by Tom Carley
This week’s edition of BABYTALK finds us really starting to “move & groove”. We have a California prep race to review, as well as the first Derby preps being run this upcoming weekend at Fairgrounds & Oaklawn Park. In addition, there are undercard Allowance races for 3-year-old horses that may offer winners a shot at making the Derby field. I will demonstrate that later in the column.
One other point to remember. On January 1st, every horse is one year older, no matter their actually birthday. So, as if January 1, 2015, all 2-year-olds are now considered 3-year-olds, and start racing as such.
I. Sham Stakes Recap The first California Derby prep of 2015 was run January 10 at Santa Anita: the Sham Stakes. This is a 1-mile race, and most of the major West Coast contenders (American Pharoah, Texas Red, Dortmund) were not entered because they have already run at longer distances as 2-year-olds. These horses will continue to work out in the mornings, and make their 3-year-old debuts in February.
To keep updated on the progress of these horses, one needs to occasionally review the workout reports for the major tracks. While this seems like a major task, most of the primary contenders only workout on the weekends. One can review the workout tabs of Saturday, Sunday and Monday once a week for the major tracks.
HINT!!! The major racetracks have a workout report on each racetrack’s individual website. Just read this every 3 days and you should get all the information you need.
The way I see it, only one horse who ran in the Sham Stakes stood out and needs to be followed going forward.
Calculator This horse won the race, as expected. Important, because he earned 10 points for the victory. This victory reduces the pressure on Calculator as he faces California horses, in future prep races, that he has already lost to previously. Skeptics of Calculator can knock the quality of the field that day, and point to the fact that he was the overwhelming favorite to win the race. Calculator did rate well, closing strongly in the stretch to pass the speedier horses who were fading.
- Calculator showed an ability to rate
- Calculator erased any questions of this horse’s health. He had previously developed a foot issue that forced him to scratch from the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile and miss the Los Alamitos Futurity.
- Calculator has beaten some of the California contenders and lost to American Pharoah in his last two starts.
- Calculator finally broke his maiden (earned his first win) after losing his first 4 races
- Those who wager are paying more attention to his horse. His odds on the Wynn Casino Kentucky Derby Futures Pool dropped from 50 :1 to 25:1.
- Stamina may be a question because the sire of this stallion’s has not yet produced horses that can run distances longer than 1 mile.
- Calculator has already been defeated by American Pharoah twice. He has not run against some of the other major California contenders.
- Calculator was a maiden before this race. It would have been preferable that he had broken his maiden as a 2-year-old. It means he was the least experienced horse in this stake race.
Other California Notes:
Texas Red Texas Red had a very good work Saturday January 10. It might not be good based on his time, but was visually impressive for the following reasons:
- The horse worked in the middle of the racetrack. Running in the middle of the track shows me that this was a workout to maintain & build endurance: it was not necessarily about clocking the best time.
- The horse’s regular jockey, Kent Desormeaux was aboard for the work. So, the jockey was afforded more time to bond with the horse and they get to know each other’s movements. Being ridden by his regular jockey also eliminated the possibility of a pacing error (going too fast or too slow) that an inexperienced exercise rider might have made.
- The jockey did not urge this horse at all. He neither used the whip nor otherwise encouraged the horse to work. One of the factors I use to judge a workout is how still the rider stands. If he stands motionless aboard the horse, that means the horse is running at his own will without urging. If I see the exercise rider moving his hands or leaning his body, it shows me the horse is not really interests in exerting a full effort that day.
- A lower level stakes horse from the Baffert barn whose name I did not catch while watching the work on HRTV began his effort after Texas Red. This horse was running on the rail, and therefore only worked 3 furlongs compared to Texas Red’s half mile work in the center of the oval track. Because of the other horse’s shorter path around the track and quicker work (due to shorter distance), the horse gained on Texas Red. At the 1/8 th mile pole, Texas Red sensed the other horse gaining. Without urging from the rider, Texas Red “kicked into a higher gear” so the other horse coul not pass Texas Red.
I admit I was originally not impressed with this horse. However, he is starting to grow on me. We will see how he performs when he faces the “Best of the West” in the California prep races. Just remember the positives of this workout.
II. Oaklawn opens After cancelling racing last week due to the cold weather, (Never go to Hot Springs, Arkansas on opening weekend. Every time I have attended opening weekend, at least one day of racing has been cancelled) the meet opens this week. A 3-year-old Stakes race will be run there. Because the track surfaces are so similar, horses that have prepped in Arkansas historically have good track records in the Kentucky Derby. Sometimes these horses ship to the Arkansas Fairgrounds to race in prep races, but the key is where they workout and build their endurance.
Many attribute the historically positive Derby track record of the Arkansas prepped horses to the similarity in the Oaklawn surface to the racetrack at Churchill Downs. Horses such as Smarty Jones, Curlin & Afleet Alex have been stabled in Arkansas before running well in the Kentucky Derby. There are four Derby preps in the Arkansas program (compared to 3 at some other tracks) and this will give the horses a chance to mature by racing, not simply working out in the morning.
III. Keep an eye on horses in Allowance races for 3-year-olds I know I mentioned this in detail in last week’s column. The first horse that has caught my eye watching these races is Itsaknockout. This colt has won 2 races in a row at Gulfstream. A quick check of the Wynn Casino Kentucky derby Futures Pool shows this horse is also gaining support with those who like to wager on horses. His odds have decreased from 60:1 to 45:1. While this horse will not be in the next Kentucky Derby Futures Pool because he has not yet raced in a stakes race, this is one to keep in the back of your mind. Continue to watch these races and you could find similar horses that will be great value if they run in prep races. Those who wager can make money in the preps and do not have to wait for the Kentucky Derby to boost their bankroll.
IV. Fairground Fillies With apologies to Take Charge Brandi and those 3-year-old fillies located in Florida, it seems to me that the winner of the Oaks will most likely come from the Fairgrounds in Arkansas. A review of the horses at the Fairgrounds shows a group of talented fillies that, as they face each other in the prep races, will get battle-tough for the Kentucky Oaks. Ones that have caught my eye include:
- Finished 2nd in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies, as well as the Alcibaidies Stakes at Keeneland.
- Mike Smith now takes over for “retired” jockey Rosie Naparavnik.
- Has raced well on a wet fast track.
West Coast Belle
- Undefeated in all 3 career starts, including the Grade 2 Golden Rod.
- Has won at Churchill Downs.
- Has won sprinting at 5 1/2 furlongs and at 1 1/16 mile.
- Has demonstrated she can rate, or close to a fast early pace.
I’m a Chatterbox
- Moves to the barn of Larry Jones, who has won the Kentucky Oaks multiple times.
- Proven in the Golden Rod that she can face adversity and still turn in a good, solid effort.
- Working well in the new barn.
- Trainer has a great reputation of working well with younger fillies.