February 21, 2014
By Anthony Stabile
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Anthony's Eleven (2/21/14)
Welcome to “Anthony’s Eleven,” your source for anything and everything leading up to Kentucky Derby 140 on May 3rd at historic Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. In the coming weeks, Anthony Stabile, best known for picking 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide at odds of over 12-1, will break down the top contenders for this years Run for the Roses on VegasInsider.com, culminating on Friday, May 2nd with an extensive analysis of every runner that steps into the gate for the most exciting two minutes in sports. On both May 2nd and May 3rd, Kentucky Oaks and Derby Day, you’ll be able to purchase Stabile’s Pick Packs, full of selections and plays for two of racings’ most exciting days of the year.
The Super Bowl has come and gone. Pitchers, catchers and positions players are all in either Florida or Arizona preparing for another season of baseball. Hockey’s about to come back from its’ Olympic break and basketball is in full swing, with Lebron James running his mouth about his Mt. Rushmore.
The truth is, none of this really matters much to me, save the baseball stuff, because in approximately 10 weeks, the greatest sporting event of them all will be upon us – Kentucky Derby 140!!!
And with that, I welcome you to another season of Anthony’s Eleven, exclusively here at VegasInsider.com. For those of you familiar with what goes on in this space, welcome back. For you newbies, get your pens and paper ready because we’ll talk everything Derby for the next 70 days. From preps, to workouts to jockey musical chairs, it’s all here. We’ll even sprinkle some Kentucky Oaks coverage as well.
We’ll have an actual “Eleven” next week. I admittedly need to see this weeks’ preps to finalize the list. With that said, we have plenty of work to do as we have two preps worth 50 points to the winner to break down this week. We’ll start at Gulfstream Park, with a bakers’ dozen in the G2 Fountain of Youth going 1 1/16 miles.
Trainer Shug McGaughey achieved his ultimate professional dream last year when Orb bounded home in the slop to win the Derby and back looking for number 2 with Top Billing.
As this game goes, it wasn’t Top Billing who appeared to be Shugs’s best hope at getting back to Louisville. That honor went to Honor Code, who was originally supposed to make his seasonal debut in here but some ankle issues have cost him to miss some time and he now appears headed the Arkansas route to get to Kentucky. Believe you me Top Billing is far more than your regular, run-of-the-mill pinch hitter.
Since his debut in December in the slop at Laurel of all places, a race in which he stormed home from last to win by over five lengths going six furlongs, Top Billing has done nothing but impress and now has one of the biggest Derby bandwagons this year. He began 2014 with a gutsy second place finish to Commissioner in an allowance contest going 1 1/8 miles when he was beaten a neck after receiving a bit of a curious ride from his pilot, Joel Rosario, then came back to win an allowance contest with ease on the Holy Bull undercard. Top Billing will break from post 12.
The only horse to beat Top Billing in his short career, Commissioner, is back to renew what is perhaps a budding rivalry in his first start since that allowance score for trainer Todd Pletcher. A son of A.P. Indy, Pletcher sent Commissioner to Monmouth for his debut at a mile, presumably because he wanted to run him around two turns. After finishing second despite a lazy break that day, Commissioner took a van ride up to Saratoga where he broke his maiden by a head going 1 1/8 miles
In his allowance score last out at the same distance, Commissioner sat a much better trip than Top Billing and got just enough of a jump to hold on for the win. John Velazquez was on the shelf last time for the allowance race but did guide Commissioner to his maiden tally and is back aboard for this. They’ll break from the rail.
Pletcher also sends out We Miss Artie from post 2 with Joe Bravo. A grade 1 winner over Polytrack in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, We Miss Artie was second in his debut on conventional dirt and was beaten just 4 lengths in the B.C. Juvenile. Last out, We Miss Artie was second by a head in the Kitten’s Joy as the 9-5 favorite.
Another pair of colts separated by just a head the last time they met are Gulfstream Park Derby winner General a Rod and runner-up Wildcat Red. Wildcat Red was sent immediately to the top in the GP Derby and fought on the lead every step of the way, including the final half mile with General a Rod. The two were never more than a half-length apart through their duel, with General a Rod getting the duke in that mile contest.
Since that race, General a Rod has been on the sidelines while Wildcat Red came back to trounce eight others in the seven furlong Hutcheson just three weeks ago. They’ll break side by side, with Wildcat Red leaving from post 4 for trainer Jose Garoffalo under Luis Saez and the Mike Maker trained General a Rod breaking from post 5 with Javier Castellano.
Medal Count dead-heated for the win in an entry level allowance contest in his first start since a poor effort in the B.C. Juvenile. He broke his maiden at first asking in his only other conventional dirt try at Ellis Park in his debut. Casiguapo sheds blinkers for his second start of the season having hit the board in three graded stakes – the Hopeful, Champagne and Delta Jackpot – as a two-year-old.
C. Zee was second in both the Spectacular Bid and Hutcheson in his last two and will be making his first start around two turns. Almost Famous finished fourth in his seasonal bow after battling on the lead until the turn in the Holy Bull. Best Plan Yet finished 2013 with a pair of minor stakes scores at Calder before finishing off the board in the GP Derby and Holy Bull.
Our Caravan broke his maiden at over 35-1 going this trip in his debut at Gulfstream before finishing towards the back of the pack in the Holy Bull. Hesinfront finished fourth to Top Billing last out in his dirt debut after winning just once from four tries on turf and Polytrack. East Hall was third in his last pair, the GP Derby and a minor Florida bred stakes at Ocala Training Center over a synthetic course most recently.
The Fountain of Youth is not the only race for three-year-olds worth talking about at Gulfstream on Saturday. Earlier on the card there is a fantastic entry level allowance contest that figures to, at the very least, have G1 Florida Derby implications if not implications on the first Saturday in May.
And, surprise, surprise, Pletcher holds the hot hand with a couple of impressive first out maiden winners in Matterhorn and Constitution. Matterhorn went off at over 13-1 in his debut as the longer half of an uncoupled Pletcher trained entry and managed to gun down his more seasoned stablemate, Harpoon, in the final 100 yards of the one mile contest. Harpoon came back to break his maiden before finishing a tough trip second by a nose in the Sam F Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.
Constitution has been perhaps the most impressive debut winner at this Gulfstream Park meet when he won on January 11th. After breaking poorly from the middle of the pack, Constitution rushed up into contention along the inside and fought hard every step of the way to take a one length decision over a promising Jimmy Jerkens trainee named Juba.
Jerkens will be represented in here by Wicked Strong who was a solid third in the Remsen last season before no-showing in the Holy Bull last out when he was beaten over 15 lengths. Tonalist, from the Christophe Clement stable, was fourth in the Matterhorn win then came back to win impressively going 1 1/8 miles over this course from the rail last out with a strong move from off the pace.
The Rick Mettee trained Mexikoma was a tough trip sixth in the B.C. Juvenile when last seen and broke his maiden by over 14 lengths in his prior try, an effort that prompted the purchase by his owners Team Valor International, winners of the 2011 Derby with Animal Kingdom.
Sea of Faces, Rhythm Blues, Solemnly Swear, We’re All Set and Big Guy Ian complete the field of 10.
Down in the bayou, 16 horses were entered in the 1 1/16 miles G2 Risen Star, a race that produced both Preakness winner Oxbow and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice in 2013.
This years’ renewal, on paper at least, features two more prominent colts and a supporting cast the have some questions to answer and some explaining to do in regards to a couple of recent efforts. Vicar’s in Trouble is certainly not one of those as he could not have looked better in his last two starts.
After finishing third in his debut last year at Keeneland, Vicar’s in Trouble rolled home off a two month layoff in a Louisiana bred maiden event before turning the LeComte into an absolute laugher. Trained by Mike Maker, Rosie Napravnik will be aboard as she’s been in his first three starts from post 13.
Delta Jackpot winner Rise Up makes his first start since the biggest score of his career last November. Trained by Tom Amoss, Rise Up has won four of six lifetime starts, including a pair of stakes races. Gerard Melancon rides from post 2.
Albano and Gold Hawk, second and third in the LeComte, will try Vicar’s in Trouble again in the Risen Star. Albano won a minor stakes at the Fair Grounds before finishing up nicely to get the place money last out. Gold Hawk, however, was a disappointment in the LeComte as he posed problems loading before the start then raced evenly throughout as the 6-5 favorite.
Both will need to find half a dozen lengths in the five weeks since their last start on the LeComte winner. Albano will break from the rail for trainer Larry Jones, who’s having a fantastic meet, under Kerwin Clark while Corey Nakatani will ride Gold Hawk from post 5 for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Intense Holiday ships in for Pletcher off of four graded stakes since breaking his maiden in his second start. A sneaky good third to Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull last out has garnered him some attention. He figures to take plenty of action in here, especially with Mike Smith riding for the first time. He’ll break from post 8.
Hoppertunity ships in for three time Derby winner Bob Baffert off of a sharp maiden win in his second start, his first around two turns after getting beat by his stablemate Bayern, who came back to win by 15 lengths in his next start, in his debut. Martin Garcia rides from post 7.
Flat Gone broke his maiden in his seventh try over this course last out having raced against stakes foes in half of his previous starts. Vigorish ships in from Oaklawn off a narrow loss in his two turn debut but is winless in six tries overall. Interchange was DQed from the win in a minor stakes at Delaware last year before finishing last in his debut this season.
Son of a Preacher, fourth in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn was second to Gold Hawk two starts back but is winless since scoring in his unveiling. Quick Indian broke his maiden via DQ before coming from far back to win an entry level allowance contest last out over former Derby buzz horse Unknown Road. Xtra Luck was third in that allowance contest, nearly 10 lengths behind the winner, after breaking his maiden two starts back.
Commanding Curve makes his seasonal debut having broken his maiden in his fourth and final start last year at Churchill going this trip. Emmett Park and Teniente Coronel are on the AE list but one will draw in as trainer Doug O Neill announced that his Bond Holder will be scratched after getting banged up a bit in the trip from California.
Two races with Kentucky Oaks implications will be run at this Saturday as well as Fair Grounds will host the G3 Rachel Alexandra while Gulfstream has the G2 Davona Dale. Both races will be contested at 1 1/16 miles.
After her upset win via DQ last season at Santa Anita, the connections of B.C Juvenile Fillies champ Ria Antonia originally planned on pointing the filly for the Derby but came to their senses earlier this season and altered course from the Risen Star to the Rachel Alexandra.
You’d think trainer Jeremiah Englehart would have started the filly in an easy spot to begin her campaign but she’s caught a tough bunch of sophomore lassies for her seasonal bow, including Hollywood Starlet winner Streaming for Baffert who was second most recently in the Las Virgenes, Pocahantas winner Untapable, third in the Starlet when last seen in December for Steve Asmussen and recent maiden winner Got Lucky for Pletcher. Got Lucky was second by a neck in the Demoiselle at Aqueduct last year in just her second try.
Speaking of the Demoiselle, its’ winner, Stopchargingmaria, makes her first start of the season in the Davona Dale and leads a powerful one-two Pletcher punch. Second in the Spinaway and third in the Frizette, a pair of grade 1 events, Stopchargingmaria won her other three starts last season. The “other” Pletcher runner, Onlyforyou, is a perfect three for three and will be making her first start around two turns after most recently scoring easily in the Forward Gal going seven furlongs over this strip.
The Kiaran McLaughlin trained Penwith, third in the Demoiselle before gutting out a nose decision in a Gulfstream allowance contest at the beginning of the year, appears to be the most visible threat to Pletcher’s pair while the “Giant Killer,” Allen Jerkens, will try to add to his legacy of upsetting major stakes races with House Rules.
Prep Play of the Day
Start off the prep season with a nice and simple $50 win bet on Top Billing in the Fountain of Youth. Good luck!!!
HORSE RACING EXPERT
Mike covers the New York racing circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga) year round as well as Keeneland, Churchill Downs, the Triple Crown, and the Breeders’ Cup.
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