09/28/2013 12:36PM

DRF Plus Graded Stakes Analysis: Sept 29, 2013


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Matron Stakes, Belmont (Race 8, 4:45 ET, Sunday)

By Mike Beer

The Grade 2 Matron came up the more interesting of the pair of two-year-old races at Belmont on Sunday, and appears to boil down to three major contenders that are not so easily separated.

The ML favorite for the race is Todd Pletcher’s SWEET WHISKEY (#3, 2-1), a dazzling winner of her debut at Saratoga with an 86 Beyer. Sweet Whiskey was bet that day like she could really run and she did not disappoint, flashing big early speed and burying her seven rivals with ease. Behind her that day were three next out winners including Tea Time, who returned to win her next start with a 90 Beyer; and Divided Attention, who improved her figure 21 points to a 71 in winning here a few weeks ago. Sweet Whiskey tried the Grade 1 Spinaway in her second start but was unfortunate to run into a double edged sword of a sloppy track and a thus far super impressive juvenile filly in Sweet Ransom. I’m giving her a pass for that one, and expect her to be very tough in this race.

MISS BEHAVIOUR (#5, 5-2) ships in for trainer Phil Schoenthal off a pair of convincing wins out of town, both times displaying sharp speed to gain control and separate herself from her competition. She’s fast, and may be forward enough at this stage of the game to take the next step, but this is a tough spot for her with some other quality speed signed on.

GRACER (#7, 3-1) came out second best after a duel with Miss Behaviour first out at Parx, but she improved from that experience and crushed a field next time at Saratoga with an 82 Beyer. Behind her that day was a Pletcher-trained filly named Potosi’s Silver, who promptly returned to win her next start with an 82 Beyer of her own. Gracer has drawn very well on the outside here, and has a real chance to turn the tables on Miss Behaviour in this spot.


Futurity Stakes, Belmont (Race 9, 5:17 ET, Sunday)

By Mike Beer

The Grade 2 Futurity saw only six enter, and with trainer Michael Dilger suggesting that his Wired Bryan is going to run at the Finger Lakes on Saturday, we are likely looking at a field of five come post time.

Todd Pletcher’s duo of CORFU (#3, 3-1) and SOUND OF FREEDOM (#2, 6-1) figure to get plenty of support, especially Corfu, who flashed high speed in winning the first two starts of his career upstate, including the Grade 2 Saratoga Special. He stopped to a walk in the stretch after making the pace in the Grade 1 Hopeful, but he has a built in excuse for that effort, as it came over a muddy, sealed track that he may not have cared for. Getting back to six furlongs for this race is a plus for him, but I’m not sure how good I think Corfu really is, and am standing against him in this spot.

BIG SUGAR SODA (#5, 4-1) is an interesting horse in the Futurity, as he ran a race breaking his maiden which would make him extremely hard to beat here, if he can get back to it. He also ran in that muddy Hopeful, but he emerged from that race with more of an excuse than did Corfu, as he was bumped at the start; trailed the field to the top of the stretch; and then rallied through traffic in an underrated performance. To me, he is a serious bounce back candidate in this race, and I’ll be using him heavily.

The other horse I like in this race is IN TROUBLE (#1, 5/2) who made an impressive debut at Saratoga with three next out winners behind him. In Trouble not only flashed plenty of ability in that race, he also appeared to be very professional and was confidently handled by Joe Rocco - so much so that he appeared to make a conscious decision to stay away from Sound of Freedom on the early lead, and still managed to drive him down through the stretch. I think In Trouble may ultimately turn out to be the best of these horses going forward and he’s my pick to win the Futurity.


Oklahoma Derby, Remington (Race 9, 6:30 ET, Sunday)

By Kenny Peck

Would love to try and beat heavy favorite DEPARTING (#7, 6-5) in the Oklahoma Derby but it's tough to take a strong stand against a horse with such a huge edge. He easily dispatched one of his main rivals, CAMEO APPEARANCE (#6, 9-2), in the Super Derby last time out, and if you like BROADWAY EMPIRE (#4, 4-1), the second choice on the Morning Line, you're betting that DEPARTING will regress, and that BROADWAY EMPIRE will run a career-best figure. Actually, maybe the way to get value in this race is to try to beat BROADWAY EMPIRE. He comes off a pair of open-length wins at Northlands Park in Canada, but he was not facing this kind of competition. The horse who was 2nd in that last race, Reporting Star, went into the Canadian Derby with one win in nine starts, and that victory came on the turf. His best prior Beyer on the dirt was an 81, and he posted a career-best figure when 2nd behind Broadway Empire, registering an 83. He was beaten three lengths but was gaining late, and he regressed in his next start, running third, beaten five lengths in the BC Derby, with a 76 Beyer. CARVE (#2, 8-1) is another potential underlay, if the ML holds up. He has strong connections and he adds blinkers for this but he's never put up a figure even close to good enough to win this. HOLIDAY MISCHIEF (#5, 12-1) was in against DEPARTING and CAMEO APPEARANCE in the Super Derby but faltered badly despite a forward trip chasing a slow pace.

BRAVEMAN (#3, 10-1) is one of those entrants who would need to run the race -- and figure -- of his life to win this. Same goes for HE HAS BLING (#1A, 10-1). But his entrymate, TEXAS BLING (#1, 10-1), might merit a look for exotics, at the least. Back in January, in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, he was only a neck short of beating Will Take Charge, who has developed into one of the top 3-year-olds in the country. TEXAS BLING may have been feeling the effects of being in training for nine straight months leading into the Arkansas Derby back in April, as he was a dull 8th there, but he's been freshened for this and he could prove a threat if he runs his best race. His inside post and tactical speed should prove a big edge, as the Oklahoma Derby lacks an obvious race flow. In fact, he may be in an ideal spot, tracking CAMEO APPEARANCE, who has only won sprinting.

That said, I'll use CAMEO APPEARANCE based on his speed and his figures, but he was no match for DEPARTING in the Super Derby last time despite holding good position just off the slow pace. He certainly looks like a main threat for the bottom of exactas but he's going to need to step it up to beat DEPARTING, who is difficult to knock. The win in the Super Derby was excellent, and he doesn't meet a much better field today. A sharp work since that stellar effort clearly indicates he retains his form, and it frankly would be very surprising if he's strongly tested by anyone here, with the possible exception of TEXAS BLING.

I'll make a very small box of TEXAS BLING, CAMEO APPERANCE and DEPARTING, then press an exacta with DEPARTING over both CAMEO APPEARANCE and TEXAS BLING. I'll further press with a DEPARTING/TEXAS BLING exacta, and also make a smaller TEXAS BLING/DEPARTING exacta.


John Henry Turf Championship, Santa Anita (Race 8, 7:30 ET, Sunday)

By Michael Hammersly

When Indy Point came from Argentina there was all sorts of buzz about him. He was a multiple Grade I winner down there, both on dirt and turf. So, there was considerable interest when he made his U.S. debut in DMR’s Wickerr July 24. Well, he showed what the fuss was all about, stalking the pace and blasting home to win much easier than the 1 1/4-length victorious margin would suggest. That was enough to get the normally conservative Dick Mandella to book a trip to Chicago for the Grade 1 Arlington Million.

Alas, it was a wasted trip. So impressive was he in the Wickerr he was actually favored in the Million, but he was sluggish early and never really picked up a foot – he was last going down the backstretch and stayed there. It was a disaster.

Mandella brought him home to regroup and the colt has worked well. But there’s no rush at all to dive back into the deep – unless the horse was thriving. So, the fact Mandella opted to go here tells you plenty – that the colt is doing great and that Mandella still believes. And why shouldn’t he?

The colt is proven on turf and at this distance and while it’s a very tough spot, the best of the division remains back East. It’s a great spot to get back on track and his tactical speed should have him well spotted before Stevens hits the gas and goes for home. And that Million debacle should keep your price palatable.

Slim Shadey figures to carve the pace, but there could be a host of others nipping at his heels, and Indy Point figures just in behind those. Kettle Corn, meanwhile, figures to lag back and come running. The veteran comes off a win in the Grade 2 San Diego and second in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, both on DMR’s main track, but he’s proven on turf, too. He figures to be running strongly through the lane and poses a serious threat to ‘Point.

Holding Glory, a Brazilian expatriate, did his best work on turf in his home country but his two U.S. starts, both on DMR’s main track, were very nice, including a solid fifth in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. This figures a better situation for the colt.

Tale of a Champion hasn’t run since winning a watered-down Grade 2 Charles Whittingham at BHP June 8 – but it wasn’t his fault the big boys didn’t show up there. He did what he was supposed to do and seems to have come into his own. That Whittingham win came off a layoff, too.

A most interesting entrant is invader Teak North. The 6yo gelding was claimed for $100,000 by Guillot off a dull run at SAR Aug. 15. However, his prior outing was a strong second in the Grade 1 United Nations behind Big Blue Kitten, who were he here would surely be favored. He’s a tough old campaigner who’s proven at this trip. His tactical speed can have him forwardly placed and he figures to just keep plugging along and may well have a say in the exotics.