Tag Archives: Dirt

Preview: Kentucky Derby 2018 – A Spring Night’s Dream?

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After contemplating the whole week whether it’s a smart or not so smart decision, yet after listing to some beautiful Mendelssohn on this balmy spring Saturday, I decided the time has come: at 5/1 I’m IN!

A lot has been said about the UAE Derby winner’s performance at Meydan by people who are far more knowledgeable than I am: quite a few experts are of the opinion Mendelssohn was riding the “golden highway” on the inside rail and what did he beat anyways after Rayya bombed out in the Kentucky Oaks last night.

There is certainly merit to it. Figures based on that UAE Derby performance have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, what remains with me at least is the fact Mendelssohn not only won that day, but he annihilated a half-decent field with incredible ease (18½ to the runner-up Rayya) while doing so in a record winning time.

But there is more to like about him than only this one freakish performance: Mendelssohn won the Breeder’s Cup turf at the end of his two-year old campaign at Del Mar.

Given he was  a late May foal, he achieved far more as a juvenile than one could usually expected, as he also ran out a fine 2nd in the Dewhurst.

In summary: Mendelssohn has proven to travel well internally (so the slight issues around his arrivel may not be a big deal at all), he acts on any sort of surface and his best is (probably) yet to come.

Coolmore also seems rather bullish about his chances, Ryan Moore makes the trip across the pond, missing out on the 2000 Guineas, and while Mendelssohn’s wide draw could theoretically spell trouble it’s in practice no problem – as long as he breaks well (which he would need from any stall anyway).

So, c’mon Mendelssoh, make it A Spring Night’s Dream!

Selection:
10pts win – Mendelssohn @ 5/1 Matchbook

2017 Breeders’ Cup – Selections

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The juggernaut that is the Breeders Cup is nearly upon us! In fact it’s only a couple of hours away. The pinnacle of the US racing season also brings down 2017 for many  of the European equine superstars too.

Del Mar it is this year –  a change from Santa Anita for once, though with that we do stay in California. Racing starts on Friday with ten races on the card. Historically I haven’t done overly well from a pure betting point of view, though I immensely enjoy watching the event on NBC. The TV coverage is all class.

I keep my bets to a minimum this time. Three selections – that is all!

…….

Friday 9.25: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, 1m

Without the shadow of the doubt Aiden O’Brien’s Happily is the form horse in the field. She won two major Group 1’s on the bounce, including the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere when beating the boys.

Granted, she had a long season with six starts and coming here at the end of the year isn’t easy – if she reproduces anything close to her recent form, she is hard to beat, though. On paper that is.

Question marks are over her pace in the early stages of the race. She has got a perfect draw but will Happily be able to utilize it? Ryan Moore will want to have her settling close to the speed in an ideal world.

She appeared a bit outpaced early on in France the other day, and had trouble catching up with the leaders in the home straight. She grinded it out, more than anything. Fast ground at Del Mar will be not forgiving, if she does not gets quickly out of the blocks.

That says, on pedigree the ground should suit. She’s got more experience now and you would think that Ran Moore, given the clear disadvantage settling off the pace, will be a bit more vigorous pushing her forward, if needed.

Happily should not lack stamina, so once moving, she will keep moving for as long as it’s needed.

There is juice in the price in my mind. I expected her to be good deal shorter, given the opposition in the field is not as good as what she faced in her last two starts.

Selection:
10pts win – Happily @ 4/1 PP

……

Saturday 11.37: Breeders’ Cup Turf, 1m 4f

One last hooray for Highland Reel. He’ll go to stud after this – a race he won last year. Or shall we say stole? He got away under a perfect ride by Jamie Heffernan that day.

The globetrotter had another productive season in 2017. Winner of the Coronation- and Prince of Wales’s Stakes. When he gets his preferred conditions Highland Reel is clearly tough to beat.

I feel that’ll be the day here. Trip is perfect, fast ground is what he loves, a perfect draw will enable him to be up with the pace, if not even attempting to make all. The tight, turning track poses no problem to him either.

Main threat is obviously the superb Ulysses. Though the trip is probably slightly on the far side for him and the track configuration may not play to his strengths either.

Best chance for the home team is multiple grade 1 winner Beach Patrol. A wide draw isn’t ideal as Highland Reel, once in front, is unlikely to stop.

Selection:
10pts win – Highland Reel @ 9/4 Bet365

……

Sunday 00.25: Breeders’ Cup Classic, 1m 2f

It’s already past midnight when they’re off in the Classic! The question many ask: can Arrogate find back to his best? Since his return from Dubai in two subsequent starts he never looked the same horse that was crowned best in the world in 2016.

Can Gun Runner outgun him? Well, he’s been bloody impressive in his last three wins and deserves the favourite tag. However he never won over the 10f trip and was comprehensively outstayed by Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup.

The answer must lie somewhere else: West Coast? Maybe. Won two Grade 1’s on the bounce. Landed the Travers. Not much wrong with that. He stays the trip, has the right form in the book and is an interesting price.

You can, if you want, knock the form, though. None of those beaten behind him would be fancied to go close in Classic at all. In fact, Travers runner-up Gunnevera is considered a 50/1 shot!

Improving Collected won the Pacific Classic, beat Arrogate that day. So he stays the trip and is still a progressive sort. The wide draw is a concern but he should be thereabouts.

Aiden O’Brien tries his luck once more. He throws Churchill into the ring. It’s unlikely the dual Guineas winner will enjoy this test on dirt I suspect, but I can see why “the lads” do it.

If he runs well if will enhance his commercial value as a stallion. If he doesn’t perform it won’t devalue anything he did the last two seasons.

The seemingly second string is War Decree. A much more interesting case, I feel. From a pedigree perspective he is bred to act on dirt and is a half-brother to Declaration Of War who came quite close to win the BCC some years ago.

Nonetheless the immense test this race is may still come as a shock to the system. Until he runs we don’t know whether he really acts on the dirt or not. It’s more likely he won’t. However I love a couple of facts if it comes to War Decree:

He’s still lightly raced and had a significantly lighter season than most in the field. He demolished a fair field in a Dundalk Group 3 when last season, travelling like a really good horse. Of course he meets different class and a different surface here – still War Decree looks in tip top form.

Taking it all in, he’s no 50/1 chance in a Breeders’ Cup Classic field that is wide open in my mind. With the places paying at 1/4 odds, this looks a tremendous bet.

Selection:
10pts win e/w – War Decree @ 50/1 Bet365

Saratoga Preview: Test Stakes

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Speed-ball Kareena is hot favourite for this intriguing Grade 1 for three year old fillies, but you wonder whether she stays the 7f trip in what shapes like a race sure to be run at a red hot pace.

Mother Goose winner Off The Tracks appears to be a more dependable candidate over the distance. She clearly stays all the way and doesn’t lack speed – yet the drop to this shorter distance is something that puts me off.

Lewis Bay ran out a fine runner-up behind Off The Tracks at Belmont after bottling it at the start. Given he won over further, I also slightly wonder about the drop in trip.

At the prices Lightstream makes most appeal. A three times winner over 7f on dirt and turf, she lost her unbeaten record in the Mother Goose but was far from disgraced. She encountered a bad trip on the far outside around the home turn and just didn’t have enough left to challenge in the end.

The drop back to 7f will certainly suit, and this filly is tremendously talented in my mind. She often leaves it late, which could make things very nervy here, given Off The Tracks and Lewis Bay will go hard to the line. Still, at 15/2, she is the value in this contest.

 Saratiga – Test Stakes: Lightstream @ 15/2 Coral

A Day Out at Los Alamitos Racetrack

Better late than never my piece on Californian racecourse Los Alamitos. Not too long ago I had the chance to visit this racetrack located in Orange County, in the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Truth told I never was US racing’s biggest fan – and maybe never will. It probably doesn’t help that my visits to the racetracks of Aqueduct in New York and Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco turned out to be rather bleak and dreary affairs. Those huge places, with the appearance of ghost towns, a couple of hundred souls spread across the stands – it was sad to see.

So far so bad – but stay with me – this is not another “Europeans bashing US racing piece”.

When I turned into the parking lot of Los Alamitos racecourse my expectations were clearly low. It was a mild winter day, mild for Californian standard, piping hot if you live in Ireland.That clearly helped to lift the initial mood, whatever happens next.

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Now, let me write the most important sentence right here: Los Alamitos rocks. It really does. Okay, it might be easy to exceed expectations if there are none, but seriously, this place just works.

The beautiful historic grand stand with three levels, fine seating and viewing, is not dramatically oversized as I found it  to be the case at Aqeduct. It’s certainly not small, but not overwhelmingly huge either, no danger getting lost inside as it can easily happen at Golden Gate Fields.

What is most important: you’re close to the horses. Saddling area, parade ring, track… all close, easily accessible. So let me use one word to describe this racecourse – and I wouldn’t have thought to ever use this word to describe a US track: beautiful.

Los Alamitos is beautiful. A place where racing comes alive. There was a “feel good” atmosphere in the air, everyone’s relaxing, enjoying a fine day out and – last but not least – watching an exciting sport. I loved it.

But let the photos speak for itself:

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Meydan: Torchlighter finds Ideal Opportunity

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Got it spot on last night: Hamelin and Missed Call ran huge races. Unfortunately they didn’t quite finish in the way I would have hoped, as Hamelin was outstayed in the final furlong by the filly. Another second place for the betting record…. too many of those in recent weeks.

4.45 Meydan: Handicap, 1m 2f 

Racing at Meydan is back – it kick’s off with a decent card of six races today. The feature this dirt handicap, worth roughly €20k.

It looks a good race on paper. Dough Watson’s Jeeraan is expected to bounce back and tops the betting market. You can see why. He’s won twice at Meydan before and is on fair mark, so should run well from a good draw. But he is a very short price nonetheless taking on stronger rivals than when he won last season.

Stable mate Etijaah makes more appeal from a price point. Progressive last season, he goes well at this track and trip and his mark off 85 is fair, however he is wrong at the weights here and will have to be probably a good deal better than his current rating to win.

I really fancy Torchlighter here, though. He was 92 rated when landing a big class 2 Newmarket Handicap in great style last year and since then hasn’t been disgraced in three starts in the UAE. He tried the dirt twice last season and took well to it in very hot Carnival handicaps.

This is easier and he drops a couple of pounds in the mark as well which brings him down to a potentially lenient rating off 94. Question mark is whether he is ready to go, but with good money on stake, this looks an ideal opportunity to get off the mark.

Torchlighter @ 3/1 William Hill – 10pts Win

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

Dubai World Cup Carnival is truly alive

SURFER: It was his target, and he ran like he clearly knew what he was supposed to do on the day. Surfer won the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round two in taking style while making most of his draw. Never too far off the pace, he attacked turning for home and was able to get lose one furlong out to draw clear by a bit more than two lengths in the end. This is particularly sweet since he was my selection for this race. Favourite Outstrip absolutely hated the Dirt on his Meydan debut. He was outpaced early on and subsequently never really in the race. The tough English runner Ocean Tempest also didn’t look happy at all on this surface. A fact we may have to conclude more often than not in the next couple of weeks when we talk about European runners on the Meydan Dirt track.

TRUE STORY: Impressive success for True Stroy in the Listed Singspiel Stakes. In hindsight, one could say he was very much entitled to win as good as he did. First time headgear, the gelding operation and being fresh clearly rejuvenated him. The change of gear he was able to produce entering the home straight demonstrated why he was once thought to be a leading Epsom Derby contender. Question is now if he’ll be able to reproduce the same sort of form against tougher opposition the next time. This win meant that James Doyle was off to a flying start for the boys in blue. Recently acquired as the retained jockey for Godolphin, he couldn’t have envisioned a better start.

DE KOCK: South Africa’s top trainer has a rather slow start this season but one should expect that form will pick up soon. Some horses did perform eye-catchingly today and believing his words, his whole string is expected to improve with growing match fitness. Ajeeb was one that particularly caught my eye. Over 5f in the turf sprint, he travelled very well for a long time trailing the field and making some really nice progress late without getting a particularly hard race.

Given the fact that he was off for more than a year and was once runner-up in a 7f Group 2 in Australia as well as only five lengths beaten in top class company behind Atlantic Jewel, one can easily see why this colt could be very interesting moving forward from here. Expect him to strip fitter next time and when stepping up in trip, he’ll be one to have the money on I feel. Another interesting De Kock runner to keep in mind might be classy Sansaawhes. He was in receive of a slightly odd ride by Soumillon but finished very well and should come on for this run after being back from a break as well.

MUSIC THEORY: An absolute nightmare run for the Godolphin gelding in the final race. He travelled extremely well in rear of the field but had absolutely nowhere to go in the home straight. He got bumped and had to fight for a gap, but once he got out late, he finished like a train. Keep an eye on him, he could go all the way into pattern class. Music Theory was a very promising juvenile when he finished once less than three lengths behind Kingman in the Solario Stakes. He had only two starts last year but ended 2014 with a fine runner-up effort at Lingfield. His lightly raced profile let’s assume that there is still a good deal of improvement left.

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DIRT: It is almost impossible to win from the rear of the field. The kick-back is horrible and it looks a bit like Wolverhampton at its worst days before the relay of the new surface… well Meydan today looked probably even worse! The vast majority of dirt races were won by horses very much up with the speed – with the only exception the 7f Handicap where they went a relentless gallop. So the trend from the minor meetings clearly continues in that sense.

Doesn’t mean that spectacular racing is a thing unlikely to happen on this surface, however visually it isn’t particularly pretty – not to my eyes at least. The beauty of flat racing for me is when you see a strong travelling horse looming hard on the bridle around the 2f marker, waiting to be unleashed to go and win the race. That’s why I once fell so much in love with Paco Boy. His 2010 Lockinge Stakes success or the year before the Queen Anne triumph – simply poetry in motion!