by Jon White
February 4, 2021
I made selections last week for both the Holy Bull Stakes and Robert B. Lewis Stakes. My top pick won both. Can I do it again this week? To be perfectly frank, I seriously doubt it. But, hey, despite a lack of confidence, I shall give it a try.
My top selection for last Saturday’s Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park was Greatest Honour, who rallied in the final three furlongs to post an emphatic 5 3/4-length triumph. He paid $7.60 for each $2 win wager.
My top pick for last Saturday’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita Park was Medina Spirit, who showed considerable determination in the stretch to narrowly prevail. He paid $4 for each $2 win wager.
This week I attempt to pick the winner of Saturday’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. Both races have 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby points up for grabs to the first four finishers.
The Davis has drawn a field of 13, including one also eligible.
My selections for the 1 1/16-mile Davis are below:
1. Candy Man Rocket
2. Known Agenda
3. Nova Rags
4. Smiley Sobotka
Candy Man Rocket finished seventh against maidens on a sloppy track when debuting last Nov. 22 at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt then romped to a 9 1/4-length win in a six-furlong race on dry land Jan. 9 at Gulfstream.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Candy Man Rocket was credited with an 85 Beyer Speed Figure in his maiden victory. It’s the highest Beyer of the Davis entrants. Candy Man Rocket is being asked to race around two turns for the first time this Saturday, but I’ll go with him to win despite that.
When Known Agenda made his first career start last Sept. 27 at Belmont Park, the Todd Pletcher trainee finished second to the highly regarded Highly Motivated. In his next start, Highly Motivated won Keeneland’s Nyquist Stakes on Nov. 6 by 4 1/4 lengths when he recorded a 96 Beyer Speed Figure.
In Known Agenda’s second career start, he won a 1 1/8-mile maiden race by a head at Aqueduct on Nov. 8. Greatest Honour finished second. Yes, that’s the same Greatest Honour who trounced his foes last Saturday in the Holy Bull.
In his most recent appearance under silks, Known Agenda finished third in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at the Big A on Dec. 5. He ended up nine lengths behind the victorious Brooklyn Strong on that occasion. Despite losing the Remsen by such a large margin when he did not seem to be fond of the sloppy oval, Known Agenda did record a career-best 80 Beyer in that race.
Nova Rags, another Mott trainee, has a victory over the Tampa main track under his belt. The Kentucky-bred Union Rags colt won the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes there by 2 3/4 lengths on Jan. 9. That Nova Rags has succeeded on that track is a plus. Through the years many shippers have not fared well on that surface.
Smiley Sobotka, trained by Dale Romans, has never finished out of the exacta (3 starts, 1 win, 2 seconds). In his most recent start, the Canadian-bred Brody’s Cause colt finished second, three-quarters of a length behind Keepmeinmind, in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last Nov. 28. Keepmeinmind went into that race off a third to Essential Quality in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Watch out for Lucky Law in the Davis. Patrick Biancone trains Lucky Law, who makes his dirt debut this Saturday. The Irish-bred No Nay Never colt finished second when debuting in a five-furlong grass dash for maidens Dec. 20 at Gulfstream, then won a one-mile maiden race on turf there Jan. 16.
Biancone won the 2020 Sam F. Davis with Sole Volante. Sole Volante won his first two starts, both on turf, then switched to dirt and ran third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream. After the Mucho Macho Man, Sole Volante won the Davis at odds of 5-1 when finishing 2 1/2 lengths clear of the runner-up, 7-10 favorite Independence Hall.
Whereas the Sam F. Davis attracted an overflow field of 13, the Withers has enticed a field of nine.
My selections for the 1 1/8-mile Withers are below:
1. Donegal Bay
2. Capo Kane
3. Eagle Orb
4. Risk Taking
I’m going with the Pletcher-trained Donegal Bay, who comes off a 4 1/4-length win (79 Beyer Speed Figure) in a one-mile maiden race Dec. 12 at Gulfstream after finishing sixth when unveiled in the summer at Saratoga. This looks like it’s a good spot for the Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo colt to make his stakes debut.
Capo Kane is the likely Withers favorite following his 6 1/4-length victory on a muddy track in the Jerome Stakes at the Big A on Jan. 1. The Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt sports an improving Beyer pattern (50, then 74, then 84 in the Jerome) for trainer Harold Wyner.
Eagle Orb finished second in the Jerome. Perhaps he can turn the tables on Capo Kane if the track is not wet. Rudy Rodriguez trains Eagle Orb, a New York-bred Orb colt.
Do not take Risk Taking lightly. Trained by Chad Brown, the Kentucky-bred Medaglia d’Oro colt finished seventh and sixth in his initial two career starts, then won a 1 1/8-mile maiden race Dec. 13 at Aqueduct (82 Beyer).
After Greatest Honour’s dominant win in the Holy Bull, his stakes debut, he is a newcomer on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week all the way up at No. 4. Following Medina Spirit’s victory in the Robert B. Lewis, he climbs to No. 6 this week after being No. 8 last week.
Hot Rod Charlie and Roman Centurian finished second and third, respectively, in the Lewis. Hot Rod Charlie moves down a notch this week to No. 7. Roman Centurian makes his first appearance on my Top 10 this week at No. 10.
In order to make room for Greatest Honour and Roman Centurian on this week’s Top 10, Prime Factor and Jackie’s Warrior depart.
Prime Factor was No. 5 last week. Favored at 11-10 while making his second career start, Prime Factor ran third in the Holy Bull, 9 1/2 lengths behind Greatest Honour.
Jackie’s Warrior was No. 10 last week. The multiple Grade I winner will have the opportunity to reappear on the Top 10 if he comes up with a good performance when he makes his 2021 debut. The plan is for Jackie’s Warrior to return to equine combat in Oaklawn Park’s Grade III Southwest Stakes on Feb. 15.
Trainer Brad Cox recently announced that the Southwest will be the first 2021 start for Essential Quality, who remains in the top spot on my Top 10. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt is three for three. In addition to his BC Juvenile victory, Essential Quality won last year’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
Yet another quality 3-year-old eyeing the Southwest is Keepmeinmind, who is No. 8 on my Top 10. Trained by Robertino Diodoro, the Kentucky-bred Laoban colt concluded his 2-year-old campaign with a win in the Grade II Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28.
This is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Essential Quality
2. Life Is Good
3. Caddo River
4. Greatest Honour
5. Concert Tour
6. Medina Spirit
7. Hot Rod Charlie
9. Senor Buscador
10. Roman Centurian
Seventh early in the field of nine Holy Bull participants, Greatest Honour completed his 1 1/16-mile trip in 1:43.19.
Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey trains Greatest Honour, a Kentucky-bred Tapit colt. McGaughey won the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Orb.
Interestingly, Greatest Honor has a number of early-career similarities with Orb.
--Orb finished third in his career debut at Saratoga. Ditto Greatest Honour.
--Orb’s maiden win came in career start No. 4. Ditto Greatest Honour.
--Orb was victorious at Gulfstream in his stakes debut. Ditto Greatest Honour.
When Orb ran in a stakes race for the first time, he won the Grade II Fountain of Youth. When Greatest Honour started in a stakes race for the first time, he won the Holy Bull.
Greatest Honour’s dam, Tiffany’s Honour, was a flop as a racehorse. She made a total of three starts, losing by 11 1/2, 37 1/2 and 11 1/4 lengths.
I have long felt that, more often than not, a broodmare has more of a chance to be successful if she possesses a fine pedigree as opposed to a broodmare with an excellent race record but only so-so bloodlines.
Tiffany’s Honour’s breeding is far from so-so. She is a daughter of Street Cry and Better Than Honour. Even though Tiffany’s Honour was a complete bust in terms of her racing career, her pedigree gave her the right to produce a graded stakes winner like Greatest Honour.
Street Cry is the sire of two of Thoroughbred racing’s two greatest distaffers, America’s Zenyatta and Australia’s Winx. Between them, Zenyatta and Winx won 56 of 62 lifetime starts. Talk about two win machines.
As for Better Than Honour, she’s an extraordinary broodmare. She is the dam of Jazil (the Grade I Belmont Stakes winner in 2006), Rags to Riches (the Grade I Belmont winner in 2007 and that year’s Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old filly), Casino Drive (the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes winner in 2008) and Man of Iron (the Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner in 2009).
Better Than Honour now also has produced the dam of the 2021 Holy Bull winner.
Medina Spirit, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, was backed down to even-money favoritism in last Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis at the Great Race Place.
Dashing immediately to the front, Medina Spirit set the early pace. He appeared to be about 1 1/2 lengths in front at the three-sixteenths pole, but Hot Rod Charlie and Roman Centurian were in hot pursuit.
At the eighth pole, Medina Spirit’s lead had shrunk to a half-length. At that point, Medina Spirit seemed odds-on to get beat. It appeared that Hot Rod Charlie and Roman Centurian were going to run right on by the favorite.
But when Medina Spirit refused to throw in the towel, the final furlong turned into a fierce three-way tussle. All the way down to the finish, Medina Spirit on the inside, Hot Rod Charlie and Roman Centurian on the outside, battled for the lead.
In as gutsy an effort as you will see, Medina Spirit won by a neck. Roman Centurian nosed out Hot Rod Charlie for second in the field of six.
Medina Spirit “galloped out best, too,” Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman wrote. “He’s probably better getting a stalking trip, so winning under these conditions is admirable.”
On a wet track labeled good, Medina Spirit’s final time was 1:43.19. It was “a really tiring track,” Baffert said.
Secretariat.com’s Steve Haskin observed that Medina Spirit ran a lot better in the Lewis than many realize.
“The most impressive aspect of his race was that, over a dead track, he set testing fractions of :22 4/5 and :46 3/5,” Haskin wrote. “By comparison, in the San Pasqual for older horses earlier on the same card they went in :23 45 and :48 3/5. He then went the three-quarters in 1:12 1/5 compared to 1:13 3/5 in the San Pasqual. So it was understandable why they didn’t come home fast” in the Lewis.
Express Train, in the best performance of his eight-race career, won the 1 1/8-mile San Pasqual in 1:52.13. The 4-year-old Union Rags colt was credited with a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure while stamping himself as someone to be reckoned with in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.
Medina Spirit recorded a 99 Beyer Speed Figure when he ran second in the Sham. He was credited with a 91 Beyer for his Lewis victory.
Baffert now has won the Lewis nine times (General Challenge in 1999, Domestic Dispute in 2003, Pioneerof the Nile in 2009, Flashback in 2013, Dortmund in 2015, Mor Spirit in 2016, Mucho Gusto in 2019, Thousand Words in 2020 and Medina Spirit in 2021).
Medina Spirit’s victory and Roman Centurian’s runner-up finish in this year’s Lewis flattered undefeated Sham Stakes winner Life Is Good. Ranked No. 2 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, Life Is Good, like Medina Spirit, resides at Baffert’s powerful Santa Anita barn.
When Life Is Good won the Sham, Medina Spirit finished second. When Life Is Good dazzled in his debut with a 9 1/4-length win at Del Mar on Nov. 22, the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt defeated Roman Centurian by 12 1/4 lengths.
Baffert is represented by Concert Tour and Freedom Fighter in this Saturday’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. Six are slated to clash in the seven-furlong affair.
Concert Tour and Freedom Fighter have each raced once. Concert Tour, who ranks No. 5 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, won a six-furlong maiden race by 3 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita on Jan. 15. Freedom Fighter, a Kentucky-bred Violence colt, won a five-furlong maiden dash by a head at Del Mar last Aug. 1.
FANS VOTE FOR TOP 10 ECLIPSE EQUINE CHAMPIONS
Last Thursday evening’s 50th annual Eclipse Awards program revealed the results of the NTRA Eclipse 50 contest in which fans were asked to choose their Top 10 favorite Eclipse Award equine champions, along with their favorite jockey and trainer, from the past 50 years.
The Eclipse 50 ballot consisted of 10 horses, one jockey and one trainer from each of the past five decades as selected by a panel of media, racing historians and others. I had the honor of being one of the 42 panelists.
This is how voting for the Top 10 favorite equine Eclipse Award champions in the last 50 years turned out:
2. Seattle Slew
4. American Pharoah
7. John Henry
10. Spectacular Bid
Baffert was voted favorite trainer in the last 50 years, while Laffit Pincay Jr. was voted favorite champion jockey during this period.
From time to time in recent years for Xpressbet.com, I have listed my continually updated rankings of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America.
Below is my list of the Top 10 of horses to have raced during the Eclipse Awards era:
2. Spectacular Bid
3. Seattle Slew
7. American Pharoah
8. John Henry
10. Sunday Silence
My choice for best trainer in the last 50 years is Charlie Whittingham, while Pincay is my choice for all-time jockey champion in the last half a decade.
I wrote this in December with respect to voting in the NTRA Eclipse 50 contest: “I think Secretariat should be the No. 1 equine champion during the Eclipse Awards era. I will be surprised if he is not.”
I also wrote: “I have Zenyatta at No. 9, but my expectation is that she probably will rank much higher in the Eclipse 50 contest in terms of votes received from the general public due to her tremendous popularity.
Indeed she was.
MY NATIONAL THOROUGHBRED TOP 10
This year’s first NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll and NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll polls of 2021 likely will come out on Feb. 17, according to NTRA communications director Alicia Hughes.
As a longtime voter in the NTRA polls, this is how I would have voted this week in the Top Thoroughbred Poll if there had been one:
1. Knicks Go
3. Monomoy Girl
4. Swiss Skydiver
5. Essential Quality
7. Channel Maker
9. Colonel Liam
10. Jesus’ Team
ECLIPSE AWARD PREDICTIONS SCOREBOARD
Regarding my annual Eclipse Award predictions last week, it turned out that I had 15 correct and two wrong.
I predicted Luis Cardenas would be voted outstanding apprentice jockey. I was way off the mark. He finished third in the voting. Alexander Crispin received the Eclipse Award in this category. Yarmarie Correa finished second.
My prediction for outstanding owner was Spendthrift Farm, MyRacehorse Stable, Madaket Stables and Starlight Racing. This ownership partnership finished second in the voting. The award went to Godolphin.
The first year that I made Eclipse Award predictions for Xpressbet.com was for racing that was conducted in 2011. Now including 2020, my Eclipse Award predictions have proven to be correct 91.8% of the time:
2011: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2012: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2013: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2014: 17 correct, 0 wrong
2015: 14 correct, 3 wrong
2016: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2017: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2018: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2019: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2020: 15 correct, 2 wrong
Total: 156 correct, 14 wrong
A HUNCH PLAY ON GROUNDHOG DAY
Many hunch bettors were all smiles after Punxsutawney Phil won his racing debut in England on Tuesday, which was Groundhog Day.
“North American tradition suggests that if a groundhog emerges from its burrow Feb. 2 and sees its shadow it will go back into its den and winter will continue for six more weeks; if not, spring will come early,” Racing Post’s David Carr wrote.
“The most famous ceremony involves Punxsutawney Phil [a groundhog] in Pennsylvania and was celebrated in the film starring [Bill] Murray. That is the favorite movie of owner-breeder Dan Gilbert, who stressed that launching the career of the Brian Ellison-trained 4-year-old on Feb. 2 [at Newcastle] was just a coincidence.”
By the way, what was Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction Tuesday morning? It was that there will be six more weeks of winter this year.
SUPER BOWL PREDICTION
My pick to win Super Bowl LV this Sunday between Kansas City and Tampa Bay is the Chiefs by 3 points. Incidentally, would it not have been more appropriate for Super Bowl LV to be played in LV (Las Vegas)?