Category Archives: USA

Preview: Belmont Stakes

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11.50 Belmont: Belmont Stakes (Grade 1)

Pretty clear storyline tonight: American Pharoah wins the Belmont and becomes the first conquer of the Triple Crown in ages. That’s the theory at least, or what the betting is telling us. Well, in fact many experts were making strong cases for this scenario as well. Pharoah’s relaxed attitude, lack of real opposition and so on where all brought up. And rightly so.

It would be massive for our sport if American Pharoah could make it happen – the sport needs superstars. Pharoah already is a star, of course. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. But win the Triple Crown and immortality beckons. While he was still heavily challenged in the Derby, he hacked up at sloppy Pimlico – but here’s the all important question: can he show the same class over in the Belmont Stakes, a race which puts an alien like test to him?

Alien like because the 12f trip is a marathon distance for US racing. Something comparable with 2m in Europe. That’s down the nature of US racing. Emphasis is on early speed, unlike in Europe.

Personally I’m wary. I was sceptical before the Preakness, back then voicing concerns about the potential third leg of the Tripe Crown. American Pharoah doesn’t give me the impression to be a stayer. He’s speedy and powerful, but on pedigree you would give him very little chance to go as far as 12f.

Now, he has the right attitude, he really has! And he usually hits the line strongly – so happened in the Derby and the Preakness – plus there is there general perception of the lack of classy opposition in the Belmont Stakes, which many believe there is just nobody who’s capable of beating him.

My view is: that all counts for nothing if he doesn’t stay the trip. It’s that simple. Yes, my heart is with him tonight, all fingers crossed when he enters the home straight. But my money won’t be.

So let’s check out Pharoah’s opposition, shall we? I’m a huge fan of Mike De Kock and South African racing, so I’d love to see Mubtaahij running a mighty race. He swerved the Preakness, which was probably the right decision. But I’ve trouble to see him getting home over this trip. Unfortunately.

Derby fourth Frosted is thought to be the biggest danger to American Pharoah. He also comes here as a fresh horse and seems likely to appreciate the trip. He wasn’t well positioned at Churchill Downs, staying on well from the back. On pedigree he has a fair chance to stay 12f, but it’s not a given either.

Tale Of Vale came from a long way back to finish second in the Preakness, albeit still decisively beaten by Pharoah. Not sure if this performance reflects his true ability. He didn’t really excel in minor races before. So I’m rather cautious – he might not be able to back it up. Though the longer trip may well suit.

Staying on in the Derby was Materiality. A son of Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, he may appreciated the trip. Whether he is good enough is another question. At least he already is a Grade 1 winner, so can’t be easily discounted. Might be an interesting alternative against the red hot favourite.

However I find Keen Ice more appealing at a much bigger price. He also didn’t go to Pimlico, and is closely matched with Materiality on the Kentucky Derby form, as he finished behind him in 7th. Keen Ice encountered a troubled run, travelling way off the pace. He was hampered and short of room in the closing stages, but finished the race well enough.

He’s a son of Belmont Stakes runner-up Curlin, who can get offspring capable of staying the Belmont trip, like in 2013 with Palace malice – his stock sometimes needs a while to hit best form as well. Keen ice has some fair Belmont form in his dam line too.

That brings me to my final point: the heart is with American Pharoah – if he wins tonight he’s to be considered one of the all-time greats. My head and money is with Keen Ice, though, who seems to have good credentials to appreciate the Belmont trip and who looks still a big price, despite some money pouring in for him.

Keen Ice @ 16/1 Paddy Power – 5pts Win

Preakness Stakes: Rod can spoil the party!

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Here we are, only two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, there’s the second leg of the American Triple Crown right in front of us! Yes, it’s Preakness Stakes Saturday, and boy, it promises to be an exciting renewal: the Derby winner, runner-up, third and fifth – they are all here. It’s round two of American Pharoah v Dortmund v Firing Line!

Of course there is the all overshadowing question: Do we have a Triple Crown winner on our hands? Well, American Pharoah was as good a Kentucky Derby winner as it gets, no doubt about that (though you better don’t get me started to talk about the butcher of a jockey Mr Espinoza!). But that doesn’t make him a ‘wonder horse’, as some ‘experts’ want to make us believe.

Anyway, let’s stay focused on what is important: Can American Pharoah win the Triple Crown? Nope. No chance!

Don’t get me wrong, this is a really talented individual. He was the best horse in the Derby, and he won, despite one or two difficulties to overcome during the race. But hype comes and goes quickly. We know that. Once he starts losing, he’s already forgotten.

Personally I find it hard to believe that American Pharoah is capable of staying the Belmont trip. The facts are against him. He’s a dubious stayer on pedigree and the Belmont is traditionally a race where you find some fresher horses in the line-up who are also better suited to the kind of unique test this race provides.

As for today, absolutely American Pharoah is the favourite. Though maybe not quite as clear as the betting wants us to believe he is?! Well, maybe he is. But a price of 5/6 isn’t really anything more than a fair price. So, do we have alternatives?

Derby runner-up Firing Line ran the race of his life. He was gutsy, but couldn’t quite hold on. The slight drop in trip may help him. He looks progressive and should be a big contender once again today. If he is quite good enough to beat American Pharoah, who’s probably even more fancied to do better over the shorter trip, remains to be seen.

I love Dortmund. I stated it quite often in recent weeks. His Derby performance doesn’t change that. He ran out of gas and that was always a possibility with the trip not sure to suit. The drop in distance is sure to suit today, though may still stretch him enough. My main concern is the fact that he had already four tough runs this year. It might be time to give him a break.

Derby fifth Danzig Moon is a good, tough horse. He always keeps going, though never seems to be really dangerous. That means he’s probably not good enough. His only win came in maiden company.

A brief look at the betting tells us there’s no other horse with a chance in this race….. or is there? Absolutely, there is! The exciting Tapit colt Divining Rod is overlooked. But not by me. I like his lightly raced profile and the fact that he comes into this race fresh off a five weeks break.

He won the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes in super style last month, which would have entitled him to start in the Kentucky Derby. However he wasn’t rushed to be ready in time for the big one, instead connections decided to skip the first leg of the Triple Crown and aim him at the Preakness. He should love the trip and may be able to improve quite a bit.

I really like his Lexington performance, He showed gate speed, settled well and one single slight flick with the whip ensured that he went almost effortless into the clear. To my eyes he’s the right type to take on the well fancied Kentucky Derby runners.

That says It may turn out he is not quite up to the highest level. It may well be that American Pharoah is too good. But we don’t know that yet. And with the facts in hand right now, I have to believe Divining Rod is outstanding value.

Divining Rod @ 20/1 Paddy Power – 5pts Win

No Lasix for Mubtaahij

Knowing Mike De Kock, it doesn’t come as a surprise, but it is still a brave move – the South African handler has opted against the use of Lasix for his Kentucky Derby runner Mubtaahji. De Kock argues:

“He’s never run on it, he doesn’t bleed, and I’m not prepared to take my chances running him on a substance he’s never run on before. … He’s good enough without it. I’m not experienced enough to say whether Thoroughbreds in general will or won’t run well on Lasix … If I gave him Lasix he may run better, he may run worse, but I’m not going to experiment. Lasix is not even a consideration for him.”

Source: BloodHorse.com

Obviously as someone who condemns the use of Lasix as race day medication I applaud this decision. In fact I admire his decision! Because let’s be honest, most foreign trainers do use Lasix once they send over their horses to the US. And one could argue: Rightly so.

My point of view is that Lasix is a performance enhancing drug. Actually, did anyone ever seriously doubted that? I mean this drug seems particularly effective if horses run on it for the first time. Naturally, these are often foreign raiders on their first ever visit to the US. There are many examples of horses improving dramatically. You’ve ever heard of Main Sequence?

But my favourite example is the filly Dank. A good filly, a Group 3 winner in Europe – but once on Lasix, she looked like on a different planet! I’d say she was literally flying in the Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington. Yes, maybe only a US Turf Grade 1, against weaker opposition than she would probably meet in Europe – still, the sheer acceleration… spectacular! Unbelievable!

Another fact to my point: She beat the very good filly Duntle by more than six lengths that day – she wasn’t even close to do that when these two met before. Not to mention multiple Grade 1 winning mare Marketing Mix, beaten by almost six lengths either! Further to his: If I have it right in mind, Duntle actually didn’t run on Lasix that day at Arlington.

Now, this is only the most dramatic example which comes to my mind when I think about the use of Lasix and the possible improvement it can bring out. There are many more, if you search for it, though. That says, it can’t make poor horses fly and doesn’t work for everyone. Of course not. If you’re not good enough, you’re not enough anyway. But there’s no doubt, that Lasix can bring out some improvement in good horses. It’s a performance enhancer. Simple as that.

That brings me back to the more present moment: De Kock opting against Lasix. As much as I applaud this decision , you have to wonder if it is a wise move from a pure performance point of view. Doesn’t this lower the chances of Mubtaahij to win the Derby? Yes, it absolutely does in my mind. He’s running against a bunch of US horses doped to the maximum (exaggeratedly spoken – but true to an extend). It certainly doesn’t make this mighty task any easier.

On the other hand, you got to trust the wise man – Mike De Kock. He’s a brilliant trainer, and If he believes this horse is good enough to take on a top class US Derby generation, even without Lasix,… well you know, chances arereal that the horse is good enough indeed!

Preview: Santa Margarita

Small field at Santa Anita for this Grade 1, without a real outstanding candidate, and in general it looks a rather open renewal. Warren’s Veneda is trading as favourite at the moment after she looked an improved mare over the last number of weeks. She won two on the bounce, most notably her recent success in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes. She got the perfect race and ride, trailing the field and making a sweeping move around the home turn to win with a bit of authority. She steps up in trip to 1 1⁄8 miles for the first time, but has a fair chance to stay the additional distance. A couple in this field try this trip for the first time and that adds to the openness of the contest.

The mare I feel is a good deal overpriced is the generally still rather lightly raced Uzziel. She finished runner-up in the Santa Maria, and was fair and square beaten in the end. However she was the one who fared best from the horses up with- or tracking the pace, while the winner and the horses behind her came all from off the pace. The fact that she was able to keep going must give her a fine chance of getting the new trip, as she looked more beaten for speed than anything else. On pedigree, this should suit very well too. That says it is not out of this world that she can turn around the form with Warren’s Veneda. And if she can do that, then she’ll go very close here today.

11.00 Santa Anita: Santa Margarita Invitational (Grade 1)
Uzziel @ 14/1 William Hill – 5pts win

Khozan’s a special colt!

You may remember this: I made recently a case for Dortmund to the win the Kentucky Derby. Nothing has changed in that regard, I still believe Bob Baffert’s colt will be a big runner on Derby day, in fact I do fancy him to be one of the shining stars this season. However, sometimes you come across something that makes you think: “WOW, this is special!”.

It’s likely that I wasn’t the only one who thought this way after the lightly raced Khozan won a Claiming race at Gulfstream Park by a mere 12 lengths last weekend. This low mileage colt is rapidly emerging as one of THE prime Derby contenders for the Kentucky Derby. But Why? Well, there is his outstanding pedigree first of all. He is a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Royal Delta, and simply bred to be a champion. Take this: His sire, dam, and damsire were all graded stakes winners, and his damsire was even inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame

Then there is his price tag. He was purchased by Al Shaqab Racing for $1mio at the sales. Right, you may say, money doesn’t make necessarily a good racehorse. Only to point out then, that Khozan looked the real deal when he appeared on the racetrack! He ran extremely well first time out on a very eye-catching debut. But Khozan clearly stepped up to another level over the last weekend. He couldn’t have been more impressive on what was only his second career start then when winning a claimer by a street under a light hands and heels ride. Yes, he didn’t beat much, but as mentioned, this was only his second career start and he got a really nice educational ride, having some difficulties to overcome right after a start and also getting some dirt into his face. This experience will toughen him up and he should have learned plenty. The manner he drew clear in the home straight was nothing less than impressive after all.

So far so good. Okay, here’s a bit of a dilemma, though: History is against him. Horses that haven’t raced as two year olds have failed in their attempt to win the Derby since Apollo managed to do exactly that for the last time – back in 1982. They call it the “Apollo Cause.” But hey, you know what? Sometimes it needs something special to break the duck. Khozan has the talent to do so… if he can qualify for the Derby. Because he hasn’t qualified for the race yet! Obviously he didn’t have any chance to earn points yet.

But, breath easy, he’s due to run in the Florida Derby next. If he wins it, he’s in. The race should suit perfectly as he has won twice at Gulfstream Park now. If he is a legitimate Derby contender, well then he has to perform strongly in this next qualifier anyway. Do I expect him to live up to his rapidly growing reputation? Yes, absolutely. You can still back Khozan at 20/1 with Bet365 & Racebets. I’d recommend to lump on. Back Dortmund and this boy at the big prices which are available now – surly not on Derby day though – and you’ll have two extremely strong runners for your money when it really matters!

It’s Dortmund’s Derby

It’s midway trough February – time is really flying! Blink with the eye and we’re almost in May. Then when the run for the roses is upon us… the Kentucky Derby, the myth-enshrouded race along the iconic Churchill Downs twin towers. It’s one of those races I’m always looking forward to. It’s the atmosphere surrounding this event. Staged like the battle of titans. legends are born here. Will we see something special? Or may this even be the start for some colt to merge as a potential Triple Crown winner?

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This year, the race is going to be ran on the 2nd of May. As always, the first Saturday in May. Yes, this may seem still almost three months away, but I said it before: time is flying. Qualifying races for the Derby are already under way. In fact some of the ‘thought to be main contenders’ have even shown their class this year.

It’s no surprise that Bob Baffert seems to have a very strong hand for the 2015 renewal – yet again. The two horses at the head of the ante-post market are trained by him. That is American Pharoah – he was mightily impressive as a juvenile last year. Though he missed the Breeders Cup due to a foot injury. He is reportedly back in training and will be back racing, probably next month.The other one is Dortmund, who showed his class this season already.

Indeed, it is this very good looking colt Dortmund who made me go down the ante-post route – which is rather unusual for me these days. But I do really like this horse. He has just started as well into his classic campaign as he ended his juvenile season: With ultimate success, protecting a 100% record!

So what is it about him? Well, Dortmund won his first two career starts by a combined 12 lengths +, including a runaway victory at Churchill Downs – which is the home of the Kentucky Derby of course. He followed on to win the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity Stakes in dramatic style at the end of last year. That day he stayed on strongly to win it in a photo, while setting a new 1 1/16 miles course record! Yes you read that right. This two year old colt set a new course record on only his third ever career start!

Dortmund reappeared in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes last week for his first race in the new year. He looked a bit fresh and keen early on, was bang on with the pace, and got himself locked up in a match race from halfway out. Turning for home he seemed beaten when dropping a good lengths behind the then leader Firing Line – who himself is a fancy for the Derby, and finished a narrowly beaten runner-up in the Los Alamitos behind Dortmund. But then Dortmund showed some impressive guts, something you wouldn’t see often in such a young horse. He fought his way back into the race! Close to the line, he eyeballed Firing Line and eventually emerged victorious – clearly on top when it really mattered!

One simply has to be impressed with what Dortmund has done so far in his short career. Keep in mind, according to his trainer, he actually didn’t quite fancies the Santa Anita dirt, but actually prefers the deeper Dirt tracks, like Churchill. And is if not enough, what really impresses me about this colt is his fabulous conformation. He is an absolutely stunning looking individual. He has this huge frame, these mighty long strides, and looks quite mature and very forward at this stage. With that in mind, he has the right profile for the Kentucky Derby. Reportedly he is still a big baby – mentally – but he should have learned plenty from these last tough battles.

After all he ticks almost all the right boxes:  He Acts at Churchill Downs, a track that suits him very well. He proved his class and attitude at the highest level. Has the looks of a monster. He set a track record at Los Alamitos over 1 1/16 miles – as a two year old. is it too good to be true? Well, the only question mark is the Derby trip. He is bred more for speed actually, however he is a son of Derby winner Big brown nonetheless and there is stamina on the dam side down the generations. Also the way he finished his races are a fair indicator that he can get further. Given his relaxed character, he should have every chance to stay the Kentucky Derby distance.

Next stop is the Santa Anita Derby. After that we know much more about him. I duly expect him to oblige. If Dortmund wins indeed, you can be sure that he’ll be a very short price on Derby day. So I’ll be going now with the big 16/1 offer. I believe this colt is the real deal, as long as he stays healthy!

Want to have a bet on the Derby or any other US race? > Kentucky Derby at BetOnline