This race has been owned by Steve Asmussen in recent years. He’s won 5 of the last 6 runnings and he’s got the highly rated Merkel in this one. I’m inclined to go against him though as I was not all that impressed with the way Merkel broke his maiden. There looks like an abundance of speed in this race but that is because most of these horses are exiting winning performances in 4 1/2f races and realistically most of them are won wire to wire. That doesn’t mean these horses are all pure speed and we’re headed for a pace meltdown. In fact I think the speed of the speed will have an advantage. The speed of the speed in my opinion is Dicey Riley. I loved his maiden victory and he came out of that and drilled a 4f bullet. Ward has known for a while that this was a good colt. He had him out in California in the spring and brought him along to Kentucky when Keeneland opened instead of staying in Cal. I think this horse is the goods, the stable is hot and Gomez stays on board. I want to highlight trainer Wesley Ward just a bit because he might not be that well known to everyone. He has not had very many good horses and despite some success he is not even well known as a proficient 2yo trainer. The reason is because his stable and training styles are geared for speed. His horses always seem to break well and either set or contest the pace. I have not seen many of his horses stretch out successfully. That may have to do with breeding and training styles. But there is no question that the one thing he excels at is short 2yo sprints early in the year. He has won a ton of 2yo races at Keeneland, Santa Anita and Hollywood before the month of June. The horse I fear most is Garden District. Fillies often mature faster than males and she looked very good coming from just off the pace at Keeneland. I’d box her in the exacta with Dicey Riley.
Aegon Turf Sprint Stakes
This is the first stakes race that is officially a part of the Derby/Oaks weekend and while I have not seen the fields for all the stakes on Saturday this race may yield my pick of the weekend. I love Demarcation in this spot. He has been a solid late running sprinter all his life. His turf experience is limited but the two times he did test the sod he ran extremely well and those were in route races. He has a huge late kick and this race appears set to have a fast pace. The hot Mr. Nightlinger will have to deal with Indian Ashton, a California speedster from the Ward barn. I think the pace will be blazing and it sets up for a horse like Demarcation who by the way has a history against Mr. Nightlinger. Both horses have spent a lot of time at the Fair Grounds and in December they faced each other in an allowance. Mr Nightlinger got to set the pace by himself while Demarcation settled a good 8 lengths off the pace. At the line Mr Nightlinger just held off Demarcation but was DQ’ed for interfering with another runner. Demarcation then went out and tried his hand against the undefeated Euroears. He ran well but was no match for him. The off the turf route race in his last is not really a good barometer of his form. He will do much better back at a sprint distance. He has a history of doing some of his best running off a layoff and for a horse that rarely works fast the turf bullet in his last workout stands out.. Leparoux is also a good rider of late runners. He ready to go and he’s 8/1 on the morning line. I only hope people continue to overlook him.
Ginger Punch went down surprisingly easy in her last race but I think she is setup well to rebound. She set the pace in the Apple Blossom which, if you look at her running lines, is not her best game. Especially going a route of ground. Here she gets Bayou’s Lassie to set the tempo for her just like in the Sunshine Million Distaff. Unless her form is really tailing off this ought to be a walk in the park for her. Even rain should not derail the mission. She has great form on off tracks. It’s an uninteresting selection but I think it’s the right one.
I think this is another race that boils down to the favorites. Grace and Power versus Zee Zee. Both have plenty of merit and it would actually shock me if neither of them won the race. If you’re playing a multi-race exotic I think you have to use both and move on. But if you’re just playing the race in isolation I think for profitability’s sake we need to pick one and go with that. Grace And Power is making her 2008 debut after a 2yo season that saw her finish second to Country Star in the Starlet and run third in what was essentially the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. The ground was a bog that weekend and she ran a good race to be third. We know she handles off going so if the rain comes down on Friday that could play to her advantage. Her figures are solid and her form is air tight. Other than in the BC undercard race the only horses to beat her are Country Star and Bsharpsonata. Zee Zee’s form does not look as great upon first inspection because her last two running lines show her running out of the frame. But those races were on dirt and Poytrack. On the grass she has but one defeat and that came at the hands of Nownonow who won the inaugural BC Juvenile Turf. Her form on the grass is flawless otherwise and I think her race against Ariege in the Beaumont will serve as more of a tightener than anything. Mott does not usually crank his horses to do well of the bench. The form looks about equal between the favorites so it may come down to pace. Grace and Power was close to the pace in her first races but was taken steadily further back over her next few. I think the sharp recent works and the freshness will see her a bit keyed up. The pace could be sharp with a few speedy members of the field so I’m thinking that Zee Zee may have a slight advantage there. She has always shut off very well but has good tactical speed. I give her a very slight edge here.
The key to this race is Jonesboro as long as he runs I don’t think Wanderin Boy will be up to the task. If for some reason Jonesboro scratches I think the Zito speedster will have the field by the throat. Wanderin Boy is a pretty easy horse to read. When he can set the pace by himself he wins. If not, he doesn’t. Jonesboro should ensure a solid pace and that leaves the race to Chelokee in my estimation. The Matz trainee was highly touted last year but through injury he never quite got on track. Still he’s won 4 of his last 5 races and he has shown a preference for Churchill Downs before. He is another horse who does not usually fire bullets in the morning but he did in his most recent work. This might be the coming out party for Chelokee. You have to respect Giant Gizmo as well given the way the Californians have done when coming east. He looks a step behind right now but dirt could move him up. I’d only use him underneath though as I’m a touch skeptical, he’s already had a try on dirt and it was not a big move forward. Another horse you need to keep an eye on is Better Than Bonds. He’s 10/1 but is an excellent upset candidate as well as a must use in exotics. He brings his best effort basically every time he runs and while he has generally looked better at Delaware than anywhere else I think his form needs to be respected.
Crown Royal American Turf Stakes
This race could go many ways, I’m hoping for a bit of a price. You have to respect Prussian and Cannonball. Prussian was touted as a potential superstar last year and if he’s ever going to live up to that you’d think he could handle a field like this. Cannonball has been knocking heads with the best and has been holding his own. Cowboy Cal and Why Tonto aren’t in this field so that should move him up right there. We also know that he loves the grass, any type of grass so his Polytrack form can be forgiven. The problem is that both horses like to be on the pace and so does Tizdejavu. Cape of Storms and Sailors Cap can also have some early foot if they feel like it. I prefer some horses coming from off the pace. Chief among them I feel is Free Fighter. I liked him in the Transylvania but that race came off the grass. He still ran a decent 5th that day but Turf is what he really wants. I think he has the potential to upset this race. He’s been working sharply and I think Chris Block is quite good at placing his horses. Nistle’s Crunch also needs to be respected. He ran a huge race at Keeneland last time and have performed well on the grass each time he’s been on it. It’s kind of shocking that neither Albarado nor Desormeaux wanted this mount. Boss Laffite and Halo Najib, who were chosen instead, don’t look anywhere near as good. That may add some value to the McPeek trainee. I suppose Blackberry road could find new life on the grass but I prefer horses with a little form on the grass.
This is the toughest race of the day without question if Eight Belles does not run. If the Porter filly stays in I like her to beat this field by open lengths but I really don’t expect her to run at all and that leaves the race wide open. The field really is crying out for a filly like Indian Blessing to lead them wire to wire. There is basically no true speed. Little Belle and Bsharpsonata have a bit but Elusive Lady will likely lead them. I took a long hard look at Elusive Lady hoping that there would be something I could cling to to bring this 30/1 shot home. But despite the clear advantage of being able to set any pace she wants I don’t think she can do it. She simply won’t stay and even with everything her own way I think they still run her down. She hasn’t even worked beyond 4f since last November at least. Even though Elusive Lady likely can’t win on the front end it still means we’ll likely have a slack pace and that could mean that the plucky Bsharpsonata could have another good race. This horse just won’t go away. It seems as though she is performing above herself right now and I keep looking for signs that she might regress but this little girl is all heart and is clearly ultra consistent. I can’t ignore her here, not with a slow pace that she should be able to track nicely. I think she’ll get first run on horses like Proud Spell, Pure Clan, Golden Doc A and Country Star, all legitimate potential winners, and I also think that she can dispose of Little Belle this time. I think Little Belle is actually too slow to handle the big guns in here. Bsharpsonata has already proven that she can pull out a big effort when she needs to. I could also be totally wrong and perhaps the late closing quartet (Proud Spell, Pure Clan, Golden Doc A, Country Star) will dominate the race despite the pace. I think Proud Spell is the classiest member of that trio but the worst bet on Oaks day. I much prefer Golden Doc A at 12/1. Everyone knows how well the Californians have done on dirt tracks. Losing twice to Ariege is no disgrace. She always seems to be coming too late but perhaps a move to dirt will see her step up her game. At the price you simply can’t leave her out. I think Pure Clan has improved this year and is coming up to a nice race, she is my third choice but I’m not quite sure that she merits a win wager on her nose. She is another that has been coming too late in her races but unlike Golden Doc A she has not won a race this year. Proud Spell and Country Star are both coming in off of lackluster efforts on Polytrack and they could easily rebound and win. But I think both will be bet down more than they should relative to their chances and they could easily both miss the frame. They’re classy but not scary.
Golden Doc A