Three Year-Old Prep Analysis
The Robert B. Lewis (G3), Withers (G3), Holy Bull (G2)
By Michael Patricks
The calendar has turned to February and with it comes another anticipatory turn of the page in the three year-old season. The first Saturday in May is only three months away with the 143rd Kentucky Derby set for May 6th at Churchill Downs. The leader at the clubhouse to this point is Classic Empire who has amassed 30 Derby Points, many by virtue of his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile score. Classic Empire closed Kentucky Derby Future Pool 2 as the 5/1 second choice with the Field once again being listed as the 5/2 morning line favorite. Highly regarded Mastery and McCraken each closed as 9/1 co-third choices in the wagering.
Here are the current top points-earners for the Kentucky Derby
(horses in Bold type to run Saturday):
Classic Empire 30
Practical Joke 14
Lookin at Lee 10
Mo Town 10
El Areeb 10
Guest Suite 10
Obviously, the landscape will change dramatically between now and Derby Day. Kentucky Derby Future Pool 3 will be offered between February 24th and February 26th and wagering is available at the Jockey Club for those interested in getting a healthy price on a runner they have their eye on. I will keep you posted on the point standings and the future pool closing odds breakdown with the first weekly installment written in March.
Santa Anita Park-Race 2
Post Time: 1:00 P.M. PST
79th Running of the Robert B. Lewis (Grade III)
1 and 1 /16th Miles on Dirt
Two-and-a-half points separate all five runners on Jon White’s morning line in the Robert Lewis while Doug O’Neill sends out a quorum of the field’s participants. Bracketing the O’Neill trainees in the starting gate will be the top two choices on the morning line: Royal Mo and Sheer Flattery.
Sheer Flattery will be handled by Mike Smith and draws perfectly for this event given his alert, stalking style he exhibits in his races. The light bulb may have come on for this guy last time out when he graduated in the slop but his price his awfully short. I’m going with the maiden Irap to pull off a minor upset in here. He was favored when facing Sheer Flattery last time out and didn’t handle the sloppy track very well at all. Before that, he chased home the well-regarded Mastery in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity, running a solid number in the process. He was better than a full second faster than Dangerfield on that day and he reunites with Mario Gutierrez who knows him well. Term of Art sheds blinkers for the first time and picks up Tyler Baze after Joe Talamo had ridden him throughout his six race career. He was blitzed here in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but is a Grade III winner and may present a bit of value in a small field. Expect Baze to take back and make one run with him. Royal Mo figures prominent off class and connections alone, but he’s been unseen since November and he may need one off the respite before being fully cranked. Given the inside draw, he could feel constant pressure throughout and that could spell his demise at a short price. Dangerfield fittingly is seeking his respect at the graded-stakes level once again and even though he’s been sent packing by Gunnevera and Mastery who are two very nice horses, he’s also been beaten open lengths by the runners-up in those races, and that’s enough to give me my doubts about his quality.
2) Irap 3/1
5) Sheer Flattery 2/1
4) Term of Art 9/2
Post Time: 1:20 P.M. PST
137th Running of The Withers (Grade III)
1 & 1/16th Miles on Dirt
The 137th running of this race centers around the 6/5 morning line favorite, El Areeb. He’s a son of Exchange Rate from an A.P. Indy mare and has Danzig as a grand-sire so turf could be in his future plans at some point. From relatively unheralded beginnings, El Areeb began his career at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania, competing in abbrieviated-distance two year-old events. In October, the light bulb went on brightly in this guy’s noggin, and he’s reeled off three straight victories by a combined 25-plus lengths. He could be any kind yet El Areeb closed at a speculative 32/1 in Derby Future Pool 2. The jury remains out on him, due in large part to the regional connections he has and the fact that the Aqueduct path to the Run for the Roses has not been a very successful one in recent years.
El Areeb is 6/5 for very good reason. He likes to race close up and he’s been able to pour it on more and more with each successive start. Last time in the Jerome, El Areeb stalked the leader and then crushed his foes at 5/2. Bonus Points ran second to El Areeb in the Jerome, but he was 14/1 and only made marginal headway on the winner, lacking a turn of foot needed to compete at this level. J Boys Echo draws the outside stall and Robby Albarado ships in to ride. J Boys Echo was no match for Gunnevera in the Delta Downs Jackpot, beaten by more than 10 lengths. Albarado and trainer Dale Romans lost their best shot at Derby prosperity when Not this Time came up with an injury after the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His post will be tough on the inner dirt, so watch the tote board for more clues. Apartfromthecrowd looks promising in his graded-stakes debut. He comes into this race off a big win as favorite, graduating at the Big A and stopping the clock in race horse time. Chad Brown and Irad Ortiz do plenty of damage together and if El Areeb falters, he should pick up the pieces. Square Shooter arrives from Parx and is the only undefeated runner in the group. He’ll have to take his race track with him and avoid losing too much ground on the stretch out. Expect that he’ll keep El Areeb company for a while, but it’s tough imagine him sticking to El Areeb when the riders begin to ask.
Fillet of Sole has been freshened for Pletcher, but grabs an under-utilized rider and thus lessens his appeal in my eyes. Small Bear came back to beat winners at Parx in a first level allowance race, but he would need to improve dramatically to be in the camera lens late. Always a Suspect is a trier but he will have to be a pretty tough customer on the front end if he’s going to stick it out with El Areeb on the stretch out. True Timber is in a similar boat to Bonus Points, each with a big gap to make up on El Areeb. He may have disliked the mud more than most and he has a license to improve for McLaughlin but you’re really going to the window on his connections more so than you are on him if you’re willing to accept the 8/1 morning line at post time; he needs to do more. Jaime’s Angel is a horse who had been handled three straight times by the New York–bred maiden Sicilia Mike, before finally turning the tables on him at 14/1 last time. His sire is Mission Impazible-on Saturday it’s Mission Impossible.
2) Apartfromthecrowd 5/1
4) El Areeb 6/5
1) True Timber 8/1
Gulfstream Park-Race 12
Post Time: 2:35 P.M. PST
32nd Running of the Holy Bull (Grade II)
1 & 1/16th Miles on Dirt
The third and final three year-old prep race comes from Hallandale, Florida, where nine will be in line for this Grade II. As mentioned, Classic Empire leads all horses with 30 Derby Points and he is the measuring stick they all have as a reference at this point in proceedings. Classic Empire has won every race that he’s finished and he’s done very little wrong in his five start career.
Classic Empire is 3/5 on the morning line and it makes sense. He’s your Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and he and Not this Time were seven lengths clear of Practical Joke, who fittingly sits in third place with 14 Derby points. Trainer Mark Casse has put a mere four works into this guy since his last start and he may not be completely tight for this. Undoubtedly, his quality will jump out as they near the gate for post time and he will be odds-on as his morning line indicates, but he’s a lousy win wager. Gunnevera was visually impressive in winning the Delta Downs Jackpot. He didn’t beat much but he did it authoritatively and looks to be training up a storm in the morning at Gulfstream Park West (formerly Calder). He broke his maiden here at Gulfstream Park and continues to look like a solid runner while flying a bit under the radar. Fact Finding is third choice on the morning line and merits respect based on his undefeated ledger and the fact (pun intended) that he’s trained by Todd Pletcher. This horse is undefeated off a layoff and has won three races over three different surfaces. The narrative on this guy’s prospects will be told in large part on Saturday, he rates a look.
Talk Logistics is a hard-hitting Edward Plesa trainee that could get a piece of this. He raced in thick traffic last time in a 100k stakes event before eventually rallying for third. He could land a slice if the leaders get a little bit too amped up early on. Cavil was favored in the same event Talk Logistics ran in and gave up the ghost readily after going off favored. His maiden win came on the front end so you can expect Jose Lezcano to put him in the race early this time around. Irish War Cry is the tote board horse. Trained by Graham Motion and ridden by Joel Rosario something tells me he’ll be less than 15/1 at post time. He gets Lasix for the first time while taking on two turns and this Jersey-bred son of Curlin could be any kind, but it’s a big ask for him to come away with the chocolates. Shamsaan beat what appeared to be five stiffs last time out in his graduation effort based on the final running time and the fact the race was washed off the turf. He failed to hit the board in his three prior races and is royally-bred. He appears to have more stud value than racing value. Fire for Effect figured it out in his second start. The connections are probably hoping he can be somewhere in the picture late, but he’ll be a big price for sure and this outside post is not ideal (ask California Chrome). Perro Rojo’s connections are still drinking the Kool-Aid. Listless, lethargic, sluggish and languishing would encapsulate his last four races. As an aside, I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a horse with odds as high as 229/1 in North American racing, but Perro Rojo accomplished that ignominious feat in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on November 26th.
3-Classic Empire 3/5
4-Talk Logistics 12/1