Less than two months await the Derby hopefuls and points and talent are on the rise. Tampa Bay Downs hosted the Tampa Bay Derby with 50 points to the winner. The buzz horse in this race was Brody’s Cause. This son of Giant’s Causeway ran third behind Nyquist in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile in October 2015. He also beat Exaggerator, but on this day it just wasn’t meant to be. Brody’s Cause needed the points on the Derby leader board and he didn’t get them. In fact, he finished last in an impressive field of 3-year-olds. Rafting and Destin both put in good efforts only a month ago in the Sam F. Davis. Destin won the Sam F. Davis and returned to win the Tampa Bay Derby in a gutsy fashion over an impressive colt named Outwork. The spunky Outwork is a horse to watch going forward. He’s also a part of the Uncle Mo crew. The successful sire has several offspring vying for the 2016 Kentucky Derby. Outwork went from 6 furlongs in his last race to 1 1/16th in the Tampa Bay Derby to finish second behind Destin, and put up a good fight. His success might have something to do with his jockey, the veteran John Velazquez. Johnny V has been with the Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year in all three starts. Destin, who had the guidance of top jock Javier Castellano in the irons, is also trained by Pletcher and stamps his pass to Kentucky with this win. Maybe this year a Derby winner is Destin-y for Pletcher.
The Grade 2 Hillsborough Stakes featured the amazingly talented Eclipse winner and best older mare on the planet, Tepin. Not that she needs to prove anything to us anymore, she’s just a thrill to watch. But, this race was interesting right from the beginning. The aforementioned Johnny V was sitting on Isabella Sings for Todd Pletcher. Isabella went to the front and in short order was soon leading by 20 lengths (or more). But, as is the fate of most rabbits, she eventually was caught by the stronger runner. Tepin has a late kick that is impeccable and she proved her class once again.
Tepin’s faithful rider, Julien Leparoux, is a must-have on the turf courses in Florida. Not only did he get the win with the classy mare, he also brought in long-shot Baciami Piccola in the Florida Oaks. Baciami was making her first U.S. turf debut and beat the heavy favorite Ava’s Kitten.
A Big Day at the Great Race Place
Big ‘Cap Day on Saturday at Santa Anita was one of the best cards of the season featuring five stakes races with the Santa Anita Handicap (aka the Big ‘Cap) worth $1,000,000 in purse money.
Several California favorites failed to make a mark on Big ‘Cap Day. Mucho Chrome failed to shine, as did Om who did not put in the best effort and finished last in the Grade 1 Kilroe mile. Jockey Kent Desormeaux galloped What a View to the winners circle proving to be the best of the best in the Kilroe.
In the San Felipe Stakes, with 50 Derby points on the line, all eyes were on the Bob Baffert-trained Mor Spirit. On paper, Mor Spirit should have won. On paper, Danzing Candy was questionable to win running the 1 1/16th for the first time. On paper, Smokey Image had every chance to win this race. But the paper isn’t in the gate, and Smokey Image, a horse I was campaigning for a chance to enter the Derby gates, turned out to be a one-trick pony at a 1 1/16th. Even though Mor Spirit was beaten in the San Felipe by Danzing Candy, he is still near the top of the leader board with his second-place finish. Exaggerator also picked up more points finishing third. Danzing Candy gave jockey Mike Smith his first San Felipe victory in his lengthy and successful career.
Kobe’s Back is THAT horse. The horse that everyone is cheering for and he’s so much fun to watch with his come-from-behind running style. He has an amazing late kick and gobbles up ground all the way to the wire. Kobe’s victory in the San Carlos Stakes was highlighted by the fact that the second and third place finishers shared the same color of coat as the winner. Kobe, Coastline and Calculator finished 1, 2 and 3, and all are gray.
The gray trifecta was an awesome opening act for the race that followed, the $1,000,000 Santa Anita Handicap – the Big ‘Cap. I will go out on a very short limb and say that there were a lot of Pick 4 and 5 tickets that singled Effinex in the Big ‘Cap. I was alive in the Pick 4 going into this race having both Effinex and Donworth, and feeling confident in my picks to cover the last leg of the Pick 4 with Pacific Heat, Lady Valeur, Mirage and Nodiac filling out the bottom of my ticket. And then …. Donworth had the worst trip of his life in the Big ‘Cap. I’m certain that the horse’s mouth and Mario Gutierrez’s shoulders both needed icing after that race. Donworth was full of run and had no place to go. He was bottled up through most of the race and Mario was forced to hit the brakes repeatedly. Mario was pulling on the loaded Donworth just so he didn’t run over the horse in front of him. Donworth needed room and maybe, just maybe, he might have caught the gate to wire long-shot winner, Melatonin. I don’t think anyone expected Melatonin to lead this impressive field to the wire. Effinex is a distance horse. For most of his career, Melatonin has been sprinting. The order of finish was Melatonin, Hard Aces and Effinex. The trifecta paid $950. Interesting also is that Melatonin’s jockey, Joe Talamo, has ridden Hard Aces in his last three starts, but jumped off to ride the “sprint horse” in Melatonin’s last race which was at 1 1/16th which he won.
In the last race of Big ‘Cap Day, the China Doll Stakes, the bettor’s favorite (and Cal-bred), Pacific Heat, was pushed to fourth by three Irish fillies, Mirage, Lady Valeur and Nodiac. If you had the luck of the Irish on Big ‘Cap Day, this trifecta paid $850. I was alive in each leg of the Pick 4 with the exception of the Santa Anita Handicap. Had Effinex showed up, or Donworth had a better trip, or if I had given a proper look to Melatonin, I would have walked away with a winning Pick 4 ticket. Such is the life of a horseplayer.
Twenty get in the gate on the first Saturday in May. Here’s a list of the current Top 10 on the leader board:
Canterbury Park’s Road to Kentucky Handicapping Contest continues Saturday. It is free to enter and offers weekly cash prizes.