Churchill Downs opens for its four-week Fall Meet on Sunday with a card solely of juvenile races, billed as “Stars of Tomorrow”—very catchy, I must say. I know some handicappers dislike 2-year-old races because of all the unknown factors, including first-time starters, but, boy, it sure beats a card of tired claimers this time of year. As a pedigree geek, I love these kinds of races.
I couldn’t find any free past performances for race 1, but am amazed a granddaughter of champion mare Princess Rooney is in for a $40k tag—St. Rose (Lion Heart-Rose Tiara, by St. Jovite). By mere reputation, I would assume Wesley Ward-trained Cuvette (Cuvee-Reason to Live, by Mt. Livermore) is a good bet.
In race 2, Steve Asmussen sends out Raphael Alexandro (yes, aren’t those Zayats clever in naming their horses?), a son of Medaglia d’Oro out of Game Trick, by Clever Trick. Nice series of long works at Hollywood since September, so why come East to run on dirt? About the only thing (beyond a hot sire) to merit this boy’s Keeneland September 2008 $500k price tag is the fact that his dam is a half-sister to Sweet Briar Too, dam of champion sprinter and sire Langfuhr. I much prefer Forgotten Tales (Tale of the Cat-Forgotten Secret, by Secret Slew) who tired on the lead in his first start over the Keeneland Polytrack; a 4f bullet work at Churchill since suggests he may be better prepared this time for new jock Kent Desormeaux. He is a three-quarter brother to G1-placed (Princess Rooney S.) Hot Storm, and a half-brother to G2-placed Unforgotten. A true longshot is Jimmy The Kid (A.P. Indy-My Trusty Cat, by Tale of the Cat). I like the cut-back for his first start at 8f, blinkers added and running on real dirt. His dam My Trusty Cat won the 2005 G1 Humana Distaff, in addition to the G2 Honorable Miss and several other graded placings.
In race 3, Stately Victor (Ghostzapper-Collect the Cash, by Dynaformer) returns to dirt after winning a maiden turf route at Saratoga, then finishing well-back in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity on Keeneland’s Polytrack. He did finish second behind Winslow Homer in his first effort on an off-turf race at Saratoga, but his dam is a G1 turf winner by Dynaformer, so I’m not sold on him on dirt. Holiday Buzz (Afleet Alex-Dixie Holiday, by Dixieland Band) broke his maiden over this distance at Hawthorne last out, with terrific late kick; his half-sister Holiday Runner won several stakes at 2, and finished third in the G2 Adirondack—oh, and, by the way, Holiday Runner is the dam of multiple G1 winner and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint hopeful Seventh Street. Guys Reward (Grand Reward-Beach View, by Mr. Greeley) comes out of a second-place finish in the off-turf Cradle Stakes at River Downs, and a fifth place in the turf G3 Bourbon; he may like dirt better.
In race 4, Shawnee Moon (Forestry-Indian Halo, by Halo) has put in a string of impressive works leading to this starter for Eddie Kenneally, including a bullet 4f in :46 (1/33) at Keeneland on October 21. She’s a three-quarters sister to G3 Affirmed winner Indian Ocean. If she draws into the field, I’d also take a close look at Starlite Starbrite, again with good works, for Tom Amoss—out of a good producing, stakes winning dam Starlight Surprise (Salutely), and a good first-time starting sire Mutakddim. One that perhaps wants longer is David Carroll-trained Atwitter (Distorted Humor-Alchemist, by A.P. Indy)—her second dam Aldiza won the 1998 G1 Go For Wand by a nose over Escena, and her dam’s full-sister Altesse won last year’s G3 Turnback the Alarm; this is also the family of G2 Molly Pitcher victress Atelier (dam of G3-placed Alaazo) and G1 Spinaway third-place finisher Aunt Anne. Fascinating that Julien Leparoux takes the ride on Atwitter instead of the likely-favorite Sparkle of Light (Alke-Blushing Hope, by Housebuster) who he rode at Saratoga last out—for regular patrons Ken and Sarah Ramsey, nonetheless—and for top 2-year-old trainer Wesley Ward. Edgar Prado takes the mount.
In race 5, Henry’s Time (Hennessy-Since Time Began, by Rubiano) looks strong after finishing third at this level at Saratoga back in September; his previous form includes finishes behind G1 Hopeful third-place finisher Aikenite and CAN-G3 Summer Stakes victor Bridgetown. He is also a half-brother to G3 Azalea victress Victorina. Steve Asmussen first-time starter Mister Minister (Songandaprayer-Cherylville Slew, by Evansville Slew) has a series of strong workouts, while Helen Pitts-trained Midnight Vigil (Strong Hope-Miss Moonlight, by Broad Brush) has a big price-tag ($260k) and prolific dam (4 for 4 winners, with 1 stakeswinner).
In race 6—the first of two turf races—Graham Motion sends out Straight Talk (Macho Uno-No Foul Play, by Great Gladiator) with turf-master Julien Leparoux. This half-brother of G3 Excelsior victor Temporary Saint, out of the terrific Canadian turf stakes mare No Foul Play, ran strong in his only turf start back in August at Saratoga. However, the likely post-time favorite will be Romans Reward (Kitten’s Joy-Knock Off, by Fit to Fight) who, like Henry’s Time in race 5, has form behind CAN-G3 Summer Stakes victor Bridgetown (and, thankfully, isn’t called Roman’s Kitten). He also has some nice turf winners in his family, including half-sister Art Fan who won the Virginia Oaks, and half-brother Hunting Print who, ironically, finished second in last year’s Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial. River Oaks (Distorted Humor-Lakeway, by Seattle Slew) tries turf for Bill Mott and Kent Desormeaux, and his breeding suggests he should love it; his multiple-G1 winning dam Lakeway has produced turf winner Sluice and G1 Kentucky Oaks-placed Flying Spur. Chef Bobby Flay entrusted his Furious Run (Rock Hard Ten-One Dream Cat, by Storm Cat) to Todd Pletcher who has twice tried to run this colt on turf, but both times it was taken off; his second dam is the G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff victress One Dreamer. For a longshot play, you could do worse than Bascom Hall (Mizzen Mast-Victorian Woman, by Jeblar) who should appreciate the stretch-out from his last start; his half-brother Old Man Buck won the Grand Canyon over the Churchill turf course at two, placed third in the G2 Jefferson Cup at Churchill last year, and now runs in hurdle races. Also, Ticondero (Cherokee Run-Gal of Mine, by Mining) didn’t totally disgrace himself on soft Belmont turf last out; he is a half-brother to America America who was G2-placed on turf in Canada at 2, and on the Lone Start Oaks on turf at 3.
In race 7, Bashful Bertie (Quiet American-Clever Bertie, by Timeless Native) may have the biggest pedigree to live up to—among her dam’s six winners is multiple graded stakes victresses Hurricane Bertie and Allamerican Bertie, the latter this one’s full-sister. However, Heavenly Sister (Hennessy-Little Sister, by Valid Appeal) is probably the best bet. Her G3 winning dam has thrown a load of winners, and her second dam Mepache is not only out of a half-sister (Nowmepache) to Foolish Pleasure, but also is the dam of G3-winning Valid Expectations and Sugar Bowl Handicap victor Littleexpectations—both full-brothers to Little Sister. Another first-time starter with strong breeding is Dream Regime (Roman Ruler-Dream Deal, by Sharpen Up), with his G1 Monmouth Oaks-winning dam having already produced G2 Churchill Downs Distaff winner Dream Scheme, multiple-G1 winner Clear Mandate (dam of G1-placed Newfoundland), and Fairy Doll, dam of JPN-G1 QE II victress To the Victory, who finished second in the 2001 UAE-G1 Dubai World Cup (the only female to ever place in that race). Hidden Value (Value Plus-Raw Gold, by Rahy), who makes her eighth start of the year, doesn’t appear to be as talented as her half-sister Kadira, but has been tip-toeing around the winner’s circle; with Rajiv Maragh up for D. Wayne Lukas, this may be her day.
Race 8 is the G3 Pocahontas, a race won by multiple-G1 winning Pure Clan in 2007, and last year gave us not only red-hot Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint candidate Sara Louise, but also 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. So, the question is, who are the future stars in this race? I’m not convinced it’s Sassy Image (Broken Vow-Ideal Image, by Hennessy). She obviously disliked Polytrack, finishing well back in the G1 Alcibiades, but she also well beaten by Hot Dixie Chick and Beautician in the G1 Spinaway. Todd Pletcher-trained Happy Week (Distorted Humor-Lassie’s Legacy, by Deputy Minister) has form behind G3 Schuylerville pacesetter Stormandaprayer, and won nicely over this distance last out. Her dam is half-sister to AP Indy, Summer Squall, and Weekend in Seattle, dam of G1 Travers runner-up Mambo in Seattle—not to mention Weekend Storm, dam of multiple-G1 winner Court Vision (among others). Running Bride (Cherokee Run-Kazumina, by Green Dancer) is undefeated against Indiana-bred competition and has posted several bullet works at Churchill, but even with Julien Leparoux up, this looks too tough. Decelerator (Dehere-Paris Rose, by Accelerator) won the G3 Debutante here in June, but has been far back in three graded stakes efforts since. Vertical Vision (Pollard’s Vision-Caney Creek, by Service Stripe) has posted some fast dirt times at Lone Star and Prairie Meadows; can this Oklahoma-bred conquer Kentucky? Vivid Colors (Roman Ruler-Scene Maker, by Unbridled’s Song) easily defeated stakes-winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf probable Tapitsfly in her maiden effort at Churchill—which was followed by two dull efforts at Saratoga. After a break, she stretched out to 8.5f at Keeneland and with Kent Desormeaux up for Ken McPeek, this filly could steal this race on the front end. For longshots, there’s All About Anna (Maria’s Mon-Suzanna Anna, by Tale of the Cat) whose half-brother Time Limit won the Tremont and finished second in the G3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at 2, and half-sister Miss Indy Anna finished second in the G1 Test. Earlier in the summer, she finished well back of Decelerator, Hot Dixie Chick, Beautician and Sassy Image, but after a break came back in a devastating win in the Bassinet at River Downs, followed by a disappointing fifth-place in the Presque Isle Debutante. However, if the Tapeta form from PID is as successful at Churchill as it was at Keeneland, she could be in the money here. And, for probably the longest shot winner, how about Biorra (Smoke Glacken-Birr, by Farma Way)? Okay, not just because she’s a damline descendent of Foolish Pleasure—her dam Birr won this race in 1995.
In race 9, Flatter Than Me (Flatter-Hannah’s Doll, by Boston Harbor) impressed me with his second-place finish behind Backtalk in the G3 Bashford Manor, and I can’t help by root for Indiana-bred You Already Know (Supah Blitz-Dial a Fantasy, by Phone Trick), a Foolish Pleasure sireline descendent, through his son Maudlin’s son Mecke’s son Supah Blitz.
Race 10 is the G3 Iroquois, which features Dublin (Afleet Alex-Classy Mirage, by Storm Bird), winner of the G1 Hopeful who failed as the favorite in the G1 Champagne last out. Thiskyhasnolimit (Sky Mesa-Lovely Regina, by Deputy Minister) fired well on off-tracks in two Churchill races this summer, but failed spectacularly at Saratoga. This distance shouldn’t be an obstacle; his dam is a half-sister to Bernardini. The outside post position, though, doesn’t do him any favors. Since Julien Leparoux has won the last two Iroquois (on Court Vision in 2007, and Capt. Candyman Can in 2008), it’s a good bet that his mount, Raging Wit (Distorted Humor-Pleasant Temper, by Storm Cat) should not be counted out, and why would you, as he comes in off a fourth-place effort going 8.5f on turf in the G3 Bourbon? This will be his first dirt effort for Bill Mott, and I’m looking forward to his odds being anywhere near his 12-1 morning line. For a longshot flyer, Soaring Empire (Empire Maker-Flying Passage, by A.P. Indy) won his maiden effort impressively and certainly has the breeding—his dam is a half-sister to Tara Roma, dam of G3 Ack Ack hero Cappuchino and G1 Go For Wand winner Serra Lake, and to G2 True North victor Waldoboro.
In race 11—the other race carded for turf—first time turf runner Emmalee (Smart Strike-Lassie Connection, by Seattle Slew) hasn’t done much in her two previous efforts, but, god, what a bloodline! Her dam not only has 9 winners from 13 starters and 5 turf winners, but also is a half-sister to super-broodmare Weekend Surprise (A.P. Indy, Summer Squall, et al). With top rider Robby Albarado up, the nifty-named Cave In (Mineshaft-Quick Tip, by Unaccounted For) looks a fierce challenger; her dam won the G3 Cardinal Handicap over the Churchill turf in 2002. Valse Autriche (Dynaformer-Mille Feville, by Saint Ballado) gets blinkers, Kent Desormeaux and tries grass for the first time; her dam is a half-sister to turf G3 Modesty winner Noisette. The most impressive first-time starter is Graham Motion-trained Apple Charlotte (Smart Strike-Charlotte Augusta, by Chief’s Crown) who has some brilliant works coming into this, comes from a well-producing dam (5 turf winners), and gets the services of Julien Leparoux—enough said.
Wow! I didn' intend for this post to be so long, but writing out analysis like this is a boon to me in my own handicapping. Hopeful it's fruitful as well! Good luck.
UPDATE: Results from some of my better “longshot” suggestions:
Race 3: Holiday Buzz, 14-1 ($10.40 place)
Race 4: Shawnee Moon, 9-1 ($8.60 place)
Race 6: Bascom Hall, 27-1 ($15.60 place)
Race 10: Thiskyhasnolimit, 13-1 ($28.20 win); Soaring Empire, 6-1 ($5.00 show)