Take note of hot and cold jockeys/trainers at Saratoga

Racing at Saratoga is great, in part because the best horsemen are involved, well-meant horses are coming from everywhere, everyone is trying, and good prices and prime betting opportunities can be found day-by-day and race-by-race on good horses. When you can pair up the best jockeys and trainers with the best horses, you will have the recipe for success. Here are some examples of some hot and cold jockeys and trainers at The Spa meet so far in 2019.

The trainers’ standings through August 15 at Saratoga contain very few surprises. Chad Brown is running away with the title at present with 20 wins from 111 starters for 19%. It’s a long way back to Todd Pletcher in second with 9 wins and a surprisingly low (for him) 13% win percentage. His slower than usual meet has also affected Johnny Velazquez’s numbers. Steve Asmussen has 9 winners from only 44 starters, making his win percentage better at 20%. Bill Mott, Christophe Clement, Jason Servis and Jeremiah Englehart each have 8 wins and all are dangerous. Of that quartet, Clement (23%) and Servis (22%) are winning at particularly high win percentages. Both do great in turf sprints, among other spots.

The other standout trainer to bet at Saratoga this season has been Danny Gargan, who had 7 wins from his first 25 starters and is among the leaders in terms of ROI and winning percentage at 28%. Another trainer you’ve gotta bet pretty much whenever you see him entered is Robertino Diodoro, who owns 5 wins from his first 17 starters at the meet (28%). With fewer starters, you can also put Jorge Navarro (4-for-11, 36%) and Rusty Arnold (3-for-10) into the “hot” category.

It should also be noted that H. James Bond, who is based year-round at Saratoga, has been loaded this season and it shows with his 6-for-24 record (25%). Finally, Mark Casse, who normally starts slow and finishes fast up at The Spa, has already reached 7 wins from his first 40 starters (18%) and is only expected to improve further upon those numbers has his horses make their second and third starts of the meet.

Trainers to steer clear of betting who really struggled the first month of the 2019 Saratoga meet include George Weaver (1-for-19, 5%); Gary Contessa, who had a couple early winners but now is 2-for-52 for 6%; and David Donk, who is just 2-for-32 for 6%.

In the jock’s room, the first couple weeks at the Saratoga meet were notable because of the ice-cold start that perennial leading rider contender Irad Ortiz Jr. had at the meet. However, after a losing July, Irad Ortiz has gone on a tear in August and has quickly made up ground on the upper echelons of the jockey standings to be in hot pursuit of Jose Ortiz for top honors. Currently, Irad Ortiz is second in the jockey race with 31 wins from 150 starters for 21% to trail only Jose Ortiz, who leads with 36 wins from 162 mounts and a 22% win percentage.

It’s a long way back to third place in the jock’s standings where Javier Castellano has passed Luis Saez with 22 victories over 21 for Saez thanks to a very good 20% win percentage (plus 57% ITM). Aside from the Ortiz brothers and Castellano, no other rider is even approaching the 20% mark. The next tier of riders who have more than 10 wins, as of August 15, all have winning percentages between 13%-16% including Saez (13%) and Joel Rosario (18 wins, 13%), Jose Lezcano (16 wins, 16%), Junior Alvarado (15 wins, 16%) and Ricardo Santana (13 wins for 13%).

The Ortiz brothers and Castellano are all riding the Chad Brown wave and generally have the choice of the plumb mounts for other barns, as well. Junior Alvarado benefits from Bill Mott having a strong meet, and of course, as Steve Asmussen goes, so goes Santana who rides his first call.

Jockeys having tough meets at Saratoga in 2019 include Manny Franco (9-for-151, 6%); Tyler Gaffalione who has not yet cut it in NY with a record of just 9-for-104 (9%); Dylan Davis, who is 4-for-102 (4%); and Rajiv Maragh, who is 3-for-52 (6%).

Julien Leparoux, who has perennially struggled mightily at Saratoga throughout his career, is 2-for-32 for this typical type of Spa 6% win percentage. Another rider surprisingly having a tough 2019 Spa meet is John Velazquez, who has only 9 wins from his first 82 mounts for 11%. Other than blue chip Todd Pletcher runners, Johnny V. really hasn’t done much so far this season.

PHOTO: Saratoga scenic (c) NYRA/Coglianese Photography

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In-depth Saratoga trainer capsules (Part 1)

The Saratoga meet is filled with extremely competitive fields and difficult handicapping puzzles. One of the best ways to make your handicapping easier and better is by following trainer trends, which can be useful in narrowing down the races to their few top contenders.

All trainers have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of following the trainer angles, stats and trends, is that they help you identify these strengths and weaknesses to give you the advantage over the rest of the betting public.

Bet trainers at their strengths and bet against them at their weaknesses, and your win percentage and return on investment (ROI) will go upward quickly.

Read onward for an easy-to-use pocket reference for the best times to bet on, and bet against, most of the top trainers throughout the summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course. The opinions are based on recent trends and statistics pertaining specifically to this time of year – the racing season at Saratoga. These preferences may differ elsewhere and at other times of the year.

Apologies if a particular trainer is not mentioned in this guide; it’s impossible to feature everyone. The 32 trainers listed will account for the vast majority of starters at the Spa meet. This is the first part of a three-part series.

Please click for Part 2 (D-M) and Part 3 (P-Z).


Tom Albertrani

Albertrani is most dangerous at Saratoga with his high-priced stock, including mostly allowance horses. He also wins doing second-time anything, including second off the layoff and second-time starters.

  • Bet: Second off the layoff, second starters
  • Bet against: Claimers
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Steve Asmussen

One of the country’s top trainers, Asmussen is hot-and-cold at The Spa. The time you want to play Asmussen is in dirt sprints, especially when he sends out his expensive juveniles in either their first- or second-starts.

  • Bet: Dirt sprints, 2-year-old first- and second-time starters
  • Bet against: All turf races
  • Neutral: Dirt routes

Bob Baffert

Not as much of a day-to-day factor at Saratoga as he was several years ago since Del Mar brought back dirt racing, Baffert still ships top stakes horses and expensive 2-year-olds and first-time starters.

Charlton Baker

Baker runs good horses both upstate at Finger Lakes and downstate at Belmont and Aqueduct, and he will take his shots at Saratoga with live horses from both categories. Baker’s best area of expertise is with the kinds of long layoff horses that you’d toss out from other barns. He also has been known to pop at The Spa with first-time starters, particularly versus New York-breds.

  • Bet: First starters, horses returning from long layoffs
  • Bet against: Turf routes
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Bruce Brown

Bruce Brown struggled to win a race – any kind of race – in many recent Saratoga meets. Who he is at Saratoga is a guy who can win an occasional dirt claiming race. No big surprises, stick to his horses in good form only, and don’t expect positive turnarounds.

  • Bet: Older claimers with good form
  • Bet against: Maidens and first starters; turf
  • Neutral: Dirt routes

Chad Brown

Brown is the heavy favorite for the Saratoga training title, with dozens of wins rolling-in in all categories including maidens, allowances and stakes, and every kind of turf route race. You can be guaranteed that all of Brown’s horses at The Spa will be live. His wins tend to come early in the meet, and you know he’ll be pointing many good horses for Saratoga stakes.

  • Bet: Maiden special weights on turf, dirt sprints (not maidens), and every kind of turf router
  • Bet against: Maiden claimers, maidens on the dirt
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Tom Bush

Bush has main been ice cold in some recent years, but he still can heat-up at the Spa for a win or two. He’s been known to jack-up his game at Saratoga and is quietly a trainer to watch in terms of ROI, especially on the dirt. When his number of turf starters increase, so do his number of turf wins.

  • Bet: Dirt routes
  • Bet against: Cheap claimers
  • Neutral: Turf races

Mark Casse

Mark Casse has expanded his operation nationally in recent years and has also expanded his reach at Saratoga, but will have fewer stalls at Saratoga in 2019.  You can count on Casse for some turf winners, but he is a notorious Spa snail – a trainer who starts slow but whose horses win their second or third starts of the meet  Casse has particularly upped his game at Saratoga with 2-year-olds, first-time turf starters, and horses making their career debut in grass races.

  • Bet: 2-year-olds, turf career debuts, first-time turf, horses making 2nd or 3rd start of meet
  • Bet against: Dirt sprints for 3yo & up, horses making first start of the meet
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Christophe Clement

Turf ace trainer Clement’s game is on the grass, of course, and he is good in turf stakes wins. Expect 25% wins or better in turf routes, and Clement also focuses on turf sprints at this meet (he unseated Linda Rice’s multi-year domination to lead all trainers with six turf sprint wins in 2015). Clement isn’t usually much of a factor on the dirt at Saratoga. He occasionally throws in a dirt sprint winner here and there.

  • Bet: Turf routes, turf sprints, turf stakes
  • Bet against: Dirt routes
  • Neutral: Dirt sprints

Gary Contessa

Contessa is one of the most prolific trainers on the New York circuit in terms of starters, but he’s generally a very bad bet at Saratoga with low percentages in dirt routes, turf sprints and turf routes. His wins will come mostly with dirt sprinters in claiming races. One sneaky angle for Contessa at Saratoga is with first-time turfers, who can occasionally win and pay giant prices when they do.

  • Bet: Dirt sprints, claimers, first-time turf (only at Saratoga)
  • Bet against: Dirt routes, turf sprints, allowance and stakes races
  • Neutral: Turf routes

Brad Cox

Cox regularly achieves winning percentages around 30% wherever he goes, with around 55% in-the-money (ITM), and 2019 so far has been his best year yet. Basically capable of winning in all categories, his win percentage will drop at Saratoga in turf races due to the stiff competition at the meet. His winning percentage with 2YO and first starters will also fall short of his standards at this meet.

  • Bet: Dirt routes, dirt sprints, second off a layoff
  • Bet against: First time starters and 2-year-olds
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Many handicappers believe the “trainer angle” is the most important piece of the handicapping pie, especially when top-rung racing takes place, like in New York during the heart of summer in July and August. All trainers have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of following the trainer angles, stats and trends, is that they help you identify these strengths and weaknesses to decisively give you the advantage over the rest of the betting public.

Best of luck, and enjoy summer racing in New York.

PHOTO: Saratoga starting gate (c) Harold Roth/Horsephotos.com

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Who will be the Top 10 Trainers at Saratoga 2019?

It’s not too early to start thinking about the Saratoga meet, which opens earlier than usual this season on Thursday, July 11. Saratoga will run five days a week in 2019, Wednesdays through Sundays. As usual, the meet will continue until Labor Day, which this year falls on Monday, September 2.

The Saratoga racing season attracts the best horses and horsemen, not only from New York but from everywhere. Trainers from many circuits point their best horses to Saratoga, and the competition for winners is stiffer there than anywhere. With the best barns bringing their best stock to the Spa, there will be some very good trainers excluded from the top 10 in the standings. Here is a look at the cream of the crop – the projected top 10 trainers for the upcoming 2019 Saratoga meet.

The first thing to mention in any Saratoga trainer’s guide is that it is a safe bet that the standings will be dominated by Chad Brown, and that the “exacta” in the trainer’s race should be rounded out by Todd Pletcher. That projected 1-2 finish atop the trainer’s standings would probably be the safest exacta bet you could make at the entire Saratoga meet.

Chad Brown dominated the trainer’s standings like never before in 2018, winning 46 races which smashed the previous all-time Saratoga training record of 40. Brown’s win total was more than double the amount of winners Pletcher had in second place with 19. Rudy Rodriguez was next with 14 winners, followed close by Bill Mott and Steve Asmussen, each with 13 wins. Brown accomplished his 46-win season from 171 starters, for a strong win percentage of 27% and a startling in-the-money (ITM) rate of 64%.

Pletcher had edged out Brown by a single win on the final day of the meet for 40 wins in 2017, and Brown had won the training title at Saratoga in 2016 meet with 40 wins. Pletcher had won the title for five consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2015 (13 overall Saratoga trainer titles).

Behind Pletcher and Brown, it once again should be a battle between Rodriguez, Mott and Asmussen as well as other Saratoga stalwarts like Linda Rice and Kiaran McLaughlin. Jason Servis also had a giant meet at Saratoga in 2018, going 10-for-40 in the win column and an amazing 20-for-40 in the exacta. Jeremiah Englehart also must be respected after a big 2018 meet in which he went 12-for-84 in the win column, good for sixth in the standings.

All of the aforementioned trainers should be respected in all spots, but all have their specialties. Brown wins turf routes and stakes races at an alarming rate. Pletcher reels off two-year-old maiden wins and stakes wins like they are going out of style. Asmussen wins with two-year olds and maidens and mainly a variety of sprinters. Rodriguez wins mostly claiming races and New York-bred races, as does Englehart. Rice is the queen of the turf sprints and also wins with New York-bred maidens and grass horses. Mott wins mainly turf routes, and McLaughlin is one to watch in turf sprints and dirt routes. Servis crushes turf sprints.

The aforementioned nine trainers should all land in the 2019 final top 10 in the trainer’s standings. The last slot in the trainer’s top 10 is up for grabs and could go to any one of a dozen or more top trainers. Perhaps turf ace trainer Christophe Clement is due for a rebound meet with good horses lined up for both turf sprints and routes. Or maybe it will be Joe Sharp, who is lethal in one-mile turf races and turf sprints at Saratoga. Mike Maker brings a wide variety of horses to Saratoga and is always dangerous.

But the edge to sneak into the top 10 amongst everyone else goes to Mark Casse, whose national profile has also risen to elite status the last few years. Casse is a notorious Spa snail, however, who starts slowly but wins the majority of his races in the second half of the meet, and with horses making their second or third starts of the meet.

Stay tuned for more info on even more trainers as the run-up to the start of the 2019 Saratoga meet continues.

PHOTO: Saratoga Race Course (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

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Fair Grounds Pick of the Week for February 24

Sunday’s eighth race at Fair Grounds, an about one-mile turf maiden for three-year-olds, features the return to action of #5 EXCHEQUER (6-1) following a five-month absence.

The Steve Asmussen-trained gray was thought precocious enough to debut at Saratoga last August, but retreated in the stretch after showing speed. His follow-up in a one-mile, main track test at Churchill Downs was better as he held his speed longer, though he weakened to sixth in the final furlong.

That early bit of seasoning is a good if not great foundation to bring into this competitive heat. The lone Triple Crown nominee in the main body of the field, he’s by 12% first-turf stallion Exchange Rate, a versatile sire with such notable turf progeny as French champion juvenile Reckless Abandon and Grade 1 turf winners Victory to Victory and Ball Dancing.

Exchequer’s dam, the stakes-winning Fools in Love, is a half-sister to Louisiana Derby (G2) winner International Star. More significantly, she previously reared Seahenge, who won the Champagne (G2) at Doncaster and placed in the Dewhurst (G1) in England at age two.

Exchequer’s recent worktab has been punctuated by a bullet five-furlong breeze on Feb,. 12 and a maintenance half-mile on Tuesday. Though this stable’s runners can be overbet, there are others in here that will attract play and Exchequer could offer a square price.


Fair Grounds (c) Holly M. Smith Photography 2019

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My Boy Jack wins the Southwest S.

Scheinman: Southwest Stakes Handicapping Analysis

If you like Steve Asmussen, you’re going to love the Grade 3, $500,000 Southwest on Presidents Day at Oaklawn Park. The Hall of Famer hogs five of the 11 slots in the starting gate with three expensive  sales buys yet to justify their purchase price along with Long Range Toddy, the Springboard Mile winner at Remington, and Ninth Street, who took the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs.

All five have displayed some talent, and they present a variety pack of pace makers, stalkers and closers. The problem, however, is none look authoritative enough to bet with confidence.

Beyond Asmussen

There are two horses in the Southwest I find more appealing than all the Asmussen runners, although I’ll start this analysis with the fastest horse in the field first – Gray Attempt.

While he didn’t compete in the high-profile “Stars of Tomorrow” card at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24, Gray Attempt made his second career start the next day, going gate-to-wire to win a 6 ½-furlong maiden sprint by 1 ½ lengths.

The runner-up that day, Oncewewerebrothers, showed up Jan. 26 at Oaklawn Park for his second career start and absolutely blasted through six furlongs in 1:10.34 to win easily.

Trainer Jinx Fires then took Gray Attempt to the Fair Grounds for the Sugar Bowl and he cruised home ahead of a solid field, earning an Equibase E Speed Figure of 101 and a Beyer Speed Figure of 92, which is tops in this field.

Gray Attempt started in the outside post in a field of eight in his next start, the Smarty Jones on opening day at Oaklawn, facing four runners who show up again for the Southwest. He made the lead and crossed over without urging, clocking the first quarter in a sharp 23 seconds flat, and proved capable of getting a mile as he held on to win by a neck.

On the plus side in the Southwest, he gets the inside post, so his speed should put him right where he wants to be. On the negative side, he’s going to face greater pressure this time and completing the final four furlongs in 50 seconds like he did in the Smarty Jones is not going to get it done.

There have been a few days at Oaklawn this meet that have markedly favored inside speed and with the Southwest going off as Race 9, any bias should have revealed itself by then. One of the beauties of Oaklawn Park is that by having only one racing surface – dirt – you can get a more definitive understanding of how the track is playing simply by having a greater sample of races to develop a profile.

Pletcher’s Library

Two slots off the rail is Todd Pletcher, having a library quiet start to his Derby Trail campaign, with Cutting Humor, a $400,000 son of First Samurai, who is going to win the race.

After a useful second in his debut in the slop at Belmont, Pletcher sent Cutting Humor out to Keeneland, where he found a very tough maiden field. Under Jose Ortiz, Cutting Humor fanned five wide into the first turn and then stayed out in the middle of the track down the backside in a tracking position.

Into the far turn, Ortiz roused him, wide again, and Harvey Wallbanger, with a terrific head of steam, stormed right by him. Harvey Wallbanger then engaged in a transfixing stretch duel with leader Plus Que Parfait, but when you looked up at the end, there was Cutting Humor plugging along, only 6 ¼ back in third. I found that very impressive, and Harvey Wallbanger three races later won the Holy Bull.

Cutting Humor then broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park West and in his first allowance test he ran into a colt named Bourbon War, a son of Tapit who is simply exploding with talent. Cutting Humor finished second in that 1 1/16-mile race Jan. 18 and put up a 103 E Speed Figure, which would be hard to beat in here.

Pletcher launched Audible last year at Oaklawn and he clicks like crazy when he shows up at the track: 4-for-8 off 31-plus-day layoffs; 7-for-18 with Oaklawn runners the past three meets; 7-for-15 with stakes runners.

Cutting Humor is a tempting 3-1 on the morning line and has drawn a snug slot to track the pace.

Bolder is the Asmussen runner who looks like he will have the greatest chance to win. After a two-month freshening, he made his two-turn debut in the Smarty Jones and ran just off Gray Attempt’s right flank all the way around the track.

Gray Attempt had run three races without a break going in and that recency may have benefitted him. Bolder figures to be much tighter for his second start, and Asmussen traditionally wins more second time back than first. Bolder showed no quit in the lane in the Smarty Jones, and he has the speed to find a clear running path.

There is, however, an outsider in the field of great intrigue – Six Shooter at 20-1 for Paul Holthus.

He won a mile race on the same Nov. 25 Churchill Downs card that Gray Attempt won on, and his race’s half-mile time was a full second faster – at the longer distance. He had a horrible outing next out in the Springboard, when jockey Alex Canchari appeared to panic midrace and began riding out of control.

Holthus next sent Six Shooter to Delta Downs for a two-turn 7 1/2 -furlong race Jan. 5 and he won easily under jockey Thomas Pompell using what has become his trademark style – getting good forward position, relaxing and dropping back and then coming on for the stretch drive.

Six Shooter picked up Stewart Elliott for the Smarty Jones and broke in a flight of three behind the pace, in tight between the two others, a place horses often do not like to be. Elliott dropped him back, but smack in between two others a flight behind.

When it was time to go on the turn, Elliott shifted Six Shooter out and attacked four wide. Gray Attempt wasn’t going to be caught, but Six Shooter’s fourth-place finish was better than it looks on paper. He finished with great enthusiasm.

For whatever reason, Holthus is adding blinkers for the Southwest. The Trappe Shot gelding has a sharp 59 4/5-second five-furlong work for this. Elliott is going to have him once again within four or five lengths of the pace. With the added sixteenth of a mile, he will have a good opportunity to work out a better trip and not be caught between horses going around to the backside. Only two other runners besides him have three wins on their resume – Gray Attempt and Long Range Toddy. You’ll get every bit of that 20-1. Take advantage of it.

John Scheinman’s top horses:

  1. Cutting Humor; 2. Bolder; 3. Six Shooter; 4. Gray Attempt

HANSON: How to bet the Southwest Stakes

(Coady Photo/Oaklawn Park)

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Five things to know for Kentucky Derby preps: Risen Star, El Camino Real, Hyacinth, Southwest

Presidents’ Day weekend features four scoring races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, chief among them Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds.

The Risen Star is the first race of the Kentucky Derby “Championship Season” offering more points as the trail gets tougher. Worth 50 points to the winner, the Risen Star awards 20 points to the runner-up, 10 to third, and 5 points to the fourth-placer.

FREE Risen Star PPs courtesy of Brisnet

The other two U.S. scoring races this weekend conclude the “Prep Season” with the familiar 10-4-2-1 points structure – Saturday’s $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields and Monday’s $500,000 Southwest S. (G3) at Oaklawn Park.

FREE El Camino Real Derby PPs courtesy of Brisnet

FREE Southwest PPs courtesy of Brisnet

The remaining points contest takes place in Tokyo Sunday, the Hyacinth S., as the third of four races on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Here are five things to know about the Derby preps over Presidents’ Day weekend:

1. Risen Star favorite War of Will faces a potentially challenging scenario. The impressive winner of Fair Grounds’ first stepping stone, the January 19 Lecomte (G3), War of Will has accordingly been installed as the 5-2 favorite. The well-regarded Mark Casse trainee has looked superb ever since switching from turf, taking his two dirt starts by a combined total of nine lengths. But the Risen Star sets up differently. War of Will figures to cover extra ground from post 14, and in conjunction with a possibly more honest pace, his trip might not be as favorable.

Conversely, a couple of his beaten rivals from the Lecomte are eligible to get better trips this time. That holds true especially for Plus Que Parfait, the fast-finishing Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) runner-up who’s more talented than his trouble-marred fifth in the Lecomte implies. A similar case could be made for Roiland, a slow-starting fifth in the Jockey Club and seventh in the Lecomte.

2. The Risen Star field is deeper than the Lecomte. If War of Will still has the measure of his Lecomte foes regardless of circumstances, he’ll have to defeat several new rivals. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott dispatches Country House off his sensational maiden score at Gulfstream Park, where he rallied from a terrible start to win in a romp. Mr. Money, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), got sick right before his intended reappearance in the Lecomte but just fired a bullet in readiness.

Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen is double-handed with Limonite, a close third in the Jockey Club, and Gun It, the $2.6 million Tapit colt out of a half to Saint Liam and a “cousin” of Gun Runner. Gun It, third to the promising Owendale and Frolic More in a local allowance, was originally the also-eligible but drew in after the scratch of Kingly (see point 3 below). Mike Maker likewise fields two entrants in smart turf performer Henley’s Joy, who takes a page from War of Will’s playbook in trying dirt, and Dunph, most recently third in the Springboard Mile.

3. The El Camino Real Derby tests the aspirations of Bob Baffert’s shipper Kingly and local hero Anothertwistafate. Kingly was rerouted to Golden Gate after drawing post 13 in the Risen Star. Although he found a relatively less intimidating spot, the full brother to Mohaymen needs to take another step forward while coping with a synthetic surface for the first time. His debut maiden win at Del Mar, and second to Extra Hope in a Santa Anita allowance, suggest more scrappiness than brilliance, but he’s still learning. In contrast, Anothertwistafate has looked like a budding star in a pair of wire jobs on Golden Gate’s Tapeta. And he has a pedigree to match, as a $360,000 son of Scat Daddy from a solid Juddmonte family. If the Blaine Wright trainee can hurl back the Southern California invasion, he’ll enhance his stature as a Derby hopeful.

Aside from Kingly, other Santa Anita shippers include Eagle Song, proven on synthetic in Ireland and likely to relish the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles; turf aficionado King of Speed, who should be happier here than when last on dirt in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1); and More Ice, going turf-to-synthetic for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer.

4. The Hyacinth has implications both for the Japan Road and the UAE Derby (G2). Scheduled to go off Saturday night at 12:25 a.m. (EST), the metric mile event pits the respective second and third on the Japan leaderboard in Make Happy and Derma Louvre. Both are looking to bounce back from a loss in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki, where Derma Louvre was an unlucky near-misser and Make Happy was a lackluster fourth. The change of venue to Tokyo will suit Cal-bred filly Make Happy, two-for-two over course and distance including a romp in the Cattleya Sho.

Triple Crown-nominated Derma Louvre also boasts a local win, as part of his prior three-race streak, and a big effort here may propel him to the March 30 UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup night. Fellow Triple Crown nominee Master Fencer, two-for-two since switching to dirt, is another with Dubai interest. The undefeated duo of Weitblick and Oval Ace are also worth watching, despite the fact they’re not nominated to the UAE Derby or the Triple Crown.

5. The Southwest is a rematch of the Smarty Jones – and much more. Six of the 11 entered in the Southwest are renewing rivalry from Oaklawn’s first prep, the Smarty Jones. Front-running Gray Attempt spearheaded the “Smarty” superfecta in a blanket finish over Long Range Toddy, Boldor, and Six Shooter, while beaten favorite Bankit didn’t factor in sixth, and Souper Steed threw in a clunker in seventh. As that synopsis suggests, it might not be the strongest form in the world.

Maybe that’s why Asmussen is pitching a total of five in the mix, with Jersey Agenda and Ninth Street joining Long Range Toddy, Boldor, and Bankit (who picks up Jose Ortiz). Jersey Agenda has won both his dirt starts with a forward yet pleasingly tractable style, and it could be significant that Ricardo Santana Jr. is aboard the recent Oaklawn allowance winner. Baffert is missing, but there is a Santa Anita invader in Keith Desormeaux’s Sueno, runner-up in the Sham (G3). Gulfstream flavor comes courtesy of Todd Pletcher’s Cutting Humor, second to well-regarded Bourbon War last out, and Mark Casse’s off-the-turf maiden romper Olympic Runner.

Good luck and happy Presidents’ Day!

War of Will photo (c) Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges Jr.

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