J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
the coming weekend is a relatively quiet one in terms of major racing action,
there are a few noteworthy races scheduled to be run, including the Winter
Challenge Stakes at Los Alamitos, where California Chrome will enter the
starting gate for the penultimate time in his remarkable career.
handicapping attention this week will be on the Harlan's Holiday Stakes (gr.
III) at Gulfstream Park, which has drawn a small but competitive field, and
we'll also take a look at a few promising two-year-olds that either ran
recently or will be running this weekend. There's a lot to cover, so let's get
Harlan's Holiday Stakes (gr. III)
field of seven will contest this 8.5-furlong race at Gulfstream Park, including
Keen Ice, who finished third in the
Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) behind Arrogate and California Chrome. He could
start as the favorite off that effort and his win over American Pharoah in the
2015 Travers Stakes (gr. I), but 8.5 furlongs might be a bit too short for this
deep closer, and the speed-favoring nature of Gulfstream Park might not fit his
result, I view the Harlan's Holiday as a two-horse race between Stanford and Awesome Slew. The former is coming off a six-month layoff but was
in good form earlier this year, finishing second in the Fred W. Hooper Stakes
(gr. III) and Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) before winning the Charles Town
Classic (gr. II) by two lengths. Todd Pletcher does very well with horses
returning from layoffs of 180 days or more (31% wins and a $2.00 ROI over the
last five years) and has done particularly well with these horses at Gulfstream
Park, where his win percentage jumps to 35%.
Stanford looked excellent in a recent workout at Palm Beach Downs, easily
getting the better of stablemate Madefromlucky
before galloping-out in impressive fashion. From what I've seen, Stanford has
always been a good workhorse, but his last breeze suggests that he's coming up
to the Harlan's Holiday in good form and will be tough to beat. In addition,
drawing post one should help him save ground with a short run to the first
turn, and as a speed horse, he should be right in the mix as the field enters
the abbreviated homestretch (this race will end at the sixteenth pole).
main pace challenge should come from Awesome
Slew, a three-year-old facing older horses for the first time. Outside of a
last-place finish in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) over a sloppy track,
Awesome Slew has never run a bad race and ran very well in the nine-furlong
Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) last time out, setting a solid pace before tiring
late to finish fifth by 4 ¾ lengths. He finished best of the pacesetters that
day and wasn't badly beaten by the late-running duo of Connect and Gun Runner,
who came back to score Grade 1 victories against older horses last month.
Slew is now cutting back slightly in distance and picks up the services of
jockey Joel Rosario. While he might be at a slight disadvantage breaking
outside of Stanford, he's shown the ability to rate just off the lead in the
past, and if Stanford doesn't gun for the lead, Awesome Slew might very well be
able to clear him and take the rail. He's almost certain to be overlooked in
the wagering thanks to the trio of Pletcher runners, and at 5-1 or higher, I
think he's worth a play. How about a Stanford/Awesome Slew exacta?
would also briefly like to mention Madefromlucky,
who finished second in this race last. Like Stanford, he's coming off a long
layoff, and while he didn't look as good as his stablemate in their workout
together last week, Madefromlucky has never struck me as the strongest workhorse,
at least compared to Stanford. He could be at a disadvantage trying to rally
into a slow pace, but should have every chance to finish in the trifecta.
Sugar Bowl Stakes
heavy favorite in this six-furlong sprint for two-year-olds is Running Mate, an unbeaten and
unchallenged son of Creative Cause trained by Larry Jones. So impressive was
Running Mate in his first two victories that he was included in the first
Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool, closing at odds of 55-1.
to say, Running Mate has looked fantastic so far. In his debut going six
furlongs at Delaware Park, he sprinted to the lead and ran six rivals off their
feet to win by six lengths while closing the final furlong in a quick :11.81
seconds. He was just as eye-catching in a November 25th allowance
race at Fair Grounds, once again sprinting away to win by 7 ¾ lengths while
running the final two furlongs in :11.74 and :12.32.
more exciting is that Running Mate has a very strong pedigree that suggests two
turns won't be an issue; in fact, there's a chance that he will thrive at
longer distances and relish the ten furlongs of the Kentucky Derby.
Running Mate is the horse to beat in the Sugar Bowl Stakes, but I wouldn't
underestimate the chances of Proforma.
Trained by Mike Stidham, the son of Munnings finished third in his debut on
November 4th at Churchill Downs, beaten 4 ¾ lengths by the future
stakes winner Saint's Fan (see below). A bit more than three weeks later,
Proforma returned to action in a six-furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs and
rallied to win by a neck in the fast time of 1:10.07, closing the fifth furlong
in about :11.60 and the final furlong in about :12 flat. As a closer, he could
be at a tactical disadvantage against the speedy Running Mate, but the talent
is there and I think he's a solid choice to round out the exacta or even pull
off a minor upset.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes races?
A Few More 2yos to Watch
of the attention last week was focused on Los Alamitos and Gulfstream Park,
where a solid group of stakes races for two-year-olds were conducted and horses
like Mastery, Tapwrit, and Fact Finding stamped
themselves as names to watch on the Derby trail.
there were a couple other notable races that might have slipped by unnoticed,
including the Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile Stakes at Fair Grounds. A
six-furlong race for Louisiana-breds isn't usually where you look to find
Kentucky Derby contenders, but this year might prove to be an exception. The
winner was Saint's Fan, a colt I
profiled on Unlocking Winners a couple of weeks ago (click here to read.) The
Dallas Stewart-trained runner had won his debut in impressive fashion at
Churchill Downs and looked even better last Saturday; despite breaking slowly
and spotting the field two lengths, he rallied smoothly on the turn to reach
contention and then ran down the leader in the homestretch to win going away by
two lengths. He was a bit green in the homestretch, but nevertheless showed a
strong turn-of-foot, running the fifth furlong in about :11.60 and the final
furlong in about :12.90 on his way to a final time of 1:10.74. (VIDEO)
told, I thought this was an exceptional performance from a lightly-raced colt
that is bred to run longer. Saint's Fan is now 2-for-2 and is expected to
target the January 21st LeComte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds,
where he will attempt two turns for the first time while facing the impressive
Remington Springboard Mile winner Cool
of Cool Arrow, he had an overwhelming pace advantage on paper in Sunday's
Remington Springboard Mile, and the race played out as expected when none of
his eleven rivals challenged him for the lead. Cool Arrow found himself with a clear
advantage through very slow fractions of :24.68, :49.79, and 1:14.54; needless
to say, he accelerated his final quarter-mile in a quick :24.18 and left his
rivals behind to win by 3 ½ lengths. (VIDEO)
reason I mention this is because runner-up Totality
ran a great race under the circumstances. Reserved toward the back of the
pack early on, about four lengths off the pace, Totality matched strides with
Cool Arrow through the final two furlongs and was the only horse in the race
that didn't lose ground in the homestretch. With a better pace setup, he might
have finished closer, and he could be a colt to watch from the powerful team of
trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Winchell Thoroughbreds.
other race that caught my eye last week was Laurel Park's Maryland Juvenile
Futurity for Maryland-bred or Maryland-sired two-year-olds. The winner was Greatbullsoffire, a son of Bullsbay
that entered the race having won three of his five starts, including two stakes
races. Coming off of a modest third-place finish in the Christopher Elser
Memorial Stakes at Parx, Greatbullsoffire was sent off as only the third choice
against seven rivals, but wound up cruising to victory like a 1-5 favorite.
Greatbullsoffire looked fantastic. After settling in third behind fractions of
:23.44 and :46.93, Greatbullsoffire moved up on the outside to take the lead
and then powered away from the field with a sudden burst of speed. Striding
away powerfully, Greatbullsoffire ran the third quarter-mile in about :24.10,
then flew through a final furlong in :11.75 to leave his rivals six lengths
behind, and his final time for seven furlongs was a quick 1:22.85. (VIDEO)
has shown steady improvement throughout the year, and his Maryland Juvenile
Futurity effort was another step in the right direction. The field that he beat
was respectable; the runner-up was the stakes-placed Todd Pletcher colt Bonus Points, and fourth-place finisher
O Dionysus had beaten
Greatbullsoffire in the Christopher Elser Memorial Stakes.
his victory, Greatbullsoffire received a solid Beyer speed figure of 83, and
his pedigree (click here to view)--plus the way he finished on Saturday--suggests
that he can handle longer distances. I'm looking forward to seeing how he
progresses down the road!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.