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Turning grass into green
Every year at this time I like to examine the hundreds of Triple Crown nominees for horses that may be better suited to the turf. For my 2009 survey I focused on three types of horses:
* Horses who displayed good turf form early in their careers.
* Those that did not compete on grass, but own Tomlinson turf numbers of 320 or higher - the number being based on turf success by the progeny of the sire, grandsire, or broodmare sire.
* The progeny of "hidden turf sires," a label creatively supplied by breeding expert Lauren Stich to identify sires with turf pedigrees who did not themselves excel or even run on grass.
This year's list, in alphabetic order, contains three dozen 3-year-old male turf prospects. Many will improve sharply on the grass; some will pay satisfying prices. I intend to put all of them in my DRF Stable Mail.
* Affirmatif, a Todd Pletcher-trained son of Unbridled's Song out of an Affirmed mare, is somewhat fragile, but already has won a turf stakes and is among the fastest 3-year-old turf horses in the country.
* Bittel Road, also trained by Pletcher, was a three-time turf winner to start his career, but was overmatched in Kentucky Derby preps. Definitely needs grass and might need a confidence builder.
* Giant Oak, an Illinois-bred son of Giant's Causeway, was second in the Illinois Derby and was just fair in other Derby preps, but he won his career debut on turf at Arlington in August 2008 and took the Arlington Classic on Saturday.
* Cape Royal performed well on the turf at Calder last November and December, but the son of Chapel Royal probably needs turf sprints to show his best.
* Chapin Beach, a son of potent turf and distance sire Dynaformer, was good third despite racing greenly in career debut on grass at Gulfstream in January for versatile trainer Mark Hennig.
* Degree of Power and Deus Ex Machina are both sons of the superb and versatile sire Storm Cat and they are out of different Kris S. mares. Degree of Power is trained by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel; Deus Ex Machina is trained by Hall of Famer Dick Mandella.
* Driving Snow, a turf winner in Ireland last summer, was a very sharp second in a Grade 3 stakes on the Keeneland turf course in his American debut last October.
* Eagle Poise, trained by Frankel, has some physical issues, but is by Empire Maker out of a Nureyev mare and only needs a steady series of workouts.
* El Crespo raced weakly on synthetic and dirt tracks, but was a sharp second in his turf debut at Churchill last year and already has won two turf races at Gulfstream in '09, including a Grade 3 stakes.
* Eye of the Leopard, a Canadian bred son of A.P. Indy out of a Smart Strike mare, has a 337 Tomlinson and a long series of good workouts for Mark Frostad. Worth following at Woodbine.
* Forgotten Dynasty was working on the Palm Meadows turf course all winter and showed up with a very good third in his career debut - on turf - at Gulfstream Feb. 13. Superb trainer Kiaran McLaughlin knows what he has.
* Gallant Son was a three-time stakes winner on dirt at Emerald Downs last year, but his best performance and only win in four tries this year was in his turf debut at Santa Anita. There's no turf racing at Emerald; may show up at Del Mar.
* Go Tebow Go, a son of speedy Omega Code out of a Meadowlake mare, romped in his career debut at one mile on the turf at Tampa in January, but probably will need shorter for his best.
* Idol Maker, a Pletcher-trained son of Empire Maker out of a Storm Cat mare, has been mediocre on dirt, but has promising turf works at Palm Meadows.
* Imperial Council showed a little punch when a fair second in the Peter Pan over the Belmont main track May 9, but Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey may not get this one's best until he's switched to grass.
* Jack Spratt already won a grass stakes at Gulfstream that kicked off his 2009 campaign.
* Lime Rickey, a durable sort trained by underrated Frank Alexander, has consistent turf form and seems an ideal exacta and trifecta type.
* Mark S the Cooler, still another recent winner to come out of the potent Sunland Derby (see graded stakes winners Mine That Bird, Advice and Mythical Power), also was a terrific maiden winner on the Santa Anita turf in January. Expect trainer Doug O'Neill to focus this one's talents on the grass.
* Nicanor, Barbaro's full brother, was okay in his three main-track races, but a revelation in his turf debut, winning a Delaware maiden race by 15 1/2 lengths on May 13 with a 100 Beyer Speed Figure. Likely to be a major force in turf stakes for trainer Michael Matz.
* Orthodox won a maiden turf race on the lead before he set the pace in the BC Juvenile Turf last fall to tip his hand. Has an erratic record, but might surprise a good field on any turf course that favors speed.
* Pioneerof the Nile, Bob Baffert's versatile Grade 1 winner who was second in the Kentucky Derby, won on Saratoga turf last August despite a poor start.
* Rescue Squad, trained by McGaughey, is another promising son of Dynaformer who already has exposed his preference for grass in four good outings.
* Rockland, a Matz trainee, carries the turf gene from his Kris S. mare. Won only turf start last December over Cape Royal at Calder. More to come, probably at Delaware Park.
* Skipadate, trained by Mark Casse, was very good on the grass last fall, but flunked his dirt test in the Delta Jackpot. Troubled fourth in Translyvania Stakes on the Keeneland turf course April 3 was only a prelude to better at Woodbine.
* Smart Bid, trained by Graham Motion, won his turf debut at Santa Anita in January and was a sharp second in the Translyvania at Keeneland. Has 379 Tomlinson.
* Snowmaster has only hinted at his potential, but has a 339 Tomlinson and trainer Motion is a turf ace who specializes in developing long-distance turf performers.
* Soul Winner, by hidden turf sire Invisible Ink, flashed early speed in one turf race and late speed in another. Sometimes that is all you need to see the possibilities.
* Southern Region, trained by Steve Asmussen, is very fast, loves grass and is best suited to the five-to-seven-furlong turf sprints at Eastrern tracks.
* Steel Blue, a Frankel-trained son of hidden turf sire Touch Gold, has been handled gingerly. Will need a series of steady workouts and a turf route for his best.
* Sweat Shop, a son of Grand Slam trained by Rick Violette, looked good rallying in his second try on the turf at Aqueduct last fall. Steady workouts will be the key.
* Top Seed, also by Grand Slam, beat future Grade 1 stakes winner General Quarters in a six-furlong dirt stakes last December at Tampa, but also won his career debut in a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint at Colonial Downs in June.
* Unbridled's Dream, by Unbridled's Song out of a Cozzene mare, is trained by the prolific Asmussen and is another potential turf pro for abbreviated sprint distances.
* Uncle T Seven's tired a bit in lone turf try at 1 1/16 miles last summer at Saratoga. Should fit nicely this year in turf sprints for New York-breds.
* Wall Street Wonder, by City Place (a son of Storm Cat) out of a Kris S. mare, is trained by Baffert and already has run well in a pair of turf stakes this spring.
* Wise Kid, by hidden turf sire Lemon Drop Kid, looked good on dirt at Oaklawn this winter, but has a 325 Tomlinson and should improve when trainer Tim Ritchey puts him on the grass.