Thursday babies with Dougie Sal: Churchill & Santa Anita

As a bettor, I very much enjoy early season two-year-old sprint races. In the past, I've found them to be the most profitable type of race to bet, and they've helped me endure through many years as a professional horseplayer who, for a long time, had no other source of income.

It's been a great frustration that far fewer of them are being carded in recent years. Not only are crop sizes smaller but also trainers have become more patient in how they handle two-year-olds—more often giving them the kid-glove treatment versus racing them early.

Indeed, at this year’s Keeneland spring meeting, betters were treated to only four baby races. Those four baby races produced just 29 starters, for an unappealing average of just 7.25 starters per race.

By comparison, just five years ago, Keeneland ran 11 different baby races at its spring meeting, and those 11 races produced 94 starters for a more appealing average of 8.55 per race. In 2006, Keeneland ran twelve of those 4.5 furlong baby races and the average field size was more than nine. In fact, those type of numbers have been the norm going back as far as I can research, which is more than 20 years.

This frustrating trend of trainers waiting to start their two-year-olds is happening across all regions. However, there is some potentially encouraging news. California Chrome started his career very early competing in these type of dashes. By this time last year, the eventual dual classic winner had already started twice in a pair of four and a half furlong races with a second-place finish and a win.

Perhaps, if California Chrome wins the Triple Crown, we won't see trainers so unwilling to dash a decent horse in April of its two-year-old season.

This week marks the six-year anniversary of Rachel Alexandra’s career debut: a sixth-place finish in a 4.5-furlong baby race. She went on to win a graded stakes as a two-, three-, and four-year-old, including Horse of the Year for a historic campaign by a three-year-old filly.

The last triple crown winner, Affirmed, debuted on May 24 of his two-year-old season at Belmont Park. Through May 24 of this year, NYRA still has yet to fill a single two-year-old race of any kind.

A fair argument can be made that competing in these type of early dashes can help build speed and toughness in a horse. The experience horses gain from these type of races can also be an asset, in the year to come.

Make no mistake, I have an agenda. I want to see a plentiful selection of two-year-old racing, with full fields, all over the country. The opposite of that has happened this year. It's been very few races, and usually very unattractive betting races with short fields.

California Chrome's sire Lucky Pulpit was winless in 11 lifetime starts beyond 5.5 furlongs. California Chrome's dam Love The Chase finished dead last in an $8,000 claiming race at Golden Gate. If he is able to sweep the Triple Crown, it will be a victory for the old-school brand of training. And the old-school saw nothing at all wrong with trainers running in these type of early dashes.

Without any further ado, let's get to Thursday's action.

Churchill Downs Race 1 (click for free Ultimate Past Performances):

We have a field of just six fillies, with five betting interests, set to dash five furlongs in this Maiden Special Weight event. All six fillies are first-time starters. In fact, this looks like a potentially soft race for the level.

The Thomas Short-trained coupled entry of Sunrise Countess and Almostevenwithevan are both Indiana breds sired by low-profile, former claimer, Artemus Sunrise.

Since 1993, trainer Thomas Short is a mind-boggling 0-for-168 with first-time starters on dirt. A good many of those starters coming at tracks like Mountaineer, Hoosier, Indiana Downs, and River Downs. This coupled entry is a ludicrous 6/1 on the morning line. You can toss both of them.

All Her Glory (3/1 morning line) is another who looks worth opposing. Her dam Fly Away Angel was a nice racer who banked $259k, but she broke her maiden at ten furlongs and certainly was no precocious sprinter. All Her Glory is a half sister to $248k earner Sonja's Angel, but Sonja's Angel was drubbed by over 15 lengths in her career debut, for these same connections. What's more, Sonja's Angel is sired by Smoke Glacken, a more sprint oriented stallion than All Her Glory's sire, Bluegrass Cat. The worktab for All Her Glory includes nothing but slow breezes. She'll want more distance and doesn't offer any appeal at her low morning line price.

The 8/5 morning line favorite is the Steve Asmussen-trained Rousanne. This daughter of Desert Party was a $15,000 yearling. She competed in the Barrett's March two-year-old in training sale and drilled an 1/8th in a fairly average time of 10.40 seconds with the aid of blinkers.

Click here for video of her work.

She sold for just $37,000, making her one of the most inexpensive horses to sell at Barrett's March this year. While her worktab has steadily improved, you can't back her at short odds and simply have to look elsewhere.

The selection is Gypsy Angel Row for Wesley Ward. This daughter of First Defense sold for $90,000 as a yearling, making her the most expensive of her sire’s 14 yearlings sold at public auction that year. Gypsy Angel Row has a very good gate breeze on May 5th at Keeneland. Wesley Ward excels with early season debuters and virtually always has them ready to go and alert from the gate.

Betting Strategy: Win bet on #2 Gypsy Angel Row.  Play a trifecta keying Gypsy Angel Row on top of the 3, 4, and 5.

Santa Anita Race 1 (click for free Ultimate PPs)

A field of seven two-year-old fillies will sprint 4.5 furlongs—the same conditions Rachel Alexandra faced six years ago at Churchill Downs.

And as we noted above, Rachel Alexandra finished sixth that day—beaten more than eight lengths. As a daughter of Medaglia d'Oro out of a mare who was a stakes-winning router, she was poorly suited to racing 4.5 furlongs. Her trainer Hal Wiggins was an old-fashioned sort, who isn't afraid to start them early, but doesn't crank them up to try and win these type of races.

The expected favorite in this race is the very promising Enchanting Lady. Originally purchased as a yearling for $90,000, she worked an 1/8th in 10.20 seconds with the aid of blinkers at the OBS March 2-year-old sale.

Click here for a video of that work.

Considering her pedigree, it was a very impressive work, and she sold for $650,000. In just six months, her purchase price increased more than 7 times, thus making her an excellent pinhook.

Obviously, Enchanting Lady has a lot of promise. Her trainer, Bob Baffert, unlike Hal Wiggins, is someone who isn't afraid to crank them up to win early. Indeed, Enchanting Lady owns a pair of back-to-back 59-and-change gate drills on May 5 and May 12.

Still, Enchating Lady's pedigree is very poorly suited to this 4.5 furlong distance. Her dam A. P. Baby is a daughter of A. P. Indy from the up-close family of good routers like Olmodavor and Slow Down. Even with the two-year-old sale experience and the Baffert training, Enchanting Lady should simply want a whole lot more distance, so we're going to oppose her at the expected price.

The two horses I'm interested in are Seduire and Slew's Charm.

Seduire is a Jerry Hollendorfer-trained debuter by Elusive Quality. Her unraced dam is a full sister to Saintliness, a horse who captured the first five starts of her career on the NYRA circuit, before finishing second in the Grade 3 Next Move Handicap.

Seduire sold for $130,000 as a weanling. She was entered in the Barrett's March two-year-old sale, and drilled an 1/8th in a very respectable 10 seconds flat.

Click here for a video of her work.

In what might well have been a case of “when fools fall in love”—Regis Farm, who bought her as a weanling, had her withdrawn from the sale after that drill. She never actually went through the auction ring at Barrett's March, but instead went straight into training. Hollendorfer has given Seduire ten published workouts since her sales drill, including a good 46.80 drill from the gate on May 10th.

The other interesting debuter is Slew's Charm. She is a full sister to Gangnum Guy, a horse who debuted in the same race California Chrome did last April, finishing just one position behind him. Gangnum Guy went on to become three-times stakes placed.

Slew's Charm sports a very impressive worktab at Los Alamitos. Her trainer Mike Harrington does a very nice job with two-year-olds and has a profitable ROI with first-time-starters over the last five years.

Betting Strategy: Box Seduire and Slew's Charm in the exacta and give a lean to whichever one of the two is taking more early tote action.

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