It's sort of nice to have a quiet weekend of racing after the four big Kentucky Derby preps a week ago, and the Florida Derby on the horizon. We're just six weeks from the big day now, so it's a good time to catch your breath.
The Lane's End Stakes from Turfway Park is the lone prep race on this week's calendar, and historically, it hasn't meant much as far as future Derby winners are concerned. Lil E. Tee is the only horse to win the race and go on to take the roses (1992, when it was called the Jim Beam Stakes), although in recent years Perfect Drift and Hard Spun came out of this event to hit the board on the first Saturday in May. But it's still a fun race to handicap because it usually draws a large field and the Polytrack always adds the element of unknown.
The last favorite to win this race was Event of the Year back in 1998, so an upset is certainly possible. But on paper, two horses stand out well above the rest - West Side Bernie and Bittel Road. They both have huge class edges and get top-notch riders for the first time. The question is, are you going to try to beat them?
1. Hold Me Back: Interesting spot for a colt to make his 3-year-old debut. Even more interesting that he was listed as the third choice on the morning-line. Ran fifth to Old Fashioned in the Remsen after winning the first two starts of his career on synthetic surfaces - both around two turns. Has been training very well in Florida (pair of bullet works this month) and gets Desormeaux back in the irons. Very well bred (by Giant's Causeway, out of a Unbridled's Song mare) and has the winning connections. Notable that he also drew the rail in his allowance win at Keeneland in October when Desormeaux was aboard. Merits consideration based on all of the above, but winning off a nearly four-month layoff is a tall task, even for Mott.
2. Bittel Road: A lot to like about this one, including being one of only two graded stakes winners in the field. Has done his best running on turf, but was competitive in his last two starts on synthetics, running fourth to Pioneerof the Nile in both. In the Bob Lewis last out he finished only a half-length back of I Want Revenge, who went on to dominate in the Gotham. You would have to think he'll improve off that in his second start of the season. Now he adds Gomez for the first time and that's never a bad thing. Pletcher has won this race twice in the last eight years. Should be right in the mix.
3. A.P. Cardinal: Has improved slightly since McLaughlin took over training, but still has been a money-burner. Set the pace last out in the Sam Davis at Tampa before tiring badly. Now tries Poly for the first time and gets Cornelio as a new rider. Should be a bigger price than his previous three tries if you want to take a shot.
4. West Side Bernie: The other graded stakes winner in the field is set up well to run a big one. First thing you have to like is that he won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile on this strip last September. Then turned in a decent effort in the BC Juvenile and closed very well to get second in the Delta Jackpot. His 2009 debut wasn't half bad either, closing strong on a speed biased track at Gulfstream in the Holy Bull. Has the highest speed figures of any contender here and adds Prado, who won this race aboard Adriano last year. Also the highest earner of any horse in the field. The pick.
5. Jack Spratt: Was overmatched in the Fountain of Youth, which was his first try on dirt. Two starts ago won a stakes race on the Gulfstream turf aboard Leparoux, who is back on for this one. Also encouraging is his second-place finish back in September on the Turfway Poly in his second career start. Don't forget that Mike Maker has been the leading trainer at Turfway for the last two years. He knows how to get horses to run on this track. A nice exotics possibility.
6. Parade Clown: Won the WEBN here two starts back. Finished runner-up to Proceed Bee as the favorite last out in the Battaglia. Get a rider upgrade with Coa. Would be a big surprise to see him take top prize or even hit the board.
7. Bruce N Autumn: Not a whole lot to like on paper, other than the addition of Turfway's top rider Lebron. Was way back in the Holy Bull and most recently, fifth in an allowance on turf. Off the board in four of his five starts. Pass.
8. Orthodox: Owner-breeder-trainer John Glenney thought enough of this one to put him in the BC Juvenile Turf, where he actually out-finished Bittel Road by a length. Made a successful 2009 debut on the turf at Fair Grounds in allowance competition and now returns to synthetics, where had two tries as a juvenile over the Del Mar Poly. Will be part of the early pace and might just be alone of the lead. Depending on how far he carries it, has a nice shot to hit the board.
9. Loch Dubh: Won the Turfway Prevue here in January and then stepped up to the Southwest where he ran fifth to Old Fashioned. The former claimer has flashed some nice turn of foot in all three of his career wins. Adds Borel for the first time, which isn't a bad thing in Kentucky. Was well back in his only start over a mile though, so distance limitations are a legitimate concern. Could get a piece, I suppose.
10. Flying Private: The $700,000 yearling purchase has been consistently hitting the board, but only 1-for-8 lifetime. Nice runner-up effort in a minor stakes sprint at Oaklawn in February where he ran a pretty big speed number. Well bred and in the hands of Lukas, but would be a shocker.
11. Dynamite Bob: No thanks
12. Proceed Bee: Won the Battaglia and has four wins in six starts. Also won both of his two-turn efforts, which indicates he might like the added ground. Still, doesn't seem to be fast enough to stay with these.
Selections: Won't be much value on West Side or Bittel, but if you're OK with 2-1 choose between the two and hit one of them heavy. I give the slight edge to West Side, who has been very consistent against good company throughout his short career. He draws a nice post for Prado and should be able to close well off what could be a hot pace set by Orthodox. I also think Bittel will hit the board, so in addition to a small win bet on West Side Bernie, I'll go with a trifecta box that includes those two, Hold Me Back, Jack Spratt and Orthodox.
Best of luck this weekend and don't forget to join me for another live blog chat at noon eastern on Saturday. This week, I'll have professional handicapper Double Deuce from TheWinnersForum.com as my guest. This guy is very good, so don't miss his weekend picks.