by Dustin Fabian
January 30, 2020
The Road to the Triple Crown kicks off in earnest in California and Florida this weekend as Santa Anita and Gulfstream host the first major steps along the path to the Santa Anita and Florida Derbies.
Gulfstream’s Grade 3, $350,000 Holy Bull is the highlight of a 12-race card in South Florida that includes five stakes races for three-year-olds. Among the leading contenders for the Holy Bull are G1 Champagne Stakes winner Tiz the Law and Louisiana-bred Relentless Dancer, who has won his last two races by a combined 20-lengths.
Also on the slate at Gulfstream is the Grade 3, $150,000 Swale and that race attracted G2 Saratoga Special winner Green Light Go, multiple stakes winner Shivaree and incredibly impressive maiden breaker, Untitled.
Across the country at Santa Anita, their 9-race card is bolstered by three stakes races including the G3, $100,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Bob Baffert has entered a pair of horses, G2 winner Thousand Words and G3 winner High Velocity, while Richard Mandella sends out recent maiden winner Tizamagician.
And finally, up in New York, sophomores are on display in the G3, $250,000 Withers Stakes. The standouts in there appear to be G2 Remsen winner Shotski, stakes winner Monday Morning Qb and Todd Pletcher’s recent maiden winner Portos.
The Holy Bull, Robert Lewis and Withers are all ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ Qualifying Races with the Top 4 finishers receiving points on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
Here are the horses that jump out at me in each race:
Gulfstream Park – Race 11 (5:04PM ET)
Holy Bull Stakes (G3, $350K)
1 1/16 Miles (Dirt)
Conversation around the Holy Bull starts with Tiz the Law, Barclay Tagg’s impressive G1 Champagne Stakes winner. He’s going to be heavily bet on Saturday but I see a slight problem. I was completely unimpressed with his first two-turn try when he finished 3rd in Churchill’s G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November. Maybe it was the slop that day, but it’s enough to give me cause for concern.
Mike Maker’s Relentless Dancer beat nothing in the Louisiana Legacy Stakes at Delta Downs for Louisiana-bred horses on October 19, but any time a horse wins a race by 10+ lengths, you’ve got to take notice. He dead-heated for victory in a Churchill Downs maiden race on September 27 (more than nine lengths clear of third) and he drew a nice outside post where he should be able to stalk from just off the pace.
Ken McPeek won this race last year with 29/1 outsider Harvey Wallbanger and he’s back this year with Mayberry Deputy, a recent Gulfstream Park maiden breaker. He’s a closer so a fair pace is a must, but I like the way he has moved forward with each start and he could get involved late.
Toledo will be overbet on virtue of connections (Juddmonte/Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz Jr) but none of his three races were all that impressive. Maybe he jumps forward in his two-turn debut – and the rail draw won’t help – but I just don’t see a lot of value with this one.
1. Relentless Dancer
2. Tiz the Law
4. Mayberry Deputy
Santa Anita Park – Race 6 (6:00PM ET)
Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3, $100K)
1 1/16 Miles (Dirt)
Bob Baffert’s Thousand Words is a perfect 2-for-2 with his most recent victory coming in a hard-fought win in the G2 Los Alamitos Futurity on December 7. Baffert has won this race – named for his former client – a record seven times, including recent editions with Mucho Gusto (2019), Mor Spirit (2016) and Dortmund (2015). Thousand Words will be a heavy favorite and should perform well on Saturday.
Even if Thousands Words loses, Baffert could still find the winner’s circle as he also sends out High Velocity. This one scuffled a bit in his two-turn debut – that same G2 Los Al Futurity – but he is already a G3 winner by virtue of his win in the Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar. He’s not the best Baffert horse in the race, but he’s not without a shot, either.
Tizamagician needed six tries to break his maiden (including four second-place finishes) but the lightbulb clicked last time and sometimes that is all it takes. He has been around two-turns four times and always seems to fire. Plus, he’ll be an easy horse to cheer for. His trainer (Richard Mandella) had to endure another late scratch of Omaha Beach prior to last weekend’s Pegasus and his part-owner, Spendthrift Farm, will stand Omaha Beach at stud. They could use a ‘pick me up’ kind of weekend.
Both Encoder and Royal Act are making their dirt debuts and either horse could surprise at a bit of a price.
1. Thousand Words
3. Zimba Warrior
4. High Velocity
Aqueduct – Race 8 (4:25PM ET)
Withers Stakes (G3, $250K)
1 1/8 Miles (Dirt)
The longest of this weekend’s preps is the G3 Withers and G2 Remsen winner Shotski is already a winner at this 1 1/8-mile distance. He and Luis Saez stole the Remsen, though and the question regarding the Withers is a simple one – is thievery on the menu once again? He’s a nice horse but not necessarily the type of horse you want to back at a short price.
Todd Pletcher’s Portos broke his maiden in the slop at Aqueduct on December 31 and while he’s not a fast horse, he is improving. He’ll be piloted by Jose Lezcano from a decent outside post and the expectation would be that they choose to sit midpack. There’s nothing on this horse’s resume that makes him a worldbeater, but he’s going to have a big shot in this race.
Monday Morning Qb has never run around two turns and he doesn’t have beautiful breeding, but the MD-bred son of Imagining did win the Heft Stakes last out and his owner and trainer, Cash is King, LLC and Robert Reid, know their way to the winner’s circle.
Vanzzy took advantage of a dawdling pace to win the Display Stakes at Woodbine on December 14 but, like several others, he’ll need to go faster to win this time around.
3. New Commission
4. Monday Morning Qb