Red Solo Cup runs in very competitive Auburn Handicap

When HRC’s Demon Warlock colt Red Solo Cup runs in Sunday’s (5/25/14) Auburn Handicap at Emerald Downs (EmD), he’ll be facing four 3 year old colts who all do their best running on or near the lead.

This should suit Red Solo Cup just fine, as he is the only confirmed closer in what shapes up to be a very competitive  field.  His Beyer speed figures fit nicely with this group & a return to Rocco Bowen in the irons will likely enhance Red’s chances.

Del Rio Harbor may be the main competition.  He ran down Stikine Slough in the stretch of his last race, a 5 1/2f May 4 affair over a sloppy track & then held off the late charge of Red Solo Cup to win by 1 1/4 lengths.  The extra furlong of the Auburn Handicap may not be to Stikine’s advantage, however.   Del Rio Harbor has won 5 of his 7 lifetime races including three local stakes last year.

Noosito is making his first start of the year for trainer Doris Harwood.  Noosito also has a Stakes win, beating Del Rio by a neck last September in the Dennis Dodge Handicap at 6f.  Noosito has been working nicely & this trainer, when using jockey Leslie Mawing, is winning at a 33% clip.

Mebossman, the other Auburn Stakes competitor, just broke his maiden at 5 1/2f in a hard fought victory over a sloppy track April 27, for trainer Frank Lucarelli, with a speed figure very competitive here.

My prediction:  Stikine Slough’s best chance is to attempt a wire to wire win, with all but Red not more than 2-3 lengths behind. Del Rio Harbor figures to assert himself coming down the stretch.  If the anticipated fast pace materializes, Red Solo Cup will likely come charging and use the extra furlong to catch Del Rio at the wire.

Of course, since I am invested in Red Solo Cup, I may be a bit biased.  This will likely be a close, hard fought affair that may be decided by which horse has the best trip & racing luck.  Any horse that wins this would not be a huge surprise.

Best of luck at the races!

– Ron Classen,

Will California Chrome plate the Preakness?

If the same horse that won the Kentucky Derby (KD) shows up Saturday (May 17) at Pimlico for the 139th running of the 1 3/16 mile Preakness Stakes, all nine of California Chrome’s opponents will be running for second.

However, will the same horse show up?  His last 1/16th mile in the Derby was very slow, in what appeared to this observer to be a taxing race. His Beyer speed figures are in decline (108, 107, 97).  Now he’s being asked to run back in just two weeks, against a phlanx of legitimate speed horses.  On top of this, he is fighting some kind of throat infection that has caused a blister on the inside of his throat, a blister that the trainer claims will have no impact.  Really?

My guess is Chrome’s form will continue to regress, at least a bit & that could open the door for another to steal this second Triple Crown jewel.

Three of Chrome’s nine foes (Ria Antonio, Kid Cruz, Pablo Del Monte) just seem too slow to compete for the win.  Social Inclusion (SI) appears to be the most accomplished of the front runners & will likely run Ring Weekend and Bayern, right out of the race.

SI owns the highest lifetime Beyer speed figure (110) of all the horses & the sharp 4f work on May 12 shows fitness.  Six weeks rest since its good 3rd in the Wood Memorial ensures a fresh horse here.  SI appears to have a legitimate upset chance.

General a Rod had all kinds of trouble in the KD & trainer Michael Maker considers that race a throw out  He  feels a better break will make the General competitive here.  I do not share his optimism.  General got good breaks in the two races preceding the KD & lost two front-end duals finishing behind Wildcat Red both times. Wildcat did not fare well in the KD and the General did not face a front runner in either of those races of SI’s caliber.

Dynamic Impact has to be considered.  His Beyer figures have been on the rise & he holds the highest last race Beyer figure of the race.  He has a similar mid-pack running style that Chrome is likely to use & will likely need to outfinish that one in mid-stretch, not an easy task.  The other concern is the jockey who only wins at a 10% rate, kind of a low percentage at this level.  However, his regal breeding suggests this distance will be no problem.

Ride on Curlin has had a positive jockey switch & appears capable of running them all down from off the pace if the front runners tire.  However, his only two wins in 10 tries have been in a maiden & a restricted allowance race.  His good 3rd in the Rebel Stakes shows potential and this race’s anticipated pace scenario seems to fit.

Rain is a possibility for the race, so track conditions could further complicate things.

I think the best upset chances will come from SI, Dynamic Impact, and Ride on Curlin.  Chrome with these three make a reasonable 10 cent superfecta box.  It is hard to put much $ on a straight win bet on a 3/5 favorite.  So, I recommend playing exactas, Chrome with one or more of these three contenders, if you like Chrome.  However, you will get great pays if Chrome should fail to fire.  At least a possibility here.

Ahem!  Excuse me, I have a blister on my throat, buts its nothing.  Don’t worry about it.

California Chrome’s story is touching – a horse of humble origins, with everyman owners, and a well-liked, aging, deserving trainer with his first & likely only Triple Crown chance.  I hope he wins.  I really do.  If he can do this, as vaunted Emerald Downs trainer Tim McCanna told me last week, “there is hope for all of us”.  Indeed.

Have fun at the races!

– Ron Classen,

HRC’s Angel of Harlan well placed at Emerald Downs

HRC’s Angel of Harlan, a four year old daughter of highly regarded Harlan’s Holiday, appears set to break her maiden in Emerald Downs’ first race of its Mothers Day card (5/11), a Md 5000 clm field of six fillies going 6f.

Angel’s last two Beyer speed figures (32 & 37 respectively) from sprint races in April are faster than any of her competitors have run in 2014.  In fact, these speed figures are faster than three of the horses (Midnitesruntoglory, Gold Trick, & Sunshine Candy) have ever run in their lives.  Top trainer has given Angel a nice 3f tightener work since she last last raced two weeks ago, indicating all systems are go.  Regular rider Leslie Mawing is in the irons.

Hot trainer Jeff Metz has entered That’s a Bingo, a filly whose top races last year in southern California & at Turf Paradise would be very competitive.  However, this year she’s been beaten in four sprints at this level by an average of more than 14 lengths.  Maybe her change in jockeys for this race will be the spark she needs.

She’s My Favorite is returning to racing after a 20 month absence.  Once well thought of, racing competitively against Mdn Spec Wt & high mdn claiming stock, She’s My Favorite last raced Sept 12, 2012 in a Md5000 clm race losing by 13 lengths.  However, she has worked forwardly for this race & this trainer/jockey combination has been clicking at a 24% win clip.  A return to her 2012 form would make her very competitive here.

Still, even though Angel of Harlan is 0-9, I think the 10th time will be the charm for this well-bred filly.  Lots of “ifs” for the other horses, while it appears by repeating one of her last two races, Angel will be tough to beat.

Happy Mother’s Day and have fun at the races!

– Ron Classen, 

Hastings Handicap Mothers Day Challenge at Emerald Downs

Sunday’s (5/11) 6F Hastings Handicap (50K) for older fillies & mares poses quite a handicapping challenge for Mother’s Day Emerald Downs (Seattle, WA) patrons.  Five of the eight entries are returning from layoffs of 60 days or more & two of the contenders are racing at EmD for the first time.

Leading contender has to be Finding More.  Master conditioner Jim Penny is very good at getting horses ready after long layoffs and More’s last three workouts have been sterling, each fastest of the day.  More’s previous two efforts last fall (where she lost two races by a total of more than 26 lengths) can at least be partially excused because they were against Graded Stakes competition at major tracks.  Prior to that, she ripped off Beyer figures of 81 & 94 respectively, the last of which was in a 50k allowance sprint at Churchill Downs.  A repeat of that effort will likely win this affair.  This trainer/jockey combination win percentage is excellent as well.

Alan & Susan Branch’s Quizzical is a Southern California invader with plenty of past class as well.  Quizzical may have a conditioning edge over this group, having raced 4 times this year (including twice in April), the last of which was just two weeks ago, a 6F 125k stakes race at Santa Anita losing the show in the last two jumps at odds of 26-1.  My concern here is will 3 hard races in less than 6 weeks result it her best effort?  Her Beyer figures are in a declining pattern & the trainer is winless in 6 tries at Emerald so far this season.  The trainer’s dirt & sprint win records are also of concern.  Still, one of the track’s best riders is in the irons.

Stopshoppingdebbie seems to be the best of trainer Tom Wenzel’s three enties (Goin to the Window & Blueberry Smoothie being the others) and the best of the local contingent.  Stopshoppingdebbie (daughter of the great Curlin) was a monster last year, winning all 5 of her races here, including a sprint stakes win here to open last season. Her last workout was best of the day. Wenzel is very good preparing horses coming from extended layoffs & this trainer/jockey combination is a winner as well.  Blueberry Smoothie was right there in stakes sprints last year too, though has been settling for a lesser piece of the pie lately.  The rail draw is also of concern, since others seem to have more early speed.

She’s Stella Marie has done her best running on turf, though trainer Jeff Metz has been red hot here & has proven very adept at successfully moving horses from turf to dirt.  Her Beyers also seem a bit light to be competitive here, as do those of Madame Pele, Ms. Sutherland & Goin to the Window.

Finding More & Stopshoppingdebbie are my key plays here.  Check the tote board to guide which to bet heaviest.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers I’m sure are reading this blog!

Good luck at the races!!

– Ron Classen,


Can California Chrome win the Kentucky Derby?

I love trying to pick the Kentucky Derby winner, which is surprising since I have been so bad at it over the years.  Still, I feel compelled to give it another go, so here is my analysis:

I’m going to toss Harry’s Holiday, We Miss Artie, Vinceremos, Commanding Curve and Pablo Del Monte whose Beyer speed figures seem too slow to be competitive.  Seven of the horses – count ’em seven – have done their best running at or near the front of the pack, including morning line (5/2) favorite California Chrome who has blown away the field in his last four races by a total of more than 24 lengths.  His last two Beyer figures are the best in the field (107 & 108 respectively).

I want to like this horse, with an accomplished, deserving, aging (77 years old) trainer who is bringing his first horse as trainer to the Derby and will likely never have another chance to win the Derby.  This is a blue collar guy’s horse, not regally bred and is being ridden by Victor Espinoza,a former bus driver who took riding lessons outside a farm in Mexico before moving to the U.S. and becoming one of this nation’s leading jockeys.  He won his only Kentucky Derby 12 years ago.

However, there are significant red flags that will give one pause.  Chrome’s sire never won a route race & his dam once raced in an $8,500 claimer.  Chrome is not bred to run this far or be this good, and yet …. betting against this horse feels like betting against Seabiscuit.  Chrome’s pace profile is good, but there are alot of fast front running horses here, & 5 other fast mid-pack horses ready to pounce.  But hey, I love Seabiscuit, I believe Chrome is the best of the front runners, so Chrome is a contender for me.

All seven of Wildcat Red’s lifetime races have been good, the last three of which have been excellent, so he must be considered as another serious front end threat.  Wildcat should offer good value at morning line odds of 15-1.

Danza, Candy Boy & Ride on Curlin are three mid-pack horses to take a good look at.  All are coming into the race in good form. Danza has only 4 lifetime races but its last race was very impressive, the CD clocker has been impressed with Danza’s morning works and I believe trainer Todd Pletcher to be one of the very best at his craft.  So, rolling Danza back in three weeks does not concern me. Danza’s pace figures are very good as well.  Danza figures to give good value.

Any improvement from Candy Boy puts him right in the mix – & I love Gary Stevens, 3 time Kentucky Derby winner, as the pilot.

Ride on Curlin looks like an improving horse to me & the switch to jockey Calvin Borel will help.  He had trouble in the Arkansas Derby & still got 2nd with a 94 Beyer.  Bred to run all day, expect an improved effort today & maybe a fourth KD win for Borel.

Closer Medal Count is another to keep your eye on.  Son of Dynaformer, Medal Count has the running style that may win this race if he can find the turf & synthetic closing kick that has deserted him so far on dirt.  Dynaformer was the sire of poor Barbaro, 2006 KD victor.   He has the pedigree, is big, fast & trainer Dale Roman says Medal Count may be the best horse he has ever trained.  Considering he trained Roses in May, Kitten’s Joy, & Shackleford, that is good enough for me.

So who’s the winner?  Well, last year’s hot pace cooked all the horses that got close to it, allowing Orb to come from something like 17th place to win.  This year’s jockeys may be so aware of this they might hold back on the front end …. but I doubt it.  So I’m going to key Danza, a good value horse who seems ready to run another big race.  I’ll also bet California Chrome with savers.  I’ll be watching the tote board too, looking for overlays of the six contenders I have mentioned, and will likely dutch some of them.

Good luck at the races!

– Ron Classen,

Untapable may not be unbeatable in Kentucky Oaks

Tomorrow’s (5/2) Kentucky Oaks Grade I Stakes for 3 yo fillies at Churchill Downs (CD) at first glance seems a mortal lock for Untapable.  Her last 2 Beyer figures (106, 100) are higher than any of the other horses have ever run.  Untapable is 2 for 2 at CD, including winning a Grade 2 stakes last September.  Jockey Rosie Napravnik has been aboard for all 4 Untapable wins, so is very familiar with the horse.

However, upon closer inspection, there are some red flags.  Untapable’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, has recently been dogged by allegations of using illegal drugs on his horses.  Those big Beyer figures were also earned at the Fairgrounds, which must have a slower type racing surface, because the actual winning times of the last two races (both 1 1/16) were 1:43.6 & 1:43, good times but times that are not beyond the capabilities of several contenders in the field.  The 1 1/16 running time of 1:42.8 turned in by Fashion Plate to win the SA Oaks is one example, as is the 1:43.2 put up by Rosiland to win the Ashland at Keenland April 5 on an artificial surface.  Unbridled Forever possesses a Beyer speed figure 15 points better than Untapable’s best at CD.

The early fractions in the Oaks figure to be very fast, with Sugar Shock, Fashion Plate, Empress of Midway & My Miss Sophia all in the early mix.  Untapable will need to run faster than the :48 or :48.2 half she ran in her last two, to stay in her preferred 1-3 lengths off the early pace.  If she does, will she have enough left in the stretch?  Bob Baffert recently took over the conditioning of Ria Antonia who has turned in 3 excellent works for this race & veteran hall of fame jockey Mike Smith is a master of pace in route races.  Rosiland is an excellent closer who will appreciate the added distance the 1 1/8 Kentucky Oaks offers.  My Miss Sophia is set for a big effort, looking very impressive in her last 2 outings, has a great jockey & a trainer that wins a good percentage of his graded stakes entries.

Untapable has looked unbeatably impressive, so I can’t blame you if you go with Untapable.  Sometimes it pays to be a master of the obvious & Untapable with those last two 100+ Beyers would appear to be the obvious choice.

However impressive Untapable has looked, she does need to overcome the outside post, and at the very short price she’s likely to command at post time, you might want to consider trying to beat her, or play some exotic combinations to make some $.

For what it’s worth, I’ll try for the upset & key My Miss Sophia in my exotic bets.  If she goes off at her 8-1 morning line odds, she will be a juicy win price.

Good luck at the races!

– Ron Classen,