TimeformUS Weekend Plays from Turfway, Aqueduct, Santa Anita and Sunland

Saturday, Turfway, Race 11, Local Post Time 6:28pm EDT
The G3 Horseshoe Casino Spiral Stakes, 1 and 1/8 miles, Synth, 3YO
By Jason Perlmutter

This Saturday, we find ourselves getting ever closer to Louisville, at least in a geographical sense.  Twelve Derby hopefuls will take their talents approximately 95 miles northeast of Churchill Downs to contest the G3 $550k Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.

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The first horse to focus on is 3-1 morning line favorite #4 Tamarando.  We feel this horse may be more like 9-5 when the gates open, but even at that price, he commands respect.  Tamarando has a string of recent speed figures in the 90s, which makes him the most consistently hard-hitting horse in this field of 12.  He comes into this spot with five weeks rest, off a career-best figure of 99.  His two-year-old top is 96, which means there's probably more in the tank.  He has been working well for this and has the Hall-of-Fame jockey combo of Hollendorfer and Russell Baze in his corner (98 T/J Rating).  This was the team that shipped in to win this race 16 years ago with Event Of The Year, who might have been the favorite in the 1998 Kentucky Derby had he not suffered a training injury prior to the race.

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The only knock against Tamarando is that he has to come from well out of it, and thus his chances could be compromised in a big field.  That said, the Pace Projector gives him a fast pace to close into. This horse is an absolute must-use on all tickets.

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#11 We Miss Artie (Pletcher / Velasquez) should appreciate the return to a synthetic surface, where he is a Grade 1 winner.  Although his top figure of 96 was earned on dirt, this horse is probably most comfortable on the synth, and he figures to get the jump on the favorite.

#5 Coastline had a very impressive start to his career last fall, winning two of three races.  We note that his career best speed figure of 93 was earned breaking his maiden on the Keeneland Poly, and he also performed well at Churchill Downs, a dirt track that often is kind to horses favoring synth/turf (see Dullahan - 2012 Kentucky Derby).  After a series of disappointing starts on dirt, he returns to synth here and has been working well for this.  We are expecting a solid price on this animal.  He's our key.

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#1 Big Bazinga and #3 Poker Player both have similar profiles.  They were solid two-year-olds who have posted 88s in their most recent starts, which matches or exceeds their career top.  This should set both of them up for the type of forward moves that can put them in the hunt here.

The Wager:  #5 Coastline to win.  Big Exacta Box:  #4 Tamarando with #5 Coastline.  Smaller Exacta Box: #5 Coastline with #11 We Miss Artie.  Trifectas keying #4 Tamarando and #5 Coastline in all spots with #1 Big Bazinga, #3 Poker Player, and #11 We Miss Artie.


Saturday, Aqueduct, Race 8, Local Post Time 4:43pm EDT
The G3 Excelsior Stakes, 1 and 1/8 miles, Dirt, 3YO & up
By Peter Kleinhans

Saturday's Grade 3 Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct is a classic battle of hard-knocking distance horses.

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Long River is very hard to knock, as he comes in off three consecutive victories.  This horse had been pointed for the three-year-old classics last spring, but it was not to be.  However, missing all of those tough early sophomore races might have been the best thing that could have happened to him. Since returning to the track in September, he hasn't run a bad race.  His figures have been improving every start. He comes in off a lifetime top figure of 110. And he was especially impressive last time in wearing down a speedy, game rival in Percussion, whom he faces again today.  He's never gone 1 1/8 miles, but everything about him, from the visual impression he makes to his double-sided distance pedigree, suggests that he will love the distance. If the morning line is correct, will be overbet, but absolutely must be respected.

Mr Palmer is also on a form spree, with his figures also on the improve every start (107 last time).  But he really hasn't taken on anywhere near the competition Long River has been facing.  His last time in stakes company was the Discovery, in which he was soundly trounced by Romansh, who is in today's field.  And while it may not be relevant now, he was at his best in December of 2012 and still got outgamed by Long River.  A sharp horse, but is he classy enough?

Praetereo is an iron-tough blue-collar horse for Jacobson, but he just hasn't been at his best lately and he's running here on only a week's rest (though Jacobson gets an 86 rating with this spacing).  He's also probably a bit better as a closer going short than at the 1 1/8 miles distance.  Some of his races from last year and the year before might be good enough to win this, but he may not be the same horse at age six.

Percussion is a major threat to wire the field here.  The TFUS Pace Projector shows him on a clear early lead in a race favoring speed. He will have full control of this race.  Will it be enough?  He controlled things against Long River two starts ago, only to be caught late, and he's got another sixteenth of a mile to deal with here.  But look at his race after that:  at 1 1/8 miles, he battled in very legitimate fractions on a track where speed was no good.  Nevertheless, he fought his heart out to the wire, losing by only a length and earning a huge figure of 113.  Will get a much easier lead today and won't be conceding an inch to these rivals. At morning line odds of 6-1, Percussion is our selection.

Dawly is yet another razor-sharp horse, with three wins and a second in his last four tries.  But he's another at the mercy of the pace, and he's never gone this far (although he has a Pedigree Rating of 95 for this race).  This former $15,000 claimer is in the form of his life at age six, but he's being asked to do something he's never done.  Will he be able to launch and sustain a big move at nine furlongs into what will probably be fast closing fractions, while stepping up from Allowance and Starter Allowance company?  It will be quite the challenge.

Don Dulce was well beaten by Long River and Percussion two starts ago, then couldn't get the job done at 4-5 in an Optional claiming/Allowance contest last start.  He was also claimed away from David Jacobson, which isn't a high percentage play, either. His new trainer gets only a 66 rating off the claim.  Seems in tough here.

Romansh (coupled with Long River) has shown flashes of greatness in his career, but has been erratic.  His powerful nine-length win in the Discovery was impressive indeed, and his hapless wide try in the Grade 1 Donn against Lea and Will Take Charge can be safely tossed out.  The distance is in his zone.  It's hard to see what kind of a trip he will get here, but if he's able to relax third or fourth, he may take a shot at these more seasoned foes.

The play:
Win bet on Percussion.
Exacta: Percussion over the entry.


Saturday, Santa Anita, Race 8, Local Post Time 4:00pm PT
The Pasadena Stakes, 1 mile, Turf, 3YO
By Robert Finnegan 

Nine three-year-olds will be going a mile on the grass in the Pasadena, a minor stake that has a morning line favorite whom we respect but consider vulnerable and worth taking a shot against.

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Enterprising is the morning line favorite at 5-2. He goes for trainer Thomas Proctor, who has had a terrific meet. Gary Stevens is riding. These days, nobody in California is riding better than Gary Stevens. Enterprising is tractable and draws the one hole, which, when combined with the presence of Stevens, makes it hard to see him getting anything other than a great trip today. Enterprising is one of three horses in here who have won a stakes race. He has strong speed figures (two 92s on synthetic and a 93 on grass). But he always takes a lot of money. He does not have a speed figure edge in here. And he never really impresses us visually. A contender? Of course. But we will look elsewhere for the winner.
Quotient will be making the third start of his career today. He debuted with a figure of 81 at 7.5F on grass in Florida. Then he shipped to Santa Anita and ran a 92 while breaking his maiden. He was sold privately after that victory and now makes a "lateral move" from trainer Thomas Proctor to trainer John Sadler. The improvement that Quotient made from his first start to his second leaves the door wide open to further improvement in his third start. Moreover, we loved Quotient's effort visually. Rank and hard to ride early, he settled down, rated just off the pace, and turned the race into a rout when asked in the stretch. It was the kind of effort that hints there was more in the tank. At morning line odds of 7-2, Quotient is our selection.

The horse we fear most is Diamond Bachelor. Although we are somewhat loath to play Patrick Biancone horses in California, Diamond Bachelor has much going for him today. The TFUS Pace Projector puts him on a clear early lead. He is back on grass, the surface over which he earned his lifetime-top speed figure (a 99), which is best in the field. He was admirable in defeat in the Robert Lewis, where he made the lead and then was hounded by two Baffert speedsters down the backstretch. According to our Race Ratings, Diamond Bachelor has been facing much better competition than his opponents have. Strong contender.
No Ma'am (20-1 on the ML), making the second start of his career, is probably going to be a huge price as he switches to turf, stretches out to two turns, and ships to a tougher circuit. He has a strong Pedigree Rating of 86 for turf routes, and, while he beat nothing in his debut and didn't run tremendously fast while doing it, he looked splendid in victory. If he takes to turf, handles the distance (his trainer gets an 86 rating going sprint to route), and shows second-out improvement, he could blow up the toteboard.
The Play:
Win bet on Quotient.
Exotics using only Quotient and Diamond Bachelor on top and requiring both of them to hit the board.
Keep an eye on No Ma'am's odds.

Sunday, Sunland Park, Race 11, Local Post Time 5:40pm MDT
The G3 Sunland Derby, 1 and 1/8 miles, Dirt, 3YO
By Robert Finnegan

$800,000 and more Kentucky Derby points are on the line in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, which will be run at a mile and 1/8 on the dirt. 9 horses are set to go, and, depending on how one counts, perhaps five of them can be considered frontrunners.

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No surprise, according to the TFUS Pace Projector, the race can be expected to unfold at a fast pace. And Chitu is the fastest of the fast. He is projected to be on the lead, by himself, at the opening half mile. Garen, who goes for speed-loving trainer Peter Miller, is projected to be in second, followed by Midnight Hawk, Tanzanite Cat, and Global Strike.

And what do you know? Three of the frontrunners we just listed are trained by either Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher. Such is the Sunland Derby in 2014: Once quaint, it is now a strategic stop for the rich in their attempt to get richer.
Let's go over the horses whom we consider to be the prime contenders:
Midnight Hawk: We think he ran a big, big race in the San Felipe two weeks ago. Up against the formidable California Chrome, and racing over a track that was favoring the inside, Midnight Hawk broke inward and was bumped at the start, to be away a couple of lengths behind California Chrome (who broke like a top quarter horse), then quickly made up the deficit, entered the first turn four-wide, continued three-wide, took his best shot at California Chrome, who was down on the favorable inside, and then gave way while maintaining his advantage over the rest of the field. Midnight Hawk has improved his speed figure in every start. He exits a race that received a TFUS Race Rating of 104 (today's race gets a 97). He has been training well for this race. His trainer, Bob Baffert, has a tremendous record at this racetrack and gets a Trainer Rating of 99 with this sort of spacing between starts. Midnight Hawk figures to be one tough customer today. He is the most likely winner, though we don't find his likely odds all that appetizing.

The "other Baffert," Chitu just plain outran Midnight Hawk late in the Robert Lewis, earning a speed figure of 102, and was given some time by Baffert. Now he's back, and his strong speed figures and big early speed make him a major player in here. Our main worry about him is that he will get caught in a speed duel while racing outside of Garen. But if the Pace Projector proves correct, and Chitu is on a clear early lead, we think he will be looking like a pretty good bet as they turn for home.
Commissioner: A cut below the top two on speed figures, he becomes a big threat if things get hot up front, as seems quite plausible.
Bourbonize: Two cuts below the top two on speed figures, he, too, becomes a big threat if things get hot up front.
Garen: He is our longshot in the Sunland Derby. Yes, with his frontrunning style, he seems very likely to have a serious pace problem in this race. Indeed, it would not surprise us a bit if he gets himself fried right out of this thing. But what if the unexpected happens? What if a couple supposed frontrunners break slowly or get strangled early by their riders? At a big price, Garen deserves serious consideration in here even if we have a hard time visualizing how he gets a good trip. He is fresh off a speed figure of 94, which he earned in a race that has proven to be highly productive. He has improved his speed figure in every start. He has a Pedigree Rating of 100 for today's distance. He goes for a sharp trainer, Pete Miller, who is prone to fire his horses out of the gate and take his chances. If a few things go Garen's way at the start of this race, he is a strong threat to win at a big price. And if, by chance, he rates kindly, he is a strong threat to hit the board somewhere.

The Play:
Win bet on Garen at 10-1 or higher.
Exotics: Midnight Hawk on top of the horses mentioned above, with added weight given to Garen underneath.  



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