The horse racing darlings of the 2009 make their 2010 debut on Saturday, but in separate races. Zenyatta will remain on her home turf, er uh synthetic surface, in Southern California at Santa Anita Park in the $250k Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational. Not surprisingly, she’s the 1-9 Morning Line favorite versus 8 fillies and mares, while carrying top weight. Rachel Alexandra will be breaking from the Fair Grounds (LA) starting gate in the $200k New Orleans Ladies Stakes against 4 brave soles, as a generous 1-5 Morning Line choice. It’s great to see both of these champions back on the track instead of sent out to the breeding barns before their time. Kudos to their connections.
For 3 year old males (aka colts and geldings) who are on the Road To The Roses, there are three (3) Derby prep races on Saturday, all at a distance of 1 1/16 mile. In keeping with the March Madness theme in sports, these races can be compared to a basketball Quarter-Final matchup. Those who win or give a good account of themselves here, will likely run in one more race (say a Semi-Final) prior to the (Championship matchup) Kentucky Derby on May 1st.
Breaking down these races in the order in which they will occur, the first off at approximately 5:30pm EST is the $300,000 Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Downs (FL), the 11th race on the card. #6 – Super Saver makes his long awaited 3 year old debut for trainer Todd Pletcher is the 2-1 Morning Line favorite. He’s the only one in this field of 7 who has competed in a Grade 1 event (4th by 2 in the Champagne) and won a Grade 2 event (by 5 in the KY Jockey Club), but Pletcher’s first call jockey (John R. Velazquez) elected to stay at Gulfstream to ride Rick Dutrow’s This Ones for Phil in the $300k Gulfstream Park Handicap. Add the fact Pletcher wants Super Saver to relax a bit and “take back” off the lead would be a plus for the only other front-runner, #5 – Schoolyard Dreams (3-1), whose owner/trainer combo captured this race in 2009 with Musket Man who went on to finish 3rd in the Derby. The wise-guy horse is #7 – Odysseus (7-2) who beat $75k Optional Claimers by 15 at this distance on this track in his last race. His running style and stride on the track has drawn comparisons to Preakness winner Curlin. Hometown favorite #1 – Uptowncharlybrown (5-2) adds Blinkers after finishing 4 lengths behind Rule in the Sam Davis 28 days ago. Trainer Nick Zito returns to Tampa with #2 – Tuvia’s Force (12-1) who was runner-up to Super Saver (by 7) in a maiden race at Belmont in September, but will carry 6 lbs. less than Super Saver today than he did in that maiden race and will have regular jock Jose Lezcano up. A pair of uncoupled Anthony Reinstedler trained colts, #3 –Gleam Of Hope (15-1) and #4 – Slammy Boy round out the field.
If Super Saver truly does stay off the lead, then #5 – Schoolyard Dreams will go gate-to-wire followed by #6 – Super Saver, #2 – Tuvia’s Force and #7 – Odysseus.
Next up around 6:45pm EST attention will shift to Oaklawn Park (AR) for the $300,000 Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, the 10th race on the card. Two year old Horse of the Year, Lookin At Lucky (#2; M/L 7-5) ships in from California to run on a natural dirt surface and adds Blinkers for the firsts time in his 6 race career. Trainer Bob Baffert needs to find out if his 2 year old star is Derby-worthy (i.e. can handle a dirt surface). His main two rivals in this field of 7 will be #6 – Nobles Promise (5-2), a narrow two-time runner-up to Lookin At Lucky and #7 – Dublin (3-1) whose 2010 runner-up debut in the Southwest on Feb. 20th proved he’s fully recovered from throat surgery in November. A sleeper in this group is #4 – Uh Oh Bango (5-1), an AZ-bred whose narrow loss to Rule in the Delta Downs Jackpot in December looks pretty good after Rule returned to convincingly win the Sam Davis at Tampa.
Go with #7 – Dublin, he’ll greatly benefit from getting Corey Nakatani in the irons versus journeyman Terry Thompson whose ride may have cost Dublin a victory in the Southwest. Complete your exotics with #6 – Nobles Promise who will make his first start on natural dirt as well, but has been training at Gulfstream Park (dirt), turning in impressive times; # 2 – Lookin At Lucky on pure class alone should be right there and #5 – Uh Oh Bango.
The final Derby prep of the weekend is the $150,000 Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita (CA), the 9th race on the card, Post Time is 7:39pm EST. The Rodney Dangerfield 5-2 Morning Line favorite is undefeated (5 for 5) #7 – Caracortado. If this CA-bred was trained by Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher, the track oddsmaker would have him at 7-5. Hence, the Rodney Dangerfield reference…no respect. Yeah he’s a gelding, CA-bred and all 5 victories have each been by less than 2 lengths, but he does what’s most important in horse racing, he wins. Here he’ll have to fend offs 6 formidable foes, 4 of which have been given Morning Line odds of 4-1 and less. Two 3-1 runners are a pair of John Sadler trainees, # 5 – Sidney’s Candy stretching out from his 4 length win in the 7 furlong San Vicente in his 3 year old debut and #6 – Dave In Dixie, runner-up to Caracortado in the Robert Lewis last out. The 4-1 runners are #4 – American Lion who tired to 3rd in the stretch in the Robert Lewis gets Blinkers and should improve in his second race at this distance and #2 – Interactif who has been a turf runner for Todd Pletcher goes without the services of regular jock, Kent Desormeaux who elected to ride a few mounts at Tampa Downs instead. Outsiders are maiden #1 – Stephen’s Got Hope (20-1) and maiden winner in his 5th career outing #3 – Erbeia (20-1).
Handicapping thoughts see #5 - Sidney’s Candy being able to set a moderate pace and hold off the late charging #6 – Dave In Dixie and #7 – Caracortado as #4 – American Lion hangs tough in the stretch. My heart is with Dave In Dixie has I have a significant Derby Futures wager on him at 28-1. But one should always bet with their head and not their heart.
Enjoy a great day of thoroughbred horse racing. Share the fun with a friend.