encouraging to see Contreras keep the faith.

The third Casse runner, PHENOMANALMOON, didn’t beat much when he won a maiden special weight race going seven furlongs in his third start and will need to improve quite a bit to contend here. He is related to multiple Grade 1 winner Devil May Care and Grade 2 Super Derby winner Regal Ransom so the breeding is there. Maybe for the bottom half of the exotics, but that’s about it.

I really liked the way School On a Hill won his debut and he is an attractive win bet if he goes off at his morning-line price of 4-1. In the exotics I will use him in the first and second spot with Asserting Bear, Dig Alittle Deeper and Tropic of Artie. If My Conquestadory starts I would consider using her on the bottom half of the exotics.

Noble Damsel Stakes, Belmont (Race 8, 5:13 ET, Saturday)

By Mike Beer

Race 8 is the Grade 3 Noble Damsel and is an interesting race to handicap due to some questions surrounding the two ML favorites BETTER LUCKY (#3, 9-5) and HUNGRY ISLAND (#6, 2-1). Better Lucky became a Grade 1 & 2 winner once to switched over to turf last year, and enters here with the best last race showing, a 101 Beyer performance in the Grade 1 Just A Game which was run the Belmont Stakes undercard. In reviewing that race, I think it’s pretty easy to make the case that if you reverse the trips that both she and the winner Stephanie’s Kitten got in there, Better Lucky would now be a dual Grade 1 winner. To me she’s way the horse to beat in the Noble Damsel, but that’s not to say there are no questions surrounding her current status.

If you’re thinking about taking a short price on Better Lucky, you better stop and ask yourself where she has been since June 8th. According to her connections, there was nothing amiss after the Just A Game; they just didn’t think there was a suitable race for her at Saratoga, so they pointed to this race, and will use it as a stepping stone to the Grade 1 First Lady at Keeneland next month. Okay, I guess. I’m still not thrilled with the three month layoff right after a high-level performance in a Grade 1 race, but do recognize that if Better Lucky runs as well Saturday as she did when we last saw her, she will be near unbeatable here. To me, assuming all is well, she is supposed to beat the Assateague’s and Naples Bay’s of the world, so I’m taking her on top and leaning on her in what looks like a very tough late Pick 4 sequence, but I’m treading lightly and will take backups.

I’ve had plenty of money riding on Hungry Island in the past, and she has been good to me, but I’ll admit that at this stage of the game I wonder whether or not she’s lost a step. Obviously her best race makes her a handful in here, and if you go back three races in her pp’s, she shows a race that suggests she is still every bit as good as she ever was. But I have a different take on not only that race, but all four of her 2013 starts and to me Hungry Island’s pp’s this year make it appear that she has been running better than she actually has. One way to look at her is that she was compromised by a speed-favoring turf course at Saratoga, and she was only a neck behind Stephanie’s Kitten in the Distaff Turf Mile; prior to that she won an allowance race, as she should have. The counter argument is: against the track or not in the Ballston Spa, she just didn’t do that much running, and for a horse who has always liked some “cut” in the ground, it’s difficult to excuse her efforts two-and-three back, especially the Distaff Turf Mile, where she was in receipt of a good trip and had the jump on the winner, who was returning from a layoff in there. As for the others, NAPLES BAY (#1, 6/1) is probably a cut below some of these, but may be catching the two favorites at the right time, and repeats the same pattern which led to a win in this race last year: A race at Belmont off the layoff, followed by the Penny Memorial at Parx, then a race at Monmouth. I thought she ran well last time without a very good trip, but it does feel like she’ll need a couple of horses not to show up.

ASSATEAGUE (#2, 6-1) is maybe the most dangerous horse for Better Lucky to have to face. Even knowing the result of the De La Rose last time I still don’t like her in that race, but she managed to pull off the upset, and do so by showing a new dimension and tracking off the pace. She got a perfect trip in there in a race that was fast early & slow late, but she got it done, and she projects as the main speed in this race. Assateague has proven in the past that she can get brave on an uncontested lead, so it’s up to the other riders in the Noble Damsel to keep her in their sights up the backstretch. PEACE PRESERVER (#5, 10-1) goes for Pletcher, and almost pulled off the upset in the Grade 3 Beaugay back on Derby day, and has run a couple of races that would make her competitive in here, though she does appear to be a horse who likes a bit of give in the ground (note that the turf is labeled “Good” at Belmont Park on Friday after some rain).

Finally, it’s possible that LAUGH OUT LOUD (#4, 5-1) will wake up in her third start for Chad Brown, but she hasn’t had much to offer over here so far, and is running out of time to start showing her solid European form.

Garden City Stakes, Belmont (Race 9, 5:37 ET, Saturday)

By Mike Beer

Race 9 This year’s running of the Grade 1 Garden City for 3yo turf fillies could hardly have come up a better race, even as it is led by a pair of recent Grade 1 winners for two of the top trainers in the game. The first thing to keep in mind when it comes to these 9-furlong races on the inner turf at Belmont is that early position heading into and through that first turn is at a premium. Considering that the two ML favorites EMOLLIENT (#1, 3-1) and DISCREET MARQ (#2, 7-2) have drawn perfectly on the inside and both have positional speed, I would say they may have something of an advantage in that they may be controlling the way the race will be run in the early stages. I have no knocks on either of them, and while I do prefer Emollient in this spot, I do not dismiss Discreet Marq’s chances at all, especially since she displayed a new-found rating ability last time at Del Mar. Emollient is clearly a horse who does not care for dirt – at least fast dirt – at this stage of the game, and the way she has started to deliver on her early promise on both turf and synthetic recently makes me think she is the horse to beat. Taking in her Grade 1 win in California last out (I do doubt that she was facing a true Grade 1 caliber field that day, by the way), to me she ran a very good race, and likely better than it even looks on paper; here’s how I saw it, via the Notes feature in Formulator:

in good tracking spot early but taken 3wide b/s and rolled up to press leaders, wound up contesting it 3-wide thru 2T/upstr, finally wrested control & was always holding runnerup

Emollient projects for a good trip in this race, has no distance limitations to worry about, and is a major threat to post back-to-back Grade 1 wins. With that said, playing this race won’t be as simple as taking to two favorites and moving on. To me there are a couple of different horses to consider, at what may be very good prices. Before we get to them, I’ll mention that ALTERITE (#4, 4-1) is a dangerous import for Chad Brown. She is a nose and a neck away from being a multiple Group 1 winner in France, and it does appear that she has arrived stateside in need of Lasix, which she gets on Saturday. To me, the two most interesting prices in the race are WITH SUGAR ON TOP (#3, 12-1) and SUMMER OF FUN (#6, 8-1). With Sugar on Top received a great ride from Irad Ortiz to win an allowance race at Saratoga last out, and she was due a trip like that after catching a few tough scenarios in a row, which really dirtied up her form. I think she has shown enough ability to compete in a race like this, she has enough positional speed to land a good trip from her inside post, and despite winning at 11/1 last time, will be a playable price once again.

Summer of Fun feels like a very dangerous horse based on her current form and would be hard to resist at her ML odds. She was a promising 2yo, who all things considered could very well have won the BC Juvenile Filly Turf with a better trip, and has clearly picked up her game as a 3yo. Summer of Fun was a convincing winner of her last race up at Saratoga, and that effort figures to have her primed for a step up in class here. For wagering purposes, I’m going to try to get With Sugar on Top into the mix, both on top and underneath, and use her with Emollient, Discreet Marq, Summer of Fun and a little Alterite. Those horses will also be a part of my Pick -4 play, though I’ll be leaning on Emollient, With Sugar on Top and Summer of Fun.

Kentucky Turf Cup, Kentucky Downs (Race 9, 5:35 ET, Saturday)

By Byron King

This year’s renewal of the Kentucky Turf Cup lacks a clear standout, leaving Temeraine as the favorite by default at 3-1 on the line.

Given the odd configuration of the Kentucky Downs course, and Temeraine not being proven as a 1 ½-mile horse, it seems better to swing for the fences with a longshot.

That longshot is Potomac River, who sits at 15-1. Admittedly, he too is accustomed to racing shorter distances, but in contrast to Temeraine, he offers more value for the risk of him potentially not handing the distance.

Having won three of his last four, including his last over Franklin-Simpson mile contender Ol Army at Indiana Downs, Potomac River is in very good form. And his pedigree – being by English Channel out of a With Approval mare – would seem to suggest he will like running long.

Suntracer and Najjar– second and third, respectively – in the American St. Leger are other contenders, along with Side Road, whose firm-course marathon form is appealing.

Use these horses in exactas and also in multi-race gimmicks, some of which conclude with the Kentucky Turf Cup.


Pucker Up Stakes, Arlington (Race 10, 6:37 ET, Saturday)

By Marcus Hersh

The Pucker Up is a little like a futurity final, the two divisions of the Aug. 17 Hatoof serving as the qualifying trials. The first Hatoof division was the faster race, with a much stronger middle pace leading to a final time nearly one second quicker than the second division. I’m Already Sexy was the filly who laid down those middle splits, and she gets extra credit for finishing with good energy after what ought to have been a taxing far-turn run. Granted, the Arlington course was very firm and fast-playing, and the rail inside lane 1 (producing quicker splits), but I’m Already Sexy ran well.

She’s 3-1 on the Pucker Up morning line, and I’d expect something closer to 2-1, and the question is whether you want to take a short price on a bounce candidate stretching out to a nine-furlong distance that could prove farther than ideal. I’m Already Sexy won at five furlongs earlier this summer; she’s very quick and agile, but I wonder if she will be most effective at distances up to the one and one-sixteenths miles over which she won the Hatoof.

For the top slot, I don’t want any part of the fillies behind I’m Already Sexy, and the horse that interests me out of the second Hatoof division is runner-up Every Way. She had the worst trip among the blanketed top four finishers, has a right to improve in her second start back from an extended break, and being out of a Kris S. mare stands a decent chance of staying the nine-furlong distance. But the horse I like best is Remember Then. This is a George Strawbridge – Jonathan Sheppard production who has quietly started her career 3-3. Her schedule is checkered, with races last October, last April, and on Aug. 19. I’m not reading that as especially negative, since Remember Then looks very big and growthy, like a horse that will be better with age. Impressive: The debut win came at seven furlongs on Poly, the N1X allowance at two turns on Poly, and the N2X allowance at two turns on dirt. I liked the way Remember Then moved better on the all-weather than on dirt, and there’s a good chance turf will be her home. Her dam is Owsley, a multiple graded-stakes winning grass horse who won the G3 Modesty at Arlington. Remember Then showed at Delaware she can at least stay in touch with a good early pace, and she is bred to run even farther than this nine-furlong trip. Here’s hoping her modest speed figures keep the price square.

Canadian Stakes, Woodbine (Race 5, 2:59 ET, Sunday)

By Marty McGee

Probably the best place to start in the G2 Canadian is with Solid Appeal (#3), the filly who has been pegged as the 5-2 M/L favorite. Although she has won 4 of 6 starts over the local course, it should be argued that she was racing against lesser company than what she’ll face here, and besides, those nice win odds (5-1, 4-1, 8-1, 5-1) won’t be available today. In addition, her effort in the G1 Beverly D. was just okay; yes, she was competing against top-flight company, but she had a lovely trip and just couldn’t punch anything home.

That said, let’s go elsewhere with a few others – namely Minakshi (#1, 3-1), No Explaining (#2, 6-1), and Colonial Flag (#7, 8-1) – while also not neglecting a few more fringe players in the verticals.

Minaskshi has kept high-class company and figures to get a nice inside trip off an early pace likely to be set by La Tia; she’s the key play. No Explaining gets the potent combo of Johnny V. and first Lasix while on a well-earned class-raise from Roger Attfield. And Colonial Flag has been known to be explosive and also is 1-for-1 over this turf course for Michael Matz.

It seems senseless to completely dismiss Solid Appeal from the exotics, so we’ll group her with other secondary options when playing the race this way in trifecta part-wheels:

1 with 2/7 with 2-thru-7;

1 with 2-thru-7 with 2/7;

2/7 with 1 with 2-thru-7; and

2/7 with 2-thru-7 with 1.

Each $1 triactor part-wheel costs $12 … good luck.


Ontario Derby, Woodbine (Race 6, 3:30 ET, Sunday)

By Randy Goulding

The Grade 3, $150,000 Ontario Derby at Woodbine drew just six horses but there might be some value with COASTAL BREEZE who is listed at 12-1 on the morning line.

COASTAL BREEZE won both of his starts on Polytrack at Arlington Park for trainer Wayne Catalano so he shouldn’t have any problem handling the Poly at Woodbine. He is coming off a big effort in the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby on turf at Canterbury and the horse that won the race, Dorsett, came back in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby where he finished sixth, but was beaten by just over two lengths. Coastal Breeze hasn’t gone this far but his pedigree suggests he’ll easily handle the distance. He is by Belmont winner Empire Maker and his dam is a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Seeking the Dia who earned over $5 million in Japan and lost by a nose going 1 5/16 miles in the Grade 1 Japan Cup. Coastal Breeze is a relatively fresh horse, has a nice set of works showing, and the past five years Catalano has won with 22 percent of his starters coming back in this time period. He has tactical speed and should get a nice trip stalking speed that probably isn’t going to last.

WINNING CAUSE is clearly the one to beat but he looked golden when he lost as the 1-2 favorite in the Victoria Park the last time he ran at Woodbine. The horse that beat him has gone on to win his next two races on turf including the Grade 3 Saranac at Saratoga with a 95 Beyer Speed Figure so we won’t hold it against him too much. He is going to be an underlay due to his strong connections so we’re going to try and beat him. If he runs his best race he could win this, but he had every right to win the Victoria Park the only time he went this distance and he lost his momentum when he started lugging in mid-stretch.

HIS RACE TO WIN is a possibility. He just missed in the Plate Trial and then had a wide trip in the Queen’s Plate. He came back a month later and looked good beating older horses in a first-level allowance race when he was reunited with Da Silva who rode him in his two previous races.

PYRITE MOUNTAIN doesn’t look very attractive at 5-2. He looked like he was going to be the favorite in the Queen’s Plate when he beat open company in the Wando but he regressed in the Plate Trial and then got waxed by 20 lengths in the Plate. He came back with a better race going 1 1/2 miles on the lawn in the Breeders’ but it’s hard to accept a short price off of his last two races on the main track.

SKY COMMANDER won his last two starts on Polytrack and if you can forgive him for his dull effort in the Toronto Cup he should be thrown in the mix. It seems like he might be a better horse going between seven furlongs and a mile, though.

B E BOSTON STRONG is the wild card in the race. He beat a weak field of maidens at Suffolk by a mile going six furlongs but this seems like a tough spot for his first try with winners. He is a half-brother to Tasteyville who won the Grade 3 Sports Page going seven furlongs and finished second in the Grade Brooklyn at 1 1/8 miles so the should be able to run this far. He is in good hands with Gonzalez but the past five years he is just 1 for 19 with horses running graded stakes.

Coastal Breeze has a lot to prove but he has the breeding and being lightly raced he could have plenty of upside potential. I am going to key him on top of Winning Cause and use His Race to Win and Sky Commander behind him in the exotics. Of course, if he goes off at anywhere near his 12-1 morning line the main play will be betting him to win.


Northern Dancer Stakes, Woodbine (Race 8, 4:32 ET, Sunday)

By Michael Hammersly

It’s not a long walk to get to FORTE DEI MARMI as surely the horse to beat here. The 7-year-old gelding thinks he owns this course, and why not? He’s a multiple graded stakes winner on this course, was third in this last year and then third in the very tough Grade 1 Canadian International. His form went south in the U.S. and you had to wonder if time was taking its toll. However, a return here did the trick as he romped in the Grade 3 Singspiel and won easily again in the Grade 2 Sky Classic, showing there’s plenty of gas in the tank and that he’s fully on go.

Best of all, the veteran has the versatility to handle most any type of footing and pace scenario. When he won the Singspiel in a laugher it was run in a bog, the 6fs in 1:18.20. When he won the Sky Classic the course was firm and he was able to stalk a solid 1:12.80 6f split. In other words, he gives his rider every option.

That being said, there’s no way to fall in love with what figures to be a very short price so that sends us scampering looking either for someone who can upset him, or someone who can fill out the supporting spot in the exacta and turn ‘MARMI’s 4-5 odds into maybe an 8-1 exacta payoff.

Surely HAMPSTEAD HEATH is a logical candidate, coming off two fine 2nds including when chasing ‘MARMI home in the Sky Classic, But by virtue of being a ‘logical’ alternative he may be the second choice in the wagering, and a heavy favorite on top of a second wagering choice isn’t going to get the payoff we’re trying to find.

Instead we’ll look to up-and-coming 3yo STORMY LEN. The colt has beaten elders before and while he’s in uncharted waters distance-wise he certainly handled 10fs well a couple times. His strong third in the Grade 3 American Derby (beaten a head by Infinite Magic, who came back to run 2nd in a division of the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby, and a nose by Admiral Kitten, who came back to win the Grade 1 Secretariat) shows his quality. His 2nd in the Secretariat to the aforementioned Admiral Kitten was very strong.

The other factor in his favor may be pace. He’s by no means a speed horse but his natural gallop going shorter has had him on or near the lead and that may well translate to a trip here where he can gallop along out front, lollygagging his way around leaving him with some fuel in the tank for then ‘MARMI and the closers come after him, or at least sit close in case someone (like say, TURKISH) outfoots him early but from where he can still pounce and get first run on the closers.

Woodbine Mile, Woodbine (Race 9, 5:38 ET, Sunday)

By Marcus Hersh

Eight in a row. WISE DAN has conditioned us to expect victory. The conversation about him has become who he is and isn’t running against, which races are worthy of his amazing talent -- not whether he will win. It’s going to be a shock when / if he goes down to defeat.

I think there’s a chance it could happen in the Woodbine Mile. Not a great chance, mind you, and Wise Dan clearly is the most likely winner. One of his best races came winning this race last year. From all appearances he has been training lights out since another dominant performance in the Fourstardave. Still, he is 2-5 here, and regardless of appearance, Wise Dan is not a machine. ZA APPROVAL is in great form, loves firm going, and made a nice run at Obviously when SoCal’s top miler was atop his game in the Shoemaker. I cannot, however, see Za Approval beating Wise Dan.

The one horse I could imagine pulling an upset is TRADE STORM. Trade Storm has been competing against the best milers in England this summer. He hasn’t come close to beating them, but European-style racing is not his thing. The place Trade Storm excelled was Meydan in Dubai, where the course is left-handed, and races like those Trade Storm contested there run around one long bend. In other words, the course is much like Woodbine’s. Trade Storm unleashed two absolutely brilliant runs on that course this winter, finishing about as fast as a horse can finish. There is speed – lots of speed – in this race, and the shape of the Woodbine Mile should perfectly suit Trade Storm’s best style. At a decent price, I’ll take him to buzz past the 2012 Horse of the Year in deep stretch before Wise Dan knows what hit him.