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Wednesday, 04 April 2018 19:49

Looking Ahead

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April 4, 2018

Looking Ahead

By: Jonathan Stettin


We have three major Kentucky Derby preps this Saturday in three different states across the country. The Wood Memorial in New York, the Santa Anita Derby in California, and the Blue Grass in Kentucky. Unfortunately, all three are in danger of being run under less than ideal conditions. Poor weather is hovering around all of those races. This really puts the connections, who have waited for these spots to get the points they need to get into the Kentucky Derby, up against it. The following Saturday we have the Arkansas Derby and Lexington Stakes that will wrap things up and set the stage for the first Saturday in May.

Since the inception of the point system in 2013 all the Derby winners were undefeated in their three-year old campaigns. I don’t believe that was by accident or coincidental. Starting back in 2013 and through last year Orb, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, and Always Dreaming all went through their respective three- year old campaigns leading to the Derby without a hiccup on the racetrack. The obvious conclusion is the point system doesn’t really allow for pointing for a race with steady progression and not being fully cranked from the onset.

Of all the horses trying to get to the Derby this Saturday none has more hype than Justify. This fast and talented colt will get his first real class test in the Santa Anita Derby when he faces Bolt d’ Oro, who was a leading two-year old and is also considered by many to be a top three-year old. Justify is two for two in his brief career and both starts came at three-years old. That means he has to buck the long-standing Apollo curse if he is to win the Kentucky Derby. Although that dates back pretty far by any standard, all these trends and statistics eventually go the way of the dosage index and go down. In reality, how many horses who did not race at two went into the Kentucky Derby with a legit chance? Maybe Pulpit or Curlin recently, but historically probably not that many. If you are a Justify believer I wouldn’t be worried about Apollo.

Justify has gotten the hype of being Bob Baffert’s best Kentucky Derby hope since he made his debut at Santa Anita in February, winning at 7 furlongs in 1:21.4. That’s fast at any track. He came back just about a month later to win at a mile over a muddy Santa Anita track in 1:35.3. He has yet to face the quality of Bolt d’ Oro but he does have that mud win and all the hype with him. Additionally, his stablemate is McKinzie. If we are to believe the hype, he is better than McKinzie and that runner gave Bolt d’ Oro all he could handle. He also has Bob Baffert in his corner. That can only help in any big race.

Bolt d’ Oro is battle tested. He had a rough go of it in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He literally had a war with Mckinzie last out, what resulted in McKinzie being disqualified. The two bumped turning for home and again nearing the wire but what sticks out to me is it never looked like Bolt d’ Oro was going to get by. Despite being carried out, which I remain cognizant of, I don’t believe the incident cost Bolt d’Oro the win.

Mick Ruis has done a fine job training Bolt d’ Oro thus far. He is now at the point on the Derby trail where things start to change. This is his first run and he does not have the experience that his chief rival, Bob Baffert, has in winning these types of races. I think that can play a part come Saturday.

I am a long way from handing the roses to Justify, or anyone else for that matter. There is plenty of time for that. The race on Saturday has not even been drawn yet so no detailed homework has been done. Strictly by the naked eye and experience, I will be a lot more surprised to see Bolt d’ Oro in the Santa Anita winners circle on Saturday than I will Justify. I think it is likely Justify punches his ticket to Louisville with a win and heads to town looking to bump Apollo as an undefeated three-year old with no starts at two. Getting that done is another matter altogether.

Published in Jon Stettin's Blog
Thursday, 09 March 2017 15:51

Big 'Cap Preview

big cap

From Santa Anita

ARCADIA, Calif. (March 8, 2017)–Jimmy Jerkens’ Shaman Ghost and Phil D’Amato’s Midnight Storm head a competitive field of nine older horses in Saturday’s Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap at a mile and a quarter. America’s longest continually run “hundred grander,” the Big ‘Cap, which was first staged in 1935, will be run for the 80th time at The Great Race Place.

A solid second to the mighty Arrogate in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park, Shaman Ghost will be stretching out a furlong for Jerkens, while Midnight Storm, a winner of five out of his last six starts, including his last two, will try to stretch his speed out off a front-running tally here in the Grade II, 1 1/16 miles San Pasqual Stakes on Jan. 1.

SHAMAN GHOST: Based with Jerkens in south Florida, this 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper could rate top billing as he exits what appears to be the best race of his career in the Pegasus, a race in which he was beaten 4 ¾ lengths. A winner of the prestigious Grade I Woodward Stakes three starts back on Sept. 3 at Saratoga, he earned a career-top Beyer Speed figure of 112 in the Pegasus and will hope to be in high gear under four-time Eclipse Champion Jockey Javier Castellano on Saturday. Owned by Stronach Stables and bred in Ontario, Canada by their Adena Springs, Shaman Ghost showed good early foot in the Pegasus, easily outrunning California Chrome to the first turn. With a win and a second from three tries at a mile and a quarter, Shaman Ghost’s connections will hope Midnight Storm gets plenty of early pressure on the front end. Coincidentally, Castellano, who will be riding in his first Big ‘Cap, burst upon the national scene by guiding Ghostzapper to victory in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Jerkens, in his first Big ‘Cap attempt a year ago, was third with Effinex. Stronach Stables will be looking for their third Big ‘Cap score, as their homebred Milwaukee Brew won the race in 2002 & 2003. Shaman Ghost is 14-6-2-2 overall with earnings of $3,089,311 ($1,750,000 of which was derived from his second place finish in the Pegasus).

MIDNIGHT STORM: Thought to be most effective on turf, D’Amato shifted gears following his third place finish three starts back in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Mile (turf) here on Nov. 5 and tried him in the Grade III Native Diver Stakes, run at 1 1/8 miles over a “good” main track at Del Mar on Nov. 27. The result was a dominating gate to wire win by 7 ¾ lengths, which led D’Amato to begin plotting a course to the Santa Anita Handicap. A 1 ¼ length winner on a wet fast surface in the San Pasqual Jan. 1, there’s no mystery as to how the 6-year-old full horse by Pioneerof the Nile will approach the Big ‘Cap, as it’s fully expected he’ll be sent to the lead straight out of the gate. Owned by A Venneri Racing, Inc. and Little Red Feather Racing, Midnight Storm was off the board in his only career try at the Big ‘Cap distance. With earnings of $1,461,110, he has an overall record of 21-10-3-1.

IMPERATIVE: A 7-year-old Bernardini gelding, he comes off one of his best-ever performances, a head victory in the 1 1/8 miles Poseidon Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 28, which was also his first start for trainer Bob Hess, Jr. He’s another that would benefit from a fast pace as he tries to break an 0-9 slide at a mile and a quarter. Owned by Loooch Racing Stables and Imaginary Stables, he’s a sharp horse whose connection are out to prove his last race was no fluke. With one win from 14 lifetime starts at Santa Anita, Imperative is 36-5-8-3 overall with earnings of $2,240,790.

FOLLOW ME CREV: Always highly regarded by trainer Vladimir Cerin, he rallied boldly from off the pace to take a 1 1/16 miles classified allowance here on Feb. 20–overcoming a seven month respite. Owned by David and Holly Wilson, this 5-year-old Quality Road gelding was forced to miss last year’s Big ‘Cap due to a minor injury and will hope to be rolling late in his first attempt at a mile and a quarter.

THE GRADE I SANTA ANITA HANDICAP WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER

Race 10 of 11 Approximate post time 4:30 p.m. PT

  • Midnight Storm–Rafael Bejarano–122
  • Gangster–Mario Gutierrez–115
  • Shaman Ghost–Javier Castellano–122
  • Isotherm–Flavien Prat–119
  • Hard Aces–Victor Espinoza–119
  • Follow Me Crev–Kent Desormeaux–116
  • Twentytwentyvision–Mike Smith–116
  • Hi Happy–Altair Domingos–116
  • Imperative–Antonio Gallardo–119