Twinspires.com Weekend Stakes: Where To Watch
Even though there will be no Grade 1 races taking place this weekend, it will still be a key weekend, especially in terms of Derby and Oaks preps, of which there are two in each division. There are also a number of major races for the older set, beginning with the G3 Fair Grounds Handicap, the first of four graded stakes on the Saturday card at the New Orleans oval. Smart Bid returns after a five-month layoff and a 2011 tour of seven different tracks. In eight starts, the Graham Motion trainee was a graded winner and four times graded stakes-placed. Among those he will meet are Mr. Vegas, Dubious Miss, and Strike Impact, the top three from the G3 Colonel Bradley Handicap, run here Jan. 21.
The parade continues at Fair Grounds with the G3 Rachel Alexandra, for sophomore fillies. A morning line of 6-1 or less has been assigned to six of the seven starters, with favoritism leaning toward Applauding, at 5-2. A daughter of Congrats, Applauding is two-for-two, earning a 90 Beyer Speed Figure (BSF) in her most recent, an optional claimer run here Dec. 2. She’ll face the top trio from last month’s Silverbulletday—Believe You Can, Summer Applause, and Inny Minnie.
Mister Mardi Gras, cross-entered in the Fair Grounds Handicap, is more likely to run in the G3 Mineshaft Handicap, according to trainer Neil Pessin. The versatile son of Belong to Me had wins on turf, dirt, and synthetic surfaces last year, including two Grade 3 victories. Southern California-based trainer Marty Jones ships in with Tres Borrachos, runner-up of his two most recent, the G2 San Pasqual and G3 Native Diver.
A bulky field of 11 3-year-old colts and geldings are shooting for part of the $300,000 purse of the G2 Risen Star. The owner/trainer duo of Brereton Jones and Larry Jones have a coupled entry with G3 LeComte winner Mr. Bowling, and Mark Valeski, a recent optional claiming winner. Todd Pletcher is here with El Padrino. This son of Pulpit was a close third in the Remsen (G2) and debuted this year with an impressive showing in an optional claimer, earning a 100 BSF. Z Dager and Shared Property, second and third behind Mr. Bowling in the LeComte, both return here.
Distaffers are in the spotlight on Saturday’s Gulfstream card, where three graded stakes, all for females, are on tap, beginning in the 8th race with the G3 Sabin. A compact but quality field of five goes to post led by last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta. The 4-year-old Empire Maker filly has been working forwardly at Payson Park for trainer Bill Mott, and is the 6-5 morning line favorite.
Perfect Shirl, another Breeders’ Cup heroine (Filly & Mare Turf), also makes her 2012 bow in the 10th race, the G3 The Very One. Plans to run her in December in Argentina’s Carlos Pelligrini were thwarted by problematic travel arrangements according to her trainer, Roger Attfield. Let go at 28-1 in the Breeders’ Cup, Perfect Shirl is listed at 3-1 on the morning line against a dozen others and one main track only entry. Her main competition appears to be Keertana, third in her first race of the year, the G3 Endeavour.
The G2 Davona Dale looks like a showdown between Grace Hall and Disposablepleasure. Grace Hall, a daughter of Empire Maker from Tony Dutrow’s barn, suffered her only defeat in four starts in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, losing to champion My Miss Aurelia. Disposablepleasure, trained by Todd Pletcher, also has had four starts, breaking her maiden by 11 lengths and closing out last season with a nose decision in the G2 Demoiselle.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Tampa Bay is host of aptly named Tampa Bay Stakes (G3), where a dozen are expected to start on the turf. The competitive field includes Bill Mott-trained Moryba, making his 2012 debut after a 2-for-8 season. The Brazilian-bred is still looking for a graded win.
And, at Santa Anita, Amazombie, yet another Breeders’ Cup winner, makes his first start of the season in the G2 San Carlos. Last year’s Sprint winner and Eclipse winning sprinter faces fives others in this seven-furlong test, including The Factor, also making his first start of the year since winning the G1 Malibu on Santa Anita’s opening day.
On Sunday, Gulfstream is the stage for a pair of graded stakes, both Grade 2—the Mac Diarmida for older horses on the turf, and, for Derby hopefuls, the Fountain of Youth. Musketier, now a 10-year-old (!) is expected to start against nine others in the grassy Mac Diarmida. As a 9-year-old, the Roger Attfield pupil proved he still had the goods when winning the G2 W.L. McKnight Handicap in November; he’s only three months older now.
Todd Pletcher has a couple aces in the Fountain of Youth with Algorithms and Discreet Dancer, both of whom are undefeated. Algorithms was last seen winning the G3 Holy Bull over a sloppy track, putting away Juvenile champ Hansen. Discreet Dancer is untested in stakes company, but has won his two starts very easily. Also one to watch here is Union Rags, out to make amends from his narrow Breeders’ Cup loss to Hansen. In that race, Union Rags had a wide trip, came barreling through the stretch, but came up a head short. Previous to that, he was three-for-three, including two graded stakes.