We have reached the finish line for 2017 and, looking back, it has been yet another good year. The year has been filled with thrilling moments that I will go over a little more in depth in my soon to be released “2017 Eclipse Awards Championships Preview” article.
As far as what we have accomplished here, we will make a run at hitting at a 40% clip for the third time in the last four years. The average handicapper wins in the 30% to 33% range so I like to think it’s been a good year for us too.
To finish up the year, we will be looking at three more races, highlighted by the 2017 American Oaks at Santa Anita. The Grade: 1, $300,000 turf contest for three year olds and up fillies and mares, drew a field of 10 led by New Money Honey.
While at Santa Anita we will also be breaking down the Midnight Lute Stakes, a 6 ½ furlong dash for three year olds and up, and the Robert Frankel Stakes, a nine furlong turf contest also for three year olds and up.
December 26, 2017 – “Back- Track”
In the first of two surprises, 13-1 shot Giant Expectations, under perhaps the best “front end” rider I’ve ever seen in Gary Stevens, took the lead almost right from the start. After being allowed to get away with ridiculously slow early fractions (:24.4 and :49), he had plenty left to “kick away” down the stretch and win this one easily. Accelerate bounced back into form with a very good, late running second. Collected, the mammoth 1/5 favorite, was in trouble right from the get go, was too far back early on and checked in third. “It was a bad ride. It was my fault,” said jockey Mike Smith, who took over riding Collected for Martin Garcia, who relocated to New York. “I slipped leaving the gate. We should have been on the lead. Then they were going too slow and we couldn’t get there in the end.”
Unique Bella broke a tad slow and raced four wide down the backside. The Amazonian filly did not have a good trip from start to finish. In fact, the only part I saw that I liked was she was taken back off the early pace in this race. She made a bold, five wide run at the mega talented Paradise Woods (who was on the lead at that point) leaving the five-sixteenths pole and engaged that rival at the top of the stretch. After a brief tussle, Unique Bella “inched away” down the lane to win by three quarters of a length. The gray filly by Tapit stopped the clock in a strong 1:21.2 for the seven furlongs. A tip of the cap and much respect to Paradise Woods, who dug in and fought valiantly…and I mean valiantly….but could not fend off the winner in deep stretch. Mopotism closed well late to grab the “show dough” at 16-1. I thought she ran well too as she was just two and a half lengths behind the winner.
The Malibu was the second surprise of the day when 7 ½ to 1 shot City of Light blew the starting gate and quickly established an early lead. He ripped through early fractions and I was waiting for him to tire but he never did. He won by two and stopped the clock in an excellent 1:21.1 for the seven furlongs. Edwards Going Left, who I said in my preview would be a long shot to look out for, was running very well late and grabbed the place spot at 14-1. Third place finisher Favorable Outcome was doing his best down the lane but just came up short. Overall, I thought he put in a good effort. Pavel, who I still think is being grossly mismanaged, ran “ok” to finish fifth. The previously unbeaten C Z Rocket was closer to the early pace than I thought, but his stride shortened noticeably leaving the quarter pole and he wound up coming in sixth. Ditto for the previously unbeaten Dabster, who was also among the vanguard early but had nothing left when the real running began.
Santa Anita Park
Saturday, December 30, 2017
Race: 4 (5:00 PM EST Post)
Robert Frankel Stakes
Penjade – is having a sensational year. This stretch running filly from the Chad Brown barn is four for five in 2017 and has hit the board in 13 of 16 races overall in her career. I’m only seeing two issues. One, this field lacks any bona fide “speed”, so tactically this race doesn’t set up for her all that well. Two, she draws the dreaded #1 post which might hinder her running style. If she can handle those two situations, and I suspect she can in her current racing form, she’ll be tough to beat in this spot……………..Elysea’s World – doesn’t have the prettiest stats in the world (0 for 8 this year, 1 for 7 at this distance and just 3 for 15 in her career) and she hasn’t won a horse race of any kind in 366 days. That said, based off her last three races, this filly is in good racing form right now. It also must be noted she experienced some traffic issues in mid stretch of her last race, yet was only beaten by a half length (to my top pick). Bottom line here is Elysea’s World and Penjade make for a very nice 1-2 punch for trainer Chad Brown………..…………Responsibleforlove – is more of a consistent runner than anything else. Filly from the Neil Drysdale barn has been “right there” in her last five starts dating back to April while winning only one. All told, she has hit the board in five of six races this year and 10 of 12 in her career. Lastly, although she disappointed as the 2-1 favorite in her last, her run in the Grade: 1 Rodeo Stakes two back was an enormous effort.…..clearly looks best of the rest……….Honorable Mentions: Laseen – mirrors Elysea’s World in the sense that her stats are ugly (0 for 9 this year, 3 for 30 in her career and 0 for 4 over this turf course) but she also experienced traffic issues (not once, but twice) in her last race, yet was beaten by only one length at the wire.
Race: 7 (6:30 PM EST Post)
Although Rymska was beaten by New Money Honey twice late in 2016, and she is lightly raced this year (she had some tendonitis issues in the spring), I’m taking her in this spot. Still another filly from the Chad Brown barn, she comes into this riding a three race winning streak and was visually impressive overcoming a pedestrian early pace to win her last. A winner of five of eight career starts, you won’t miss her on the track as she is all black and absolutely gorgeous ….slight edge in very well matched field……………………Daddys Lil Darling – is another gorgeous filly. Although she is just 3 for 14 in her career, this stretch running daughter of Scat Daddy is in career best form right now as her last three races were all bang up efforts. Big work on Christmas Eve signals to me she might be sitting on yet another big one……………….Madam Dancealot – has improved quite a bit from the spring/summer to now. Although she was beaten fair and square by Daddys Lil Darling in her last at Keeneland, her race two back in the Del Mar Oaks was mind boggling good as she came from last, and some 15-16 lengths back, to miss winning by a neck. I’m not digging her drawing the #1 post but her rider, Corey Nakatani, should have plenty of time in a 10 furlong race to figure out a good trip…………………….Honorable Mentions: I hate putting New Money Honey this far down because she could easily better this rating. Yet another filly from the Chad Brown barn, this $450,000 lass had legitimate excuses in her last two races (three wide and too close to a three pronged pace battle in her last and was overmatched on a surface she doesn’t care for two starts back). Oh and did I mention she won a Breeders’ Cup race in her one and only start on this surface?……………….Desert Duchess – is by Hard Spun, who is one of the best looking horses I’ve ever seen, and comes into this on a three race win streak. She’ll be stepping way up in class for trainer Mike Maker but she has hit the board in 9 of 11 turf starts including five wins…..long shot possibility?
Race: 8 (7:00 PM EST Post)
Midnight Lute Stakes
Americanize – chased some of the best milers on the planet, including Sharp Azteca, Mind Your Biscuits and Practical Joke, 3,000 miles from home in his last at a distance that was probably too far for him. This gray gelding was still “in the mix” to deep stretch where he understandably tired. By Concord Point, he now returns home where he was last seen wiring the field in the Damascus Stakes in a snappy final time. Moreover, he cuts back to more suitable distance and those back to back “trips” in his last two races are eye catching……………….I like the speedy Masochistic but, unfortunately, this soon to be eight year old is a “play against” for me in this spot for several reasons. First off, he is coming off an almost eight month layoff and, even though he uncorked a wickedly fast work on Dec 20 (5F- :58.2), by his owners own admittance, new trainer Bob Baffert does not have him 100% fit in this spot. “We’ll see if he’s back,” co-owner Samantha Siegel said. “With a horse this fast, it’s hard to tell where he’s at (in his career), and 6 1/2 furlongs is a hard distance to start back off a layoff. Bob hasn’t turned the screws really on him, but he thinks he’s in a good place to start.“ That, readers, isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for this speedster, who has been involved in not one but two drug issues in his career…………….Silent Bird – is an interesting candidate. This stretch running, five year old by Summer Bird sports a record of 8-5-1-1 in his career vs. lesser but wasn’t completely embarrassed when trying this caliber of horses in his last two races. Also note, although he is clearly a late runner, It looks as though a change in tactics is coming. The combination of him drawing the #1 post and the trainer adding blinkers for the first time in this spot signals to me he may coming out running….works are good also…and I will have him in some of my exotics plays for sure………………Honorable Mentions: Calculator – once futilely chased the great American Pharoah. The gray five year old was overmatched in his last (BC Sprint) but if you look back to his prior three races, you will see he is in good form right now……………………… Tough Sunday has won two of his last three and has been on the board in 12 of 15 career starts. But truth be told, I don’t care if he goes off at 200-1 and gets beat by 100 lengths, he will be on my tickets in some capacity every time he runs. I mean, come on….how could you not play him? If you’re not familiar with his back story, click the link below as I did a story about him about two years ago.
By: Gerard Apadula
Director of Equine Operations and Development
Knights of the Round Stable Thoroughbred Racing Team
2017- Record: 91-232 = 39%
2016- Record: 91-229 = 40%
2015- Record: 67-180 = 37%
2014- Record: 29-73 = 40%
2013- Record: 20-59= 34%
2012: Record: 24-73= 33%
2011- Record: N/A
2010- Record: 24-74= 33%
Little Bets N’ Pieces
**** Hall of Fame Trainer John Charles “Jack” Van Berg died from complications of cancer on Wednesday, Dec. 27. He was 81.
Van Berg, who entered the Hall of Fame in 1985, ranks fourth on the all-time win list for North American trainers with 6,523 wins with earnings of more than $85 million.
With all the impressive stats he put up, Van Berg was most famous for training Alysheba, winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and named champion 3-year-old male of 1987. Later he was dubbed “America’s Horse” and earned Horse of the Year and champion older male crowns following his victory in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Alysheba, who entered the Racing Hall of Fame in 1993, earned a then record $6,679,242 (surpassing John Henry) with 11 wins from 26 starts.
Van Berg also had classic success with Gate Dancer, winner of the 1984 Preakness.
**** Wonder Gadot, impressive winner of the Demoiselle Stakes, December 2nd at Aqueduct, could face males in the January 13th Lecomte Stakes in her next start trainer Mark Casse said.
Casse trains several talented fillies about to turn three and is trying to keep them separated.
Casse said that after talking with owner Gary Barber, the decision was made to send Wonder Gadot from Florida to New Orleans to race next month.
Wonder Gadot started her career on turf at Woodbine this summer, won the Mazarine Stakes on Woobine’s all weather surface by six lengths, was a troubled sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies before coming back to win the Grade: 2 Demoiselle Stakes.