TimeformUS Saturday Plays from Aqueduct, Gulfstream and Santa Anita

Saturday, Aqueduct, Race 9, Local Post Time 4:17pm ET
The G3 Gotham Stakes, 1 and 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3YO
By Jason Perlmutter

With only nine weeks remaining until the first Saturday in May, Derby fever comes to the rough and tumble neighborhood of Ozone Park, New York, home of Aqueduct Racetrack.  There, 11 three-year-olds will compete in the Grade 3 $500k Gotham, and a promising son of Noble Causeway will put his undefeated record on the line against the best competition he has faced to date.

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An important question handicappers need to answer is just how destructive the pace is likely to be to the chances of morning line favorite Samraat.  For those who like chalk, Samraat has a number of things going for him.  In addition to his perfect four-for-four record, the 108 figure he posted in his Withers triumph four weeks ago is trumped only by that of the horse he ran down in the final yards of that race, Uncle Sigh (who posted a 110).  How we feel about the Withers goes a long way in determining how we will go about playing the Gotham.  In that race, Samraat and Uncle Sigh distanced themselves from the field almost from the outset, carving out fast fractions on what has been a tiring all-weather surface throughout much of the winter.  After dueling much of the way, the two horses covered their final sixteenth of a mile in excess of seven seconds. 

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Samraat now carries high weight (123 lbs.) and spots most of the field five to seven pounds.  Additionally, he may face new pressure near the front end from the likes of undefeated Grade 2 Futurity winner In Trouble and Extrasexyhippzster.  The Pace Projector indicates that it won't be easy for any of these speedy types to stay the trip.

TimeformUS Pace Projector

While it's possible Samraat's backers could be bailed out by his entry-mate, Noble Cornerstone (an interesting prospect in his own right if you can forgive his recent hiccup), we feel the challenges are sufficient enough to refuse a short price.  The horse we feel is most likely to survive the pace war is Uncle Sigh, who despite the loss in their last encounter, has a better late pace rating than Samraat.  This time Uncle Sigh may get a nice stalking trip behind In Trouble, who has never been farther than six furlongs and is coming off a layoff.  Uncle Sigh was caught last time, but it's possible the experience tightened him up.  He's been working extremely well and the breeding (90 pedigree rating) indicates he can stay the trip.  He'll need to settle early though.

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In terms of the horses coming from off the pace, Harpoon looms the main danger to the aforementioned speed horses.  Unfortunately, due to his high-profile trainer, Todd Pletcher, his 10-1 morning line is a pipe dream, but we would gladly purchase a win ticket at half those odds.  He is sired by the increasingly dominant sire of Derby prospects, Tapit (90 Pedigree Rating), and he has run well in all five of his career starts.  In his most recent race, the Sam F. Davis at Tampa, he had an odd trip, losing key position on the far turn and taking an absurd angle coming into the stretch, tipping out extremely wide as though a Florida retiree were waving a giant carrot at him from the grandstand.  From there he leveled off and finished with a flourish. Note the fantastic workout he posted on February 23rd.  He will benefit from strong handling by his new jockey, Irad Ortiz, who should help Harpoon negotiate the tight turns of the Big A Inner.  If Harpoon is within striking distance turning for home, it will be difficult for the leaders to hold him at bay.

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For the minor awards, we turn our attention to Deceived.  In six career starts, Deceived has never finished worse than third, which is indicative of a colt always giving his best.  He is coming off a fairly competitive 98 figure, earned when crushing a group of allowance horses, and he has posted three workouts since the effort.  Deceived was demolished by Samraat two starts back, but today's race couldn't have a more different set-up in terms of the pace, and this should benefit Deceived.  Note his Pedigree Rating of 100 (the maximum).  Deceived has been a dreadful gate horse in his young career, and a reasonably clean break should result in an improved performance.  That said, he's simply not talented enough to be taken seriously as an exacta candidate, and we will make a small investment in the notion that he is the one who can straggle past the pace casualties and collect the show money.  He will be our anchor horse in our attempt to crush the trifecta, as seen below.

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The Wager:  Harpoon to win at 3-1 or greater.  Use Harpoon and Uncle Sigh in multi race wagers.  Exacta Box of Harpoon and Uncle Sigh.  Tri keys Harpoon and Uncle Sigh in the 1/3 holes with all in the middle.  Heavy trifecta Harpoon / Uncle Sigh with Harpoon Uncle Sigh with Deceived.

Saturday, Aqueduct, Race 4, Local Post Time 1:52pm ET
The G3 Tom Fool Handicap, 6 Furlongs, Dirt, 3YO+
By Craig Milkowski

A field of seven is entered for Saturday’s Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap, to be run at six furlongs on the inner dirt of Aqueduct.  The field includes Grade 1 winner Strapping Groom and Grade 3 winner Candyman E.  Since 2010, Grade 3 dirt sprints for older males have been won with an average TimeformUS speed figure of 114. Only three horses in the field have been able to hit the 110 mark in recent races, and those horses will be our focus.

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Dads Caps is a very fast horse early.  He is the projected leader in the Pace Projector, and in seven career starts, he has never been worse than second with a furlong to go. 

TimeformUS Pace Projector

On six occasions he has led by a length or more at that point.  However, he has held on to win only three of those six times, and he failed both times he tried stakes company.

More specifically, Dads Caps has failed in stakes company to Candyman E.  The seven-year-old gelding enters the Tom Fool on a three-race winning streak.  He won an allowance race wire to wire at Belmont on a track that was favoring closers, then followed with wins in the Spooky Mulder S. and the Grade 3 Toboggan Handicap.   In both cases he stalked Dads Caps from second position early and wore him down late.  Dads Caps will need to slow down early to save something for the finish, but he has yet to show that is possible at this point in his career.

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The third contender, and likely favorite, is Strapping Groom.  He took the Grade 1 Forego S. this past summer on a sloppy Saratoga dirt track in front-running fashion.  While he has won from slightly off the pace, the front end appears to be his preferred running style.  Drawing the rail will almost ensure he has to go early in this contest.

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Figure-wise, the three are closely matched, all running in the 110-115 range recently.  This is where running style and post position can be a deciding factor.  Dads Caps will certainly go for the front, and Strapping Groom will likely go as well due to the number one post position.  That should set things up very nicely for Candyman E to notch a fourth consecutive victory.

If the expected speed duel does develop, both Saturday’s Charm and Sensational Slam possess strong late speed ratings and could find themselves picking up positions late.

Plays:  Candyman E to win.  Exacta Candyman E over Saturday’s Charm and Sensational Slam.

Saturday, Gulfstream, Race 9, Local Post Time 5:10pm ET
The G2 Swale Stakes, 7 Furlongs, Dirt, 3YO+
By Alan Mann

Speaking about Havana, who is making his much-anticipated 2014 debut in the seven furlong Grade 2 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday, trainer Todd Pletcher said: "We're trying to determine how far he wants to go." Well, the last time we saw him, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, it looked as if he wanted to go all but about 100 yards of the mile and a sixteenth distance.  Here's the video of that race, for all the good it does considering the unnecessarily esoteric camera angles that networks apparently feel compelled to employ.  (There are a lot of things wrong with racing, but the good old-fashioned pan shot is not one of them.) WATCH >>

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Prior to the Juvenile was his smashing win in the one-turn, one-mile Champagne, in which he earned a figure of 112, the best number earned by a two-year-old last year. Far be it for us mere mortals to question the motives of the mighty Toddster.  But Havana could win this race by the length of the stretch and not answer any questions that we horseplayers may have about how far he wants to go.

Although the 99 TFUS speed figure that Havana earned in finishing second to New Year's Day (since retired to injury, and standing at stud in Kentucky for $12,500) was a sharp pullback from the Champagne (and from his debut, for that matter), we think that the race was actually a significant step forward in some very important respects. It was his first race outside of New York, and first try around two turns. After breaking sharply, he looked comfortable rating when taken off the red-hot pace by Gary Stevens. He took dirt in the face for the first time. He passed horses for the first time, circling the field while wide on the final turn, and making short work of Strong Mandate shortly after turning for home.

And while he failed to seal the deal, he did lose ground to the winner when drifting a bit wide, and may have been compromised by a track that we rate as favoring closers. (That is denoted by the race rating being shaded in light blue; dark blue means an even stronger bias.)

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Now he returns after getting "behind schedule a touch," according to his trainer, with a "solid work pattern," most recently a couple of sharp five furlong breezes.  He cuts back to one turn, at which he earned his outsized speed figures. Amongst his other stellar trainer ratings, Pletcher has a 96 for horses making their first start off the layoff.  And our Pace Projector, without even factoring in a possible speed bias like the one we saw at Gulfstream last Saturday, puts him in front in a race favoring horses on/near the early lead. 

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Havana is listed as the 9-5 morning line favorite, but we wouldn't be at all surprised if his post-time odds are half that price. With another excellent weekend card, with many solid betting opportunities to be had, we see no compelling reason to invest our money trying to beat Havana in this spot...

...Especially with the second choice in the morning line, No Nay Never (2-1).  While this colt is undefeated, with a wonderful pattern of improving speed figures (and remember, our figures for foreign races are on the same scale as the domestic ones), the fact remains that he's never run on dirt.

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Now, yes, he's been working up a storm on the Gulfstream main track. Yay, he has a fine pedigree rating of 81 for dirt sprints.  (He descends from the distaff family of the El Camino Real Derby winner Tamarando.)   And always, trainer Wesley Ward does quite well with horses going from turf to dirt, with a rating of 98 for that move.  But still, he's being asked to do something he hasn't done before.  At, or around, his morning line, we would be leaving him off of our tickets.

There are two other entrants whom we find interesting as candidates to spice up the exotics (if you can't resist):

Can't Stop The Kid (6-1) comes off a triple-digit speed figure himself, a 101 earned in his last effort, a six furlong allowance race.  That's a lifetime best, and his second dirt win in a row since adding blinkers and Lasix. Trainer Donna Green has a rating of 90 with three-year old sprinters, and this colt has an excellent bullet five furlong work for this.  Pace Projector places him right behind the two favorites, and we look for a good effort from this son of Montbrook

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Prudhoe Bay (5-1) returns to dirt after beating a couple of these on synthetic at Ocala.  In his sole defeat, Prudhoe Bay was dueled into defeat at one mile by Chad Brown's 4-5 favorite Coup de Grace, who actually improved his speed figure next time out despite his disappointing performance as the 3-1 second choice in the Holy Bull.  Trainer Edward Plesa, Jr. has been extremely sharp at Gulfstream of late, with three winners and four seconds from his last nine starters going into Friday's card (one of those winners being Strategic Keeper, the 39-1 shot who was elevated into the win spot in the controversial DQ in the finale last Saturday).  Plesa has a trainer rating of 86 in dirt sprints, and 99 in combination with jockey Paco Lopez.

The rest of these look outmatched based on their dirt speed figures.

While we will be content to watch the proceedings as one of last year's juvenile stars makes his return to the races, we might suggest, should No Nay Never be bet in accordance with the morning line, exotics with Havana over Can't Stop The Kid and Prudhoe Bay.

Saturday, Santa Anita, Race 8, Local Post Time 4:00pm PT
The G3 Santa Ysabel Stakes, 1 and 1/16 Miles, Dirt, 3YO F
By Robert Finnegan

The Santa Ysabel, a Grade 3 prep for the Santa Anita Oaks, has eight entrants, half of whom are not trained by Bob Baffert or Jerry Hollendorfer. They'll all be running a mile and 1/16 on dirt, and if the early weather reports prove accurate, the dirt might well be muddy.

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Here we go again. The TimeformUS Pace Projector shows Bob Baffert's Awesome Baby on a clear early lead, and Bob Baffert's Be Proud in second-place early, which figures to put Baffert in a strong position pace-wise, since it's unlikely his two fillies will duel with each other early. The Baffert pair is followed by Swiss Lake Yodeler, who is shown stalking in third-place, then Artemis, a tucked-in fourth, with Saintly Joan to her immediate outside. Anniversary Kitty and Sweet Bliss should be considered closers, and Tiz Kissable a deep-closer.

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Let's go over the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
Artemis (9-2): Ran a speed figure of 100 when breaking her maiden at a mile in early January. Then returned a month later in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes, where she broke a step slow and put in half of a strong backstretch/turn run while very wide. Unfortunately, half of a run was not sufficient at that level of competition (Race Rating: 99), and she finished a well beaten fifth, her speed figure regressing to an 87. Her speed figure of 100 two races back is the second-fastest number any filly in this race has ever run. Owing to the difficulty of her trip, her last race is better than it looks on paper. She is drawn perfectly in the one-hole. She should get a ground-saving stalking trip under Gary Stevens, who makes very few mistakes these days. Her trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, has had a superb meet and adds blinkers to his filly. Artemis is a strong contender who may get away at a decent price.

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Anniversary Kitty (5-1): Makes dirt debut today for Craig Dollase. Both of her turf efforts received speed figures of 82--numbers that are a bit too slow in here.  However, her last effort, in a Cal-bred stake, was extremely impressive visually. She lost a ridiculous amount of ground racing wide and still put in a powerful late run. There is serious ability here. The question is whether it will translate to dirt (or mud).

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Awesome Baby (5-2): The morning line favorite, she comes in off a Grade 2 sprint victory that received a speed figure of 105, a number that would very likely win this race, too. But can she repeat the effort at 8.5F? Her only previous route attempt was a debacle that we believe says nothing about her ability to get this distance. Her Pedigree Rating for dirt routes, an 80, is solid enough. She would seem to have a good chance at an uncontested early lead. Her trainer is Bob Baffert. Awesome Baby is the most likely winner. But what will her price be? How low is one willing to go on her at this distance? And possibly on an off track? We will try to beat her--while using her defensively in exotics.

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Swiss Lake Yodeler (3-1): A Swiss Yodeler, she struggled on grass in her last start. We forgive her. Her synthetic sprint was better, and  her lone dirt route better still. But her lifetime top, an 84, is a little light in here given her low morning line odds. She is a contender, to be sure, but at 3-1 odds, we consider her an underlay.
Tiz Kissable (15-1): Interesting filly at what could be a very big price. Makes her third start today. Also makes her dirt debut after racing twice on Tapeta at Golden Gate. Improved her speed figure from her debut (79) to her second start (84) and is certainly eligible to improve further today. Her breeding is slanted toward dirt, not synthetic. Her trainer gets a strong 86 rating with synthetic-to-dirt moves. Although the chart comment doesn't mention it, she had trouble at the start in her last race, causing her to get away awkwardly.
Sweet Bliss (7-2): Broke her maiden, in a dirt route, in the second start of her career. Did so after breaking about two lengths behind her field. Earned a speed figure of 78. Needs to improve on that today. But this lightly raced filly figures to improve with experience and a clean trip.
Be Proud (5-1): The "other" Baffert. With eight starts in her career, she's the most experienced filly in the race. Gets back on real dirt today, which her history suggests will work in her favor. But according to our Race Ratings, she exits a relatively weak race. We are assuming that Baffert will not want this filly engaging with Awesome Baby for the early lead. If this assumption proves correct, and the filly follows instructions, it will take her out of her usual running style. We are tossing Be Proud.
Saintly Joan (20-1): A toss for us. Burn us at the stake if she beats us.
The play:
Win bet on Artemis.
Use Artemis under Awesome Baby, Swiss Lake Yodeler, and Anniversary Kitty in exactas.
Win bet on Tiz Kissable if her odds go above 20-1.

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