Archive | March, 2019

Florida Derby and Huge Mandatory Payout at Gulfstream

29 Mar

By Lucky Kalanges

I’ll get on to the Florida Derby in a bit, but figured I might as well take a small victory lap having tabbed my first winner of the blog last Sunday in Sunland Derby winner Cutting Humor. It was one of those races that unfolded exactly how I imagined it would with the winner tracking the three-wide speed duel early, overtaking the leaders and just having enough to hold off the ultra-game Anothertwistafate to round out a $17 Exacta for a buck, which I had also tabbed.

Unfortunately, when the winner got pounded from his morning-line of 8/1 to 2/1 as the horses loaded into the gate, I got turned off and passed the race. It will be interesting to see if Anothertwistafate has enough points to make the Derby field, as he was probably best considering he backed out of the middle of the three-wide speed duel around the first turn, had to wait a bit coming around the second turn before swinging out four-wide to get running room in the stretch, came running and nearly nailed the winner on the wire.

He could offer big value on Derby day if he makes the field.

Florida Derby Day and the Rainbow Mandatory Payout

In case you weren’t away Gulfstream Park will be forcing out it’s $2.66 million Rainbow 6 Jackpot on Saturday’s Florida Derby card, which makes it almost a must-play day of racing if you’ve got the time. Time is actually a bigger obstacle for me now than money when it comes to betting the races. If I don’t handicap in advance, I don’t play. While I was hoping to get an advance look at the Rainbow 6 races, 9-13 on the card, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough homework to comment extensively on any of them except the Florida Derby.

I might play a very small Rainbow 6 ticket nonetheless. When there’s that much dead money being forced out, it’s almost a no-brainer to put in a small ticket.

As for the Florida Derby, I think I am going to take the same tack I did last time with John Velazquez in a stalking position behind an expected speed duel between #1 – Hidden Scroll (5/2) and #7 – Maximum Security (9/2). Desperate for Derby points, Hidden Scroll is stuck either having to gun for the lead or rating behind Maximum Security. I think doing the latter would be a mistake, as his best chance is to use his best asset, his gate speed, to get early position.

The problem is, he could be compromised again by pace pressure, which proved to be his undoing last time out. As for Maximum Security, the Jason Servis-trained freak has won by open lengths each time out, but now stretches out from seven to nine furlongs, trying two turns for the first time, which isn’t an easy task.

This leaves me looking at a trio of horses coming from off the pace: #9 – Code of Honor (3/1), #4 – Bourbon War (7/2) and #3 – Harvey Wallbanger (15/1). The first two ran down Hidden Scroll last time with Bourbon War having to rally six-wide while Code of Honor skimmed the rail. Like last time, I think Velazquez will be in a prime position to make first run on the leaders as they turn for home and it comes down again to who gets the better trip.

I also like the fact that Irad Ortiz jumps off Maximum Security to ride Bourbon War. I think I will end up playing the board on this one, backing the one of these two that goes off at higher odds. With heavy money expected on Hidden Scroll, I think 4/1 or 5/1 isn’t impossible on either of these two contenders.

For the Exacta, I am going to bank on the Jason Servis colt playing like the Energizer Bunny, to keep “going and going” to hang on for second. To me, all the value is trying to get Hidden Scroll out of the Exacta.

I’ll try to do that by playing #4 – Bourbon War and #9 – Code of Honor over #7 Maximum Security. I’ll also play a smaller ticket reversed, with Maximum Security on top in case he keeps on running through the wire.  It’s quite possible that, if he and Hidden Scroll don’t hook up on the lead early, that one of the two survives for the win, as I don’t see too many with the talent in here to make them run faster.

As for horses that could round out the Trifecta, #3 – Harvey Wallbanger (15/1) has an attractive morning line and proved he could win from off the pace two-turning over this track last time out in the Holy Bull. He’s done very little wrong have either won or finished second in his five starts, and the more I think about it, the more I can see tossing him into my Exactas at a decent price. For some reason, the Holy Bull isn’t getting the respect that the Fountain of Youth is and it could just all come down to recency bias.

Another longshot is #8 – Bodexpress (30/1) out of Bodemeister. He was left in the wake of Hidden Scroll’s impressive debut, finishing fourth in a field of 14. He then returned to nearly break his maiden at seven furlongs, earning a 91 Beyer figure in the process. He should be up close early and could move forward if he gets a clean trip.

It’s past midnight here at the OTB, so I’ve got to close up shop. Best of luck with in the Florida Derby and Rainbow 6 if you’re playing.

 

Sueno No Bueno, Here Comes The Sunland!

23 Mar

By Lucky Kalanges

I didn’t have a strong opinion in the Louisiana Derby, although I did end up putting $20 on the nose of Sueno after I caught a glimpse of him on the racetrack. I’m no expert on physical handicapping, but I thought he looked dynamite on the track.

No Bueno.

Aside from Sueno, my biggest failure was not giving any thought of Gabriel Saez, the regular rider of my longshot pick, Mr. Money (50/1), moving over to the other William Calhoun entry, By My Standards. When By My Standards got up to win by 3/4 of a length at 22/1 odds, it was time to go back to the DRF PPs to see what I had missed. Beyond the rider switch, which was huge given the horses were coming out of the same barn and Saez had ridden Mr. Money in all five of his starts, there were a couple more reasons to like him.

First, he had never finished worse than third in fields of 10 or 11 horses in each of his four starts. I tend to elevate a horse who has competed well in – fields compared to fields of just five or six. Second, he had split next out winners in his debut, and had competed against next out winners in his next two starts before finally breaking his maiden impressively in his fourth try. Finally, his maiden breaking speed figure of 78 was only a point shy of Mr. Money’s last out 79.

The clues were there, I just didn’t look hard enough.

Still, it’s never easy to back a maiden winner in the last Derby prep of the season at any track. This serves as another reminder of how wide open this Kentucky Derby picture is with just six weeks before the first Saturday in May.

Here Comes The Sunland

I’m kind of excited to see the locally trained Antohertwistafate (3/1) try the traditional dirt again in Sunday’s Sunland Derby. He could not have been more impressive in taking the El Camino Derby at Golden Gate in mid-February. He clearly has a high cruising speed and figures to have a big say in the outcome of New Mexico’s richest thoroughbred race if he can avoid running a clunker on dirt, as he did in his six furlong debut at Santa Anita.

Unfortunately, he has other speed to contend with on either side of him in the starting gate, the primary concern being Bob Baffert’s second stringer, Mucho Gusto, who’s been installed as the 8/5 favorite breaking from the rail. Mucho Gusto owns the best last race dirt Beyer, a 90, and jockey Joe Talamo will probably have to hit the gas pedal right out of the gate to establish position heading into the first turn.

Adding potential fuel to the pace fire is Mine That Bird winner, Hustle Up, who has won eight of 10, is four for four over this track, and also does his best running on the front end. With all three horses hell bent on getting the lead, a hot pace seems likely to unfold.

With that in mind, I am going to look to the outside of the speedballs breaking from the first three gates for a potential upset winner. That horse is #5 – Cutting Humor (8/1).

I like this guy for some of the same reasons I could have liked By My Standards. First, Todd Pletcher ships him in after a 7th place finish in the Southwest Stakes, in which he ran behind eventual Rebel winner Long Range Toddy and yesterday’s third place La. Derby finisher, Sueno. He actually went off favored in that race at 2/1, so he was well-regarded in the betting.

Next, in his race two back he finished second to Bourbon War, who came a couple of jumps short of winning the Fountain of Youth stakes in his next start. Finally, this is his third start off a layoff, he gets Johnny V. and should be able to work out a perfect stalking trip breaking from post five behind the early speed to his inside.

I’ll back him to Win at his morning line of 8/1 or better, and I’m going to try to get the Baffert favorite out of the Exacta, using Anothertwistafate, Wicked Indeed (6/1) and the deep closer Pasamonte Man (20/1) underneath my top choice.

That should wrap up the weekend for me.

Just as a reminder, Santa Anita resumes racing on Friday, March 29, and with the cancellation of racing at Los Alamitos this weekend, we will again be offering FREE NIGHT ADMISSION this Sunday night, with $3 Nightlines. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our night crew who kicked off this weekend by betting 67% and 19% more than they did last year on the same Friday and Saturday nights, even without Los Alamitos!

Thanks again for playing with us at Pleasanton OTB.

Is the Battle of New Orleans All War of Will?

22 Mar

By Lucky Kalanges

While closing day is officially Sunday, the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) effectively puts the bow on the winter thoroughbred meeting at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The 6/5 morning-line favorite, with good reason, is War of Will who enters his final Kentucky Derby prep coming off two strong performances over this track in the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes, which he won by four and two and a quarter lengths, respectively.

Both efforts were picture perfect, trouble-free stalking trips, in which he used his natural early speed to establish a good stalking position, engaged the leaders without being asked while rounding the far turn, and drew away when he was finally asked for run in the stretch. He seems to fit the mold of the last five or six Kentucky Derby winners to a tee.

All that said, there are a couple of horses who could pull the upset, much like Long Range Toddy and Omaha Beach did in last week’s dual division of the Rebel Stakes. The one thing the competition doesn’t have going for it is War of Will isn’t coming in off a 90-day layoff, and shouldn’t be “short.”

To me, the two most logical horses to pull the upset are both 8/1 on the morning line. I’ll start with the horse I think has the best shot and that is #4 – Sueno. I liked his effort in the Southwest Stakes in which he was full of run early, had to check a little bit behind horses on the backstretch, sat patiently while horses moved all around him from the backstretch around the far turn, finally got clear and came running to grab second behind 62/1 winner Super Steed.

I think Sueno and his rider Corey Lanerie, showed a lot of poise in that race, and were flattered when third place finisher Long Range Toddy came back to upset Improbable in the Rebel Stakes. With an over abundance of deep closers signed on in this race, I think he’ll probably get a much cleaner trip and doesn’t have to improve much from the 89 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in the Southwest to match War of Will’s 92 last out. Finally, his last three starts in which he finished first, second and second came at three different tracks, so travelling doesn’t seem to be an issue.

The other contender I am interested in is Todd Pletcher’s Spinoff (8/1). The son of Hard Spun is bred to run early and showed it by romping over a short Optional Claiming field at Tampa by 11 lengths off a six month layoff. He gets the class test here, but does catch a field without a lot of early speed and shouldn’t have much trouble either securing the lead or sitting off potential pace-setter Lemniscate (15/1). From there, it will just be a matter of how slow he can go on the front end and how far he can carry his speed.

Longshots:

#7 – Mr. Money (20/1) moved with War of Will last time from about a length behind, was clobbered in the stretch by a fast closing Country House and faded to seventh. His Risen Star effort came off a three-month layoff, prior to which he had finished a respectable fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Game Winner. He should get another mid-pack trip this time in which he’ll get another jump on the deep closers. He could make some noise if he can improve second off the layoff.

If you’re looking for horses to clunk up the Trifecta and Superfecta, I’d look at these three:

#3 Limonite (20/1) – second off a layoff for Asmussen at 20/1.
#9 Bankit (20/1) – Asmussen, Irad Ortiz at 20/1
#11 Hog Creek Hustle (12/1) – Had some trouble in the Risen Star, gets and outside post and possibly a cleaner trip.

I see absolutely no value in backing the deep closer, Country House (9/2), as the expected second choice in this race. Just too much has to go his way for him to win or even hit the board, and it’s just not worth swallowing a short price on a deep closer like him.

The verdict:

In the end, I don’t see much keeping War of Will from either winning for finishing second in this race. There isn’t much pace in here and he should be able to work out a decent stalking trip, perhaps even a better trip than last time from the six hole. I expect Lemniscate and/or Spinoff will be War of Will’s target on the front end.

If Spinoff is ready to make another nine-point Beyer leap, it’s quite possible he could run away with it. He should have every chance to win on the front end.

Sueno could be the “now” horse for the Keith Desormeaux barn. I expect him to be just off the pace and to be a factor when the real running begins around the far turn.

Since I don’t have a strong reason to stand against War of Will in this one, I’ll consider small Win bets on either Sueno or Spinoff should one of the two drift up to 10/1 or better. I think Spinoff could go off as low as 5/1, which might make Sueno drift up or vice-versa.

I will consider a $5 Trifecta on War of Will over Spinoff, Sueno (2nd) over Mr. Money (3rd) for $10 as a pure action bet.

With an extra day to look at Sunday’s Sunland Derby, I am going to take it and will see you back here Saturday night. Until then, best of luck with your bets.

Rebel Review and La. Derby/Sunland Preview

21 Mar

By Lucky Kalanges

It didn’t take long for me to realize I took my Rebel stand in the wrong race.

The first division of the Rebel was one of those times when the horse you key in second in the Exacta was better than the horse you assumed was going to win. Of course, I am talking about Long Range Toddy running down Improbable to prevail by a neck.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I was interested in Long Range Toddy as an underneath Exacta horse and I played it exactly that way, Improbable over Long Range Toddy straight up. Basically, I was settling for an 8-to-1 return on my money, which I thought was acceptable for betting for the best horse in the field other than Improbable to finish second.

Of course, in my infinite wisdom, I had no interest in the 22.80-to-1 payoff in the unlikely event my key horse proved best. Nope, didn’t need it. Improbable was going to win!

And as I was listening to the race call, I got that dreaded feeling you get when your longshot is closing fast and – like an idiot! – you didn’t box that Exacta!

While it wasn’t the best way to kick off my day, I’d been here before and we still had the second division of the Rebel to come. I had high hopes that Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Champ, Game Winner, was going down and this Braintrust was going to clean up with his straight Win bet on the nose of Our Braintrust, who was sent to post at a generous 9/1.

What happened was another case of “Right Idea, Wrong Horse.” Game Winner did lose by the slimmest of margins, a nose, to 9/2 second choice Omaha Beach, while Our Braintrust got a wide trip, folded like a cheap suit and staggered home last. I am bit slow to catch on, but I think it’s now safe to assume the Withers – the race that Our Braintrust exited – is extremely suspect, as none of its top three finishers have performed well in their next starts.

On To New Orleans and Sunland Park

This week the Road to the Kentucky Derby stops Saturday in New Orleans and Sunday at Sunland Park, New Mexico. On Saturday, War of Will attempts to sweep the Bayou Route to Louisville in the $1 million Louisiana Derby. And on Sunday, El Camino Derby winner Anothertwistafate seeks to punch the Blaine Wright barn’s ticket to Churchill Downs in the $800,000 Sunland Park Derby.

Since switching from turf to dirt, War of Will has been as impressive as any horse I’ve seen thus far on the Derby trail, winning both the Lecomte and Risen Star relatively easily from a wide, stalking position. Check out the replay by clicking the link above. He’s a big, imposing figure, and seems to catch a bit of a break without an abundance of early speed in this heat as well. He should be able to secure his usual stalking trip just behind the leaders, and open up on the closers as he’s done the last two times around the Crescent City oval.

There are a couple horses who could put War of Will’s three-race winning streak in jeopardy, however, and I’ll be back Friday with a quick look at this race, and to assess our local hero’s chances in the Sunland Park Derby. As usual, you can watch and wager on both races this weekend at Pleasanton OTB.

FREE NIGHT ADMISSION as Los Alamitos Takes A Week Off

Los Alamitos recently announced that it will be closed this Friday through Sunday night for track maintenance. With the late announcement, we’re going to take the opportunity to offer FREE Night Admission this week at Pleasanton OTB. Come out Friday, Saturday or Sunday night after 4 p.m. and admission is FREE OF CHARGE.

If quarter horses are your game, we’ve got Remington Park both Friday and Saturday night. They have among the fullest fields of quarter horses I’ve seen recently, which makes for a great betting product.

Japanese racing also returns Saturday night, and we’ve got full fields of horses on the grass from Australia, as always, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.

If the sulkies are your game, Cal Expo, Meadowlands and Woodbine-Mohawk are the main course on Friday and Saturday nights. We hope to see you out at Pleasanton OTB this weekend.

Come say “hi” to Linda and Yours Truly behind the counter.

 

CAN WE AFFORD TO TAKE A REBEL STAND?

15 Mar

By Lucky Kalanges

With the Baffert barn firing both barrels, it won’t be easy squeezing value out of the split divisions of the Rebel Stakes this Saturday, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Oaklawn 8 – 1st Division of the Rebel Stakes

There’s been a lot of groaning on social media about how the parting of the Rebel Stakes has set the table for Baffert’s dynamic duo to feast at 4/5 and while that may be the case, the first division looks like an interesting race if you think Improbable isn’t going to be fully cranked for his sophomore debut. From a speed figure standpoint, he has a clear edge over his competition. However, given the way he had to grind out his first win as a maiden perhaps there is reason for hope for his eight other foes now that he’s being asked to go two turns coming off a 90+ days layoff over a surface he’s never raced before.
But let’s get this clear for starters, Improbable (4/5) owns the last two best Beyer speed figures over this field by a sizable amount, and appears best suited to withstand a hot pace and still finish. The fact that he draws widest might mean he has to sacrifice some ground early, but it also means Drayden Van Dyke can pick his place to stalk the pace without getting into too much trouble.

The main contenders to Improbable, as I see them are:

#9 – Galilean (3/1) – Ships in for the Mandella barn after beating up on Cal-breds in consecutive restricted stakes by 9 and 4.5 lengths. Clearly the main danger from a speed figure standpoint and could have a slight fitness edge over Improbable, coming in second off a layoff.

#2 – Long Range Toddy (10/1) – Hard knocker for Steve Asmussen is 3 for 6 lifetime, and owns a second and third place finish over this strip, the latter coming after a troubled trip in which he had to steady a bit before spitting horses from the rail to get up for third. Moves from outside post to the two hole. Modest improvement could make him an Exacta horse.

#1 – Extra Hope (6/1) – Second Mandella entry was no match for Improbable two back, but got a good confidence builder over the slop at Santa Anita last out and ships in second off a layoff. Mike Smith gets the call, as Flavian Prat chooses Galilean. He’s got natural speed and is going to have to use it early to establish position into the first turn, and with a wall of speed coming outside of him, it seems like a tall task here.

#7 – Classy John (15/1) – Has sprint and bullring speed, and showed some ability to ration it early while almost winning a Louisiana-bred stake going a mile at Delta Downs last out. Not sure he wants to go much farther than this, but he should be the target on the front end for Galilean and Improbable. He could get brave and hang on for a slice if nobody goes with him for the crafty Dallas Stewart barn.

The verdict:

While this appears to be the toughest of the two divisions of the Rebel, it’s hard to make a strong case to bet against Improbable unless something unexpected happens or he takes so much of the Show pool that a bridge-jumping situations exists. I’ll keep a close eye on the Show pools here and if Improbable has 95% or more of the pool, I’ll put some Show money down on #2 – Long Range Toddy and perhaps Galilean, hoping for another situation like the San Diego Handicap a couple years ago, when I made about $150 on $15 in Show bets when Arrogate finished fourth.

If I play this race straight, I will likely key #2 – Long Range Toddy underneath in Exactas under both Improbable and to a lesser extent Galilean. I think Long Range Toddy can offer value as the 3rd choice in the 2nd hole of the Exacta behind both Galilean and Extra Hope.

My Plays:

$10 Exacta #9 Improbable over #2 Long Range Toddy
$5 Exacta #8 Galilean over #2 Long Range Toddy
$5 Show Bets on both Long Range Toddy and Galilean if Improbable takes 95% or more of the Show pool

Oaklawn 10 – 2nd division of the Rebel Stakes

I usually love betting against Breeders’ Cup winners in their next starts and I think I’ll take a shot here even though it is Baffert. The biggest reason is the horses exiting the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile haven’t accomplished much and with the long layoff, I think it’s probably worth taking a shot against #5 – Game Winner (4/5) at an expected short price.

Here’s my choices, in order of preference, to upset the apple cart:

#7 – Our Braintrust (6/1) – While many exiting the Withers Stakes failed to fire in the recently contested Gotham, I’m going to take a flyer on this guy given his competitiveness and 95 Beyer, which actually outranks Game Winner’s BC Juvenile number of 93. He’s gradually increased his speed figures and has finished no worse than third in his five career starts. He encountered some trouble, being bumped in the Withers Stakes and I think a clean stalking trip for this competitive horse might get him to the winner’s circle. Distance shouldn’t be a problem given he carried his 95. First time blinkers is a 24% move for Mark Casse.

#4 – Jersey Agenda (15/1) – Speed of the field will be overlooked due to the perceived clunker in the Southwest Stakes. He lost all chance in that event after dueling with the horse at the rail who failed to negotiate the clubhouse turn and pushed him wide. Still, he didn’t quit and kept plugging until the far turn when he was passed by 62/1 upsetter Super Steed. Gets Jose Ortiz after top rider Santana opts for Laughing Sort. I think he get a better chance to win today if he can get loose on the lead. It might be a tall task, but I think he should make the lead and take them as far as he can. He might go off at 20/1 or more.

#2 – Laughing Sort (10/1) – Gets top local rider and trainer in Santana and Asmussen, is two-for-two over the track and is coming in third off a layoff. He’ll be looking to come from off the pace on a track that has been playing fairly over the course of the meet.

#6 – Omaha Beach (7/2) – Clearly talented sort drew off by nine in the slop at Santa Anita to break his maiden in his fifth try. Began his career routing on the lawn, so distance shouldn’t be a problem. Gets Mike Smith for the Mandella barn. I’m just thinking getting his first win here against Grade II company might be a bit much to ask and if he’s the second choice as he is on the morning line, I won’t be crazy about the price.

#8 – Gunmetal Gray (10/1) – Deep closer might have a better chance of getting back to the winner’s circle outside of California. Should get a decent pace to chase with Prat up for Hollendorfer.

The Verdict:

I’m going to take a shot with #7 – Our Braintrust, $20 to Win at 5/1 or better.

In the event there is a bit of a pace meltdown, I do like the closer #2 Laughing Fox at a price underneath in the Exacta.

So $5 Exactas, #5 Game Winner and #7 Our Braintrust over #2 Laughing Fox
And $2 Exactas, #5 Game Winner and #7 Our Braintrust over #4 Jersey Agenda.

Of course, if the bridge-jumpers are out in force on Game Winner, I will bet both Our Braintrust and Laughing Fox to Show.

Best of luck betting this big card from Hot Springs.

RETURN OF THE BLOG

14 Mar

with Lucky Kalanges

RETURN OF THE BLOG
What sounds like a horror movie sequel has now become my passion side-project, writing about horse racing like I did in 1999 when you could start your own webpage on a site called Geo-Cities. At that time, I had recently begun working for start-up tech company called Youbet.com that was about to revolutionize horse racing by bringing “everything but the dirt” directly to your PC.

Just insert the CD and you were off to the races, or at least Golden Gate Fields and Oaklawn Park, which were some of the few tracks offered to our beta-testers back in the day. Maybe you got one of those CDs in the mail many years ago and it’s buried in your garage somewhere, or better yet, serving as a coaster in your man cave.

Wherever it may be, it’s a relic from a magical time during which I was brimming with optimism about my “side-hustle” betting the horses, and my future with a publicly traded company with a .com tacked to the end of its name that PAID ME TO WATCH HORSERACING!

Two decades later, I’m still getting paid to watch horse racing and I can write a little about it without having to downsize my Word doc when the boss walks by. Join me each week as I attempt to offer poignant notes, opinions and occasional insight into the world of racing and off-track betting.

Remember this isn’t a one-way street. Feel free to hit us up with your comments, questions and suggestions along the way using the Leave Comments feature at the bottom of the page.

 

TRIPLE CROWN TRAIL HEATS UP
(Click the links for Race Replays)
Three horses vaulted into the top 5 on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard over past two weekends, and served as a reminder of how these prep races can really fill our wallets if we can just land on the right horse. Two weeks ago, that horse was Code of Honor, who rallied from off the pace to defeat Bill Mott’s highly-touted and heavily-favored maiden winner, Hidden Scroll, to post the upset at nearly 10-1 odds in the Fountain of Youth. Fellow late-runner Bourbon War was also impressive in defeat, just running out of ground in the shortened stretch of the 1 1/16 miles trip at Gulfstream, and should be in line to improve as the distances increase on the Derby road. While the loss at 6/5 odds doesn’t completely eliminate his chances to get to the Derby, Hidden Scroll must prove he can ration his speed and perhaps rate behind horses if he’s going to make hay on the Derby trail moving forward.

Next up was Haikal, who used similar come-from-behind tactics to sweep past a three-way duel late in the one-turn mile Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct last Saturday, returning $10.80 to win in the process. This race featured the three-year-old debut of the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee, Instagrand, who hadn’t been seen since Del Mar. While Instagrand battled admirably to finish third by only a length and a half, it wasn’t exactly the tour-de-force his backers were expecting at even money odds.

Both the FOY and Gotham proved fertile ground for bettors who had serious doubts about the favorites, who had started a combined three times in their respective careers. Hidden Scroll was bet down to 6/5 odds off an impressive, triple-digit Beyer maiden victory over the slop at Gulfstream. The problem I’ve seen with most triple-digit maiden winners is they seldom improve of those efforts. It’s as if they’ve already hit their speed figure ceiling and there’s just nowhere to go but down. Throw in the fact that his maiden win came over the slop, and there was another reason for doubters to look elsewhere for the FOY winner.

And in the case of Instagrand in the Gotham, he had every right to come up short at even-money odds, having not raced in over six months, and having shipped across the country to compete over a surface he was unfamiliar with. In each case, both favorites fell victim to their more experienced, seasoned foes. This  serves as a good reminder as any to treat impressive maiden winners and horses coming off long layoffs to compete in stakes races with a healthy dose skepticism, especially before swallowing short odds at the windows.

Last but not least, Bill Mott’s second stringer, Tacitus, got the job done at nearly 9/1 odds in the Tampa Bay Derby. I say second stringer because much has been made of Hidden Scroll beating up on Tacitus in morning workouts, but the latter looked like the more seasoned animal at this point in their careers. Like the other two winners, Tacitus rallied from off the pace, courageously splitting horses and pulling away late after a 45 and change half-mile. The favored Win Win Win battled admirably after a 5-wide trip to get third, but like the other favorites, he was trying something new for the first time. In his case, two turns proved to be his undoing at 7/5 odds.

Of the these three preps, I was most impressed by Code of Honor and Bourbon War, the top two finishers in the Fountain of Youth, and would elevate their chances on the Derby trail. I am not sure any of the horses coming out of the Gotham really want two turns. While Tacitus displayed the kind of courage you need to compete in a 20-horse Derby, I have some doubts about the quality of the Tampa field overall. I will say that the final time of 1:41.95 looked legit, being only a tenth and a half off the track record of 1:41.75 for 1 1/16 miles set by Stanford in 2017.  It will be interesting to see the paths taken by the horses exiting Tampa in about a month’s time.

Lastly, I did catch the Jeff Ruby Steaks from Turfway Park at the OTB and didn’t see a lot of meat on the bones there. After dominating the race on the front end through a 47 half, the heavily-favored Somelikeithotbrown looked ready to give up the lead late, shortening stride and drifting in and out. Still, nobody was able to run him down, leaving me with the impression there is little to no quality behind him. It was a nice win by a logical favorite who definitely could make his presence felt in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, but I can’t see him winning a Triple Crown race.

REBEL REBEL
For all of the Kentucky Derby preps we’ve seen to this point, it doesn’t really feel like Derby season has begun until the big guns from the Baffert barn are unleashed. And we’ll finally get to see that this Saturday when the Rebel Stakes is contested at Oaklawn Park. With the unfortunate and untimely cancellation of racing at Santa Anita, the traditional Southern California path to the Derby has been rerouted to Hot Springs, Arkansas where Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ Game Winner and the much-hyped Improbable will make their three-year-old debuts. And since Oaklawn has announced it’s splitting the race into two divisions with 9 and 10 horses each, it looks like we’ll be getting a pair of races with big Baffert favorites in each of them. I’ll return with an update on Friday to discuss my thoughts on the two divisions of Rebel once I’ve had a chance to dive into the past performances.

Speaking of Santa Anita, it resumed light training over the main track this week. While I had read that its possible racing could resume in a week or two, word of another fatal breakdown came from the DRF’s Brad Free just this morning. I would expect this puts the resumption of live racing squarely on the back burner until the track can assure the safety of its horses and riders during workouts.

Needless to say, California racing isn’t the same without the GRP (Great Race Place).