By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
On a quiet weekend of
mid-January racing, one of the best races on the agenda is the $200,000
California Cup Derby for California-bred three-year-olds racing 1 1/16 miles at
Six horses are entered to
race, including a pair of proven stakes winners. Let's take a horse-by-horse
look at the field, then assemble selections to be used for straight exacta,
trifecta, and/or superfecta wagers:
#1 Highland Ghost (5-1): Ultra-hot jockey Flavien Prat (a 39% winner at Santa
Anita this meet) will guide Highland Ghost, a son of Santa Anita H. (G1) hero
Shaman Ghost. The chestnut sophomore is shipping south off a pace-pressing
victory in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance optional claimer over the Tapeta track at
Golden Gate Fields.
But Highland Ghost's dirt
form is unremarkable, and his career-best 83 Brisnet Speed rating looks a
little light against his California Cup Derby rivals. A spot in the superfecta
might be the ceiling for Highland Ghost's potential.
#2 Sippin N Kissin (20-1): Dirt or turf, sprinting or routing—it doesn't make a
difference to Sippin N Kissin, who has run well over a variety of conditions.
But the son of Stay Thirsty has yet to win a race from seven starts, and his
career-best 73 Brisnet Speed rating suggests he'll need a step forward to
challenge on Saturday.
#3 Fast Draw Munnings (4-1): Never out of the trifecta in three starts, Fast Draw
Munnings has shown promise over a wide range of distances. After winning his
debut dashing 5 1/2 furlongs at Los Alamitos, the Jeff Mullins trainee ran
third in Del Mar's seven-furlong Golden State Juvenile S. and third again in
the one-mile King Glorious S. at Los Alamitos.
Fast Draw Munnings is
versatile in terms of running style, and his Brisnet Speed ratings (82, 88, and
86) are respectable. But he finished behind California Cup Derby rivals Finneus
and Straight Up G in his two stakes attempts, so Fast Draw Munnings will need a
step forward to secure better than a trifecta finish on Saturday. The good news
is, Mullins wins at a 21% rate with horses running long for the second time,
and a sharp five-furlong gate breeze in :59 1/5 last week hints Fast Draw
Munnings might be sitting on improvement.
#4 Finneus (5-2): The
most accomplished of the California Cup Derby entrants is Finneus, who
displayed strong form against tougher company when finishing second in both the
Best Pal S. (G2) and Del Mar Futurity (G1) during the summer. He reiterated his
talent in the seven-furlong Golden State Juvenile S. on Nov. 5 at Del Mar,
rallying gamely to beat next-out Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) winner Slow Down
Andy by half a length.
But Finneus subsequently
settled for second place in the one-mile King Glorious S. at Los Alamitos,
beaten 3 1/2 lengths by California Cup Derby rival Straight Up G. It's worth
noting Finneus boasts a 5-2-2-1 record sprinting and a 2-0-1-0 record running
long, and longer trips seem to dull his stretch kick. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez
(a 37% winner this meet) is named to ride, but I wonder if the distance of the
California Cup Derby will stretch the limits of Finneus' stamina.
#5 Straight Up G (4-5): It's easy to see why Straight Up G is an odds-on favorite
to win the California Cup Derby. Since finishing fourth behind Slow Down Andy
in his debut at Santa Anta, the Richard Baltas trainee has been unstoppable.
Straight Up G had no trouble wiring a six-furlong maiden special weight at Del
Mar by 5 1/4 lengths, after which he trounced Finneus by 3 1/2 lengths in the King
With Brisnet Speed ratings
of 90 and 92 under his belt, Straight Up G is the fastest horse in the
California Cup Derby. His pacesetting speed is an asset, considering there isn't
a ton of pace in Saturday's field. If he gets out in front under Ricardo Gonzalez
(who has gone 3-for-4 riding for Baltas over the last two months), Straight Up
G can cruise to a second consecutive stakes win.
#6 Agador Spartacus (20-1): The second son of Shaman Ghost in Saturday's field has
cracked the trifecta three times while competing on both dirt and turf. But his
0-for-8 resume and career-best 83 Brisnet Speed rating are two stats suggesting
the California Cup Derby will be a difficult spot for Agador Spartacus to
challenge for victory.
1st: Straight Up G
2nd: Fast Draw Munnings
4th: Highland Ghost
If our perfect combination
comes in, we'll have every chance to translate straight exotic wagers into lucrative
payoffs, even if the California Cup Derby comes up chalky overall.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the California Cup Derby?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.