Tampa Bay Stakes
Atoned is the “name” horse here, but despite two nice turf works, I think he’s a bet against for several reasons: the rail post position is bad enough, but then he has no grass experience or pedigree—all 8 of his dam’s runners were winners, but none on turf. On class alone, he may earn a piece, but at a short-price, why bother? Classic Campaign finished fourth in last year’s race, and comes in off a strong workout and a close-up fourth place finish in the G3 Colonel Bradley. Still, this 7-year-old son of Rahy has had a serious problem hitting the line—his only win in 8 races last year was at Fair Grounds when the Diliberto Memorial when it was taken off the turf and run in the slop against only three rivals. Furthest Land has been a brilliant claim for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, stretching out to routes where he’s on a three-race win streak. My concern is Joe Bravo rides instead of Julien Leparoux—can he harness the turf magic woven by Leparoux?—plus running against stakes-caliber competition for the first time. So, who did I settle on here?
Society’s Chairman narrowly lost to in-form Kiss the Kid in the Fort Lauderdale on January 10 and since then has posted four very nice works. Other than failures on a yielding 9f turf (G2 King Edward), an off-turf Polytrack race, and an ill-advised attempt in the G1 Shadwell Turf Mile, he enjoyed a solid 2008, including a narrow ½ length loss to G1 Woodbine Mile victor Rahy’s Attorney in the G3 Connaught Cup at this 8.5f distance (for which he has also never finished out-of-the-money). Second-up, he should be primed for this race.
Picks: 1. Society's Chairman 2. Furthest Land 3. Classic Campaign
G2 Mac Diarmida Stakes
Spice Route has tons of positives—G1 placed last year, Edgar Prado up, strong workouts and runs well first off layoff. Oh, and did I mention he can run all day? Just like before his recent G3 Tropical Turf win, Roger Attfield breezed him 2f in a quick :25 on Friday, just to loosen him up for this race. The second-place finisher in that, Soldier’s Dancer, came back next out to win the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita—defeating Presious Passion who’s also entered here. Unfortunately, the Mary Hartman (how come I always want to repeat her name?) trainee not only drew the far outside post, but also figures to have company on the lead with speedy Finallymadeit on the rail. Their battle should set a strong pace that sets up a winning charge by Spice Route.
Beyond him, the others that intrigue me include the pricy ($3.9 million) but lightly raced Keeneland purchase Mr. Sidney—Kent Desormeaux is a big plus, as is his last out win, but he’s never been tested at this distance and his prior graded stakes attempt was subpar. Julien Leparoux is a huge plus on Quasicobra so, at a price, he might surprise. However, the real shocker here might very well be Baltimore Bob. Jose Lezcano rode him a treat last out and, in his second start for Helen Pitts, ole Bob likely is in the trifecta.
Picks: 1. Spice Route 3. Quasicobra 2. Baltimore Bob
Valentine Dancer Handicap
Last year’s winner Tiz A Blend is back, but doesn’t quite appear to be the same quality at age six so I’ll pass. Garrett Gomez climbs aboard G1 Del Mar Oaks-placed Bel Air Sizzle who has run in open company far more than most of these state-breds, but I can’t help thinking 8f is too short for her. Looking at her last six races, it’s amazing how close Christiana’s Heat has consistently been, including ½ length losses to graded stakes winners Jibboom and Dawn After Dawn in her last two. Still, I’m picking Waveline who came off nearly a year break with two wins and an excellent effort stretching out on Pro-Ride in the Sunshine Millions Distaff against Leah’s Secret. A strong 5f work and Rafael Bejarano remaining up bodes well for her chances, as does turning back in distance.
Don’t ask me why, but I just have a gut feeling about Gambler’s Justice today too.
Picks: 1. Waveline 2. Christiana’s Heat 3. Gambler’s Justice