The Shoemaker Mile Stakes
By Justin Finch
The Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile has a field of seven older horses running one mile on the turf course for a purse of $400,000.
According to the TFUS Pace Projector, the morning line favorite, Obviously (#1), will be on a clear early lead, followed by Winning Prize (#4) in the "two-hole," then Tom's Tribute (#3), Silentio (#7), and Pulpit's Express (#6). Then there's a gap back to the eastern shippers Jack Milton (#2, 3-1) and Summer Front (#5, 6-1). The pace is projected to be neither fast nor slow. However, the seemingly overmatched gelding Pulpit's Express shares an owner (Gary Barber) with the deep-closer Jack Milton, thus raising the possibility that Pulpit's Express is in here as a rabbit, in which case he is certain to outrun his pace projection by a fair amount. The clear lead that Obviously is projected to have seems significant when one notes that all 8 of his victories in this country came when he had the lead early.
Let's go over the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
Obviously (9-5): Won this race last year, at 1-5 odds, when it was run at Hollywood Park. Makes his second start off the layoff and his second start for able trainer Philip D'Amato, who took over the Mike Mitchell barn when the legendary trainer retired. Should benefit from the rail draw, as it might discourage the competition from sending for the lead. Taking the track from this gelding is going to be a tall order indeed. Is proven at this class level and has the best speed figures in the field. Enters off a tune-up in the Grade 3 American: a tune-up that received a speed figure of 119. Has been training extremely well for this. One tough customer--even if obliged to deal with a rabbit early.
Jack Milton (3-1): Ran a big lifetime top of 119 when winning the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont 19 days ago. The Poker received a Race Rating of 115, which fits fairly well among the races his competition exits. Has the second-best Late Pace rating in the field, a 101, and figures to be a prime beneficiary if a speed duel does develop. Will need to avoid a bounce off the cross-country ship for trainer Todd Pletcher, who has terrific Trainer Ratings in most of the relevant categories but gets a decidedly unPletcheresque rating of only 53 at Santa Anita.
Tom's Tribute (6-1): Received a speed figure of 113 when winning a minor stake in his last start. Did so while receiving an ideal pace set-up for his closing style, but it was an impressive-looking victory nonetheless. Four-year-old will almost certainly have to run his lifetime best to contend for the victory here, but he could have it in him, as he figures to receive a comfortable trip today. Seems a decent candidate for exactas at a bit of a price.
Winning Prize (5-2): Freshened after winning the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe wire to wire and earning a speed figure of 115. Today, he may well revert to the stalking style he employed when winning the Grade 2 Arcadia. Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale is currently getting a rating of only 58 off layoffs.
Summer Front (6-1): The trainer of the hour, Christophe Clement, ships this horse to California off a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy at Belmont, a performance that earned a figure of only 107. Has some back numbers that can compete in here and has run his race in California in the past. He's another who would benefit from a speed duel, but he needs to do considerably better than he has done in his last two starts.
Pulpit's Express (30-1): Likely to make some noise early to help his uncoupled entrymate but is overmatched today.
Silentio (5-1): Was thrown off his game in the American when he was used early to give Obviously some company up front. The strategy failed badly. We don't expect to see it again. He is at his best from off the pace.
Obviously to win and exacta with Obviously over Tom's Tribute.
The Stephen Foster Handicap
By Mike Beer
This year's running of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap drew a talented field of nine, but all eyes are likely to be on the 3yo champion colt of 2013, Will Take Charge (#4, 5-2), who is the key to the race.
Will Take Charge, of course, put in a strong run of form toward the end of last year to nail down championship honors. He won the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, missed by a nose in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and then went to Kentucky and gunned down Game On Dude to win the Clark Handicap over today's track and trip. He then picked up this year right where he left off last year, running lights out to be second-best in both the Donn and the Big Cap, before finally getting another well-deserved win in the Oaklawn Handicap. It was that race in Hot Springs, in retrospect, that indicated that a long series of races had perhaps caught up with Will Take Charge. He prevailed at the end that day, but his victory was far from authoritative, and he had to survive an inquiry after drifting in through the stretch and tightening things up on, among others, Revolutionary, whom he will meet again today. Rather than get a break after that hard-fought win, Will Take Charge was sent back to Churchill Downs to contest the Alysheba Stakes on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. He was in receipt of a rider change to Gary Stevens for that race, and, for the first time since his run through the Triple Crown series the year before, he came up empty.
Has all of the shipping around the country to contest the biggest races finally caught up with this horse? Based on his last race, the answer to that is an easy "yes." Clearly, if Will Take Charge shows up with one of his good races, he will be too much for this field. But he never looked like winning in his last start, and was so flat through the stretch that we have to take the position, especially if he is once more a short price, that he has finally raced himself out of form and simply needs a break. We're going to be against him in the Foster.
The other logical horse in this race is Revolutionary (#1, 2-1), who is in fact favored on the ML. He has picked up his form as a 4yo, and the argument could be made that he was going to beat Will Take Charge in the Oaklawn Handicap were it not for that one tightening him up in the stretch. After that race, Revolutionary went to Pimlico and put in a furious late run to get up after almost losing contact with the field in the early stages. That race exhibits everything that we don't like about this horse, however. Revolutionary has always had potential, and we were of the opinion for much of last year that he had a chance to turn out to be among the very best of his crop of 3yos. But he has morphed into a one-run closer, and playing closers at short prices is a dangerous game. Unless they figure to get the right kind of pace setup to run into (Pace Projector indicates that will not be the case in the Stephen Foster) or are simply better than their competition and can overcome a disadvantageous scenario, deep closers like Revolutionary are dicey propositions, at best. He can win, but if he is favored, we're definitely playing against him.
Our alternatives against the two favorites are Long River (#8, 15-1) and Departing (#6, 9-2). Long River is a late-developer, but he really began putting things together at the end of last year, and he has run big in a pair of recent defeats over this distance in 2014. He earned a new top speed figure of 114 despite being fought off by stablemate Romansh in the Grade 3 Excelsior, and then paid the price for taking the race to Game On Dude in the rich Charles Town Classic, which is contested around three-turns. That race may appear to be a step back for Long River, but he actually ran quite well in that spot, and we think he is ready to break out this summer.
Departing managed to work out an inside run to defeat a lesser group off the layoff. He, too, has always had potential, and he didn't appear to be fully cranked up for that run off the bench. He has already won three times over this nine-furlong distance, and on our speed figures, he is already plenty fast enough to contend here, assuming Will Take Charge doesn't run to his top efforts.
We'll wait for the post-time odds before deciding which one of our alternatives to key on. Based on the ML, it's an easy call: Take the 15/1 on Long River over the 9/2 on Departing. But it would be pretty surprising if the odds actually looked that way at post time.