Two Kentucky Derby Contenders Put Their Undefeated Records On The Line

Today, Saturday January 30th, two Kentucky Derby Contenders will put their undefeated records on the line with Mohaymen (3 starts, 3 wins) in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park and Smokey Image (5 starts, 5 wins) in the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita Park.

California Cup Derby – Race #5 at Santa Anita Park – 1 1/16th Mile – Post Time 4:01 CST

PP/Horse (weight)/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds

1. Tough It Out (119) Gonzalez/D’Amato 6-1
2. Smokey Image (123) Espinosa/Gaines 4-5
3. Record Highs (119) Talamo/Gaines 10-1
4. Demonslayer (119) Bejarano/Baltas 8-1
5. Glory Bound (119) Maldonado/Dollase 4-1
6. Xingontothebone (121) Pedroza/Solis 8-1
7. Loyalist (119) Pratt/Koriner 12-1

My Prediction: I feel that Smokey Image is vulnerable stretching out past his longest distance win at 7 furlongs. And he hasn’t raced since last October. Glory Bound came up short in the King Glorious Stakes on December 12th against Found Money at a mile distance. Play a 2,5 Boxed Exacta to be safe.

Holy Bull Stakes –  Race #11 at Gulfstream Park – 1 1/16th Mile – Post Time 4:05 CST

PP/Horse (weight)/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Perfect Saint (116) Lanerie/Romans 20-1
2. Mohaymen (120) Alvarado/McLaughlin 6-5
3. Fellowship (116) Caraballo/Gold 20-1
4. Conquest Big E (116) Smith/Casse 7-2
5. Greenpointcrusader (122) Velazquez/Schettino 8-5
6. Frontier Ranger (116) Zayas/Pellgrini 15-1

My Prediction: Mohaymen extends his winning streak. I like Conquest Big E and Greenpointcrusader to round out the trifecta. It is tough to split them so I would recommend keying Mohaymen to win in a Trifecta (2 over 4,5 over 4,5).

In the other key race of the day, the Withers Stakes (race #4) at Aqueduct at 12:50 PM CST, I like a Flexibility-Sunny Ridge (2,7) Straight Exacta.


Songbird – Could she be the next Kentucky Derby winning filly?

Last year, American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought by becoming 12th Triple Crown Champion. A far rarer feat in horse racing is a filly winning the Kentucky Derby. It has only happened 3 times in 141 Kentucky Derbies. Regret became the first in 1915. Then Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors in 1988 (video shown below).

So it has been 28 years since the last filly–Winning Colors–won the Kentucky Derby. This year’s crop of fillies headlined by Songbird and Rachel’s Valentina is the best in recent memory.

Entering 2016, I felt that Songbird was the best 2 year-old in 2015 regardless of gender and she showed me enough to warrant racing against the boys. Her performance and winning time in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies race (shown below) compared to Nyquist‘s winning time at the same distance, same track on the same day in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race is what sold me on this filly. Songbird won with a time of 1:42.73  (Mike Smith never had to use the whip) vs Nyquist’s time of 1:43.79.  A full second faster and good for over 6 lengths. I was there at Keeneland that weekend and her race that day was the earlier one (race #3) and generally the track got faster over the course of the day.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith is really high on this filly and he had contemplated retiring at age 50 until he rode Songbird. He has fallen in love all over again (I don’t blame him). Smith has ridden some great horses and especially great fillies over his career with the best being Zenyatta (see highlight video below).

Could Songbird be the best filly since Zenyatta? Zenyatta had a different style. She was a closer which matched up well on faster synthetic track surfaces that she primarily ran on. But Zenyatta did race on a dirt surface as a 4 year-old in the 2008 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park. Her winning time in this 1 1/16th mile race? 1:42.64. Songbird has already came within a tenth of a second (0.09 seconds to be exact) of that time as a 2 year-0ld racing against the best fillies in the world. And Mike Smith never had to show or use the whip on Songbird like he had to with Zenyatta. Songbird’s racing style is get out in front early and WIRE THE FIELD.

Songbird is undefeated in 4 starts. So what is the plan for her? Songbird’s next race is pegged to be the Grade 2 Las Virgenes Stakes against the girls at Santa Anita Park on February 6th. I feel that trainer Jerry Hollendorfer could follow a similar schedule that Winning Colors had in 1988 when she raced the following races:

Unfortunately, the Santa Anita Oaks and the Santa Anita Derby are on the same day this year so Songbird would have to be entered in the San Felipe Stakes against the boys on March 12th or the Santa Ysabel Stakes against the girls on March 5th before the Santa Anita Derby on April 9th.

If jockey Mike Smith is excited about this filly and she kept him from retirement, that is good enough for me. She is special. Keep a close eye on her in the coming months. A filly in the Kentucky Derby would be exciting for the sport. A filly with a chance at winning a Triple Crown would be pandemonium.


California Chrome is back–wins the San Pasqual Stakes!

It had been over 9 months since the 2014 Horse of the Year–California Chrome–last raced in the Dubai World Cup in March of 2015. The 4 year-old’s racing campaign then was put on the shelf as he suffered a cannon bone bruise. But to the delight of many “Chromies,” he bounced back after a long layoff to win the San Pasqual Stakes yesterday at Santa Anita Park (shown below).

California Chrome understandably tired a bit down the stretch, winning by 1 1/4 lengths with a time of 1:43.39. That is not an overly impressive time. However, all things considering, it was a decent time under the circumstances. For comparison purposes, he ran 1:43.22 in January of 2014 at Santa Anita Park at the same 1 1/16 mile distance in the California Cup Derby (shown below).

After that race in January of 2014, California Chrome became a huge star in the sport, winning the San Felipe Stakes, the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness Stakes.  California Chrome’s bid to win a Triple Crown took a blow when he gashed his foot coming out of the gate in the Belmont Stakes. He still managed a 4th place finish.

With the retirements of American Pharoah, Liam’s Map, Honor Code, Tonalist and the sad and untimely death of Shared Belief in December due to colic, California Chrome gives the sport a much-needed boost in the handicap division.

Looking forward to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 2016 3 year-old class doesn’t appear to be as strong as the 2014 and 2015 class thus far. So as it stands right now, I feel that the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Champion will likely come from the older, handicap division from a contingent of horses like California Chrome, Beholder, Dortmund, Effinex, Keen Ice, etc.

In my last 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic watch list rankings, I ranked them this way: 1) Beholder, 2) Effinex, 3) California Chrome, 4) Dortmund and 5) Keen Ice, 6) Frosted, 7) Smooth Roller, 8) Firing Line, 9) Catch A Flight and 10) Texas Red.

The only horses above that have worked out thus far in the past month are: California Chrome, Dortmund, Keen Ice and Frosted. Several horses on this list are coming back from injuries and a few from long layoffs.

The San Pasqual was originally thought to be a showdown between California Chrome and Dortmund. In Dortmund’s return to racing back in October, he ran a 1:36.42 in the 1 mile Big Bear Stakes at Santa Anita Park compared to California Chrome’s 1:36.96 through a mile at the same track yesterday in the San Pasqual. However, in Dortmund’s last workout on Sunday January 2nd, he ran 7 furlongs in an unimpressive time of 1:25 4/5. That was enough to convince trainer Bob Baffert that he wasn’t ready for the task. Consequently, Dortmund was not entered into the San Pasqual Stakes.

So for now, I see no reason to not be encouraged by California Chrome’s performance yesterday relative to his competition in the older horse division. He beat a couple of decent horses yesterday in Hoppertunity (who has never finished below 4th in a graded stakes race) and Hard Aces (who won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita last June and finished 6th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic). California Chrome is not where he was prior to the injury–but he is back and I expect him to improve in the coming months.