by Jon White
February 11, 2021
This Saturday’s Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans has enticed a wide-open field of 13. Heading the 1 1/8-mile contest is Keepmeinmind, who ranks No. 8 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
Senor Buscador, No. 9 on my Top 10, also is entered in the Risen Star.
Qualifying points toward the May 1 Kentucky Derby are up for grabs in the Risen Star to the first four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
This Saturday’s El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, which has drawn a field of nine, also offers some Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1). Additionally, the winner of this 1 1/8-mile affair will receive an automatic entry into the Preakness Stakes.
In the last two weeks I have picked the winner in three of four races offering Kentucky Derby points:
--Jan. 30 Holy Bull Stakes: My selection was Greatest Honor, who finished first ($7.60 win mutuel).
--Jan. 30 Robert B. Lewis Stakes: My selection was Medina Spirit, who finished first ($4.00 win mutuel).
--Feb. 6 Withers Stakes: My selection was Donegal Bay, who finished seventh.
--Feb. 6 Sam F. Davis Stakes: My selection was Candy Man Rocket, who finished first ($8.20 win mutuel).
My selections for the Risen Star are below:
1. Senor Buscador
3. Midnight Bourbon
4. O Besos
Senor Buscador is undefeated in two career starts. Trained by Todd Fincher, the Kentucky-bred colt by 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft made his career debut in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden sprint Nov. 6 at Remington Park. After being 10 lengths off the pace, Senor Buscador roared home to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths.
Senor Buscador then started in Remington’s Springboard Mile on Dec. 18. Last early and 12 lengths off the pace in the field of 10, he closed with a rush to reach the front at the eighth pole, then kicked clear to win by 5 3/4 lengths.
After Senor Buscador recorded a good 81 Beyer Speed Figure at first asking, he ascended to a splendid 93 Beyer in the Springboard Mile.
Senor Buscador’s Thoro-Graph number in the Springboard Mile was an especially laudable 2 3/4.
I think Beyer Speed Figures are valuable for horseplayers. That’s why I often cite them. But in my opinion, the figures calculated by Thoro-Graph are superior to the Beyers.
Regarding Thoro-Graph, the lower the number the better the performance, which is the opposite of the Beyers.
Thoro-Graph takes many more factors into account than the Beyers. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”
To put Senor Buscador’s 2 3/4 Thoro-Graph number into perspective, Life Is Good has recorded a 2 3/4 in each of his two starts to date. Essential Quality was credited with a 3 in his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victory.
Keepmeinmind, who has not raced since winning the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28, is entered in the Risen Star. He most certainly would have been a contender, but he will not run in the Risen Star, according to trainer Robertino Diodoro.
Daily Racing Form’s Mary Rampellini reported Wednesday that Diodoro said Keepmeinmind will remain at Oaklawn Park and run there in the Southwest Stakes, even though that race now will not be run on Monday, as previously scheduled.
Oaklawn announced on Wednesday that “due to predicted winter weather” in that area over the next few days, it has canceled racing from Saturday through Monday. Oaklawn moved three Grade III races -- the Bayakoa Stakes, Grade Razorback Handicap and Southwest Stakes -- to Saturday, Feb. 20.
Four Risen Star entrants participated in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 16. They are Midnight Bourbon (the winner of the Lecomte at odds of 7-2), Proxy (second at 8-1), Mandaloun (third as the 4-5 favorite) and Santa Cruiser (fourth at 7-1).
Midnight Bourbon, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, won the Lecomte in front-running fashion by one length.
I think Proxy might have a big say in the Risen Star. I like Proxy’s improving Beyer Speed Figure pattern in his four starts to date (62, then 74, then 76, then 89). Michael Stidham trains the Kentucky-bred Tapit colt.
I will not be surprised if O Besos gets into the Risen Star superfecta at a nice price. After winning two of his first three starts -- all sprints -- in come-from-behind fashion, O Besos looks like he might relish the longer distance of the Risen Star. His sire, Orb, won the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby in 2013.
My selections for the El Camino Real Derby are below:
4. Play Chicken
The way I see it, despite drawing the outside post, Rombauer is the class of the field and will be very hard to beat. Trained by Michael McCarthy, the Kentucky-bred Twirling Candy colt makes his first start since finishing fifth in the Grade I BC Juvenile on Nov. 6. Prior to that, Rombauer ran second to Get Her Number in Santa Anita’s Grade I American Pharoah Stakes on Sept. 26.
Rombauer was credited with an 82 Beyer Speed Figure in the American Pharoah and an 85 Beyer in the BC Juvenile. No one else in the El Camino Real Derby has ever recorded a Beyer higher than a 76.
Essential Quality, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male champion of 2020, again is No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week.
Undefeated in three career starts, Essential Quality won a pair of Grade I races, the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, at Keeneland last year for trainer Brad Cox. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt had been scheduled to make his 2021 debut in Monday’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn.
Cox has indicated that he intends to stick with the plan for Essential Quality to run in the Southwest, even though the race has been moved to Feb. 20.
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week is below:
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
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott sent out Candy Man Rocket and Nova Rags to finish first and second, respectively, in last Saturday’s Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs. Hidden Stash ended up third in the field of 12.
The $1 Mott exacta paid $118.10.
Candy Man Rocket, just off the early pace, had a 2 1/2-length lead with a furlong to go. His advantage diminished thereafter, but he still managed to prevail by one length while completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.30. The Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt posted an 85 Beyer Speed Figure while racing on that track for the first time.
Nova Rags, who was coming on toward the end, received an 83 Beyer for his second-place finish. Unlike Candy Man Rocket, Nova Rags had previously raced at Tampa, winning the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths on the main track there Jan. 16.
In last Saturday’s Grade III Withers at Aqueduct, Risk Taking was sixth early, came on to reach the front in the vicinity of the sixteenth pole and drew out to win by 3 3/4 lengths. The Kentucky-bred Medaglio d’Oro colt completed his 1 1/8-mile journey in 1:51.91.
Risk Taking, trained by Chad Brown, lost his first two career races while pairing up 56 Beyer Speed Figures. Then blinkers were added to his equipment and he has improved dramatically in the Beyer department. He received an 82 Beyer when he won a 1 1/8-mile maiden race Dec. 13 at Aqueduct, then improved to an 89 Beyer in the Withers.
Concert Tour, who is No. 5 on my Top 10, is two for two for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert after winning last Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes last Saturday. Sent off as the 2-5 favorite, the Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt had to work harder for the victory than many expected.
A close-up third early in the seven-furlong San Vicente, Concert Tour wore down comebacker, pacemaker and fellow Baffert barnmate Freedom Fighter in the last sixteenth. Concert Tour won by a half-length, then drew clear when galloping out, furthering the impression that he quite likely will appreciate it when he races around two turns in his next start.
Concert Tour and Freedom Fighter both were credited with an excellent 94 Beyer Speed Figure for their San Vicente performances. This was a wonderful effort on the part of Freedom Fighter in that he did the “heavy lifting” by setting the pace and had not raced since winning a five-furlong maiden dash by a head at Del Mar when unveiled last Aug. 1.
Thus far, Concert Tour’s career has mirrored that of the Baffert-trained Nadal. After Nadal won a Santa Anita maiden race at first asking in January at Santa Anita, he then registered a hard-earned win in the San Vicente when his margin of victory was three-quarters of a length.
Following the San Vicente, Nadal won Oaklawn’s Grade II Rebel Stakes by three-quarters of a length on a sloppy track before taking a division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby by three lengths on the first Saturday in May. Unfortunately for Nadal, he never raced again after the May 2 Arkansas Derby. It was announced on May 28 that Nadal had been retired from racing as a result of a condylar fracture in his left front leg following a four-furlong workout in :48.80 that morning at Santa Anita.
The hope here is Concert Tour’s racing career will last much longer than Nadal’s.
There was considerable hype going into last Sunday’s Super Bowl in that the quarterbacks were superstars Tom Brady for Tampa Bay and Patrick Mahomes for Kansas City. But the game did not live up to the QB hype. Tampa Bay won 31-9. It was Brady’s seventh Super Bowl victory (six with New England and now one with Tampa Bay). I was way wrong with my prediction that Kansas City would win by 3 points.
Meanwhile, there also was considerable hype going into last Sunday’s fifth race at Santa Anita due to the presence of the highly regarded first-time starter Bezos from the Baffert barn.
But Bezos did not live up to the hype. When the 6 1/2-furlong maiden race was over, it was a different debut runner, Dream Shake, who won in such a manner as to cause many a jaw to drop.
With Joel Rosario aboard, Dream Shake was next-to-last early while racing wide in the strong field of nine. On the far turn, Dream Shake passed rivals with a rush. I love to see a horse make a move like that on a turn. It’s a sign of athleticism.
“As the field turns for home, Dream Shake with a stellar move to the front,” said track announcer Frank Mirahmadi.
Dream Shake then drew away to win with authority by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:17.34. Rosario might have come out of the race with a sore neck after looking back so many times in the final sixteenth just to make sure nobody was sneaking up on them.
In terms of Beyer Speed Figures, while Candy Man Rocket got an 85 in the Sam F. Davis, Risk Taking got an 89 in the Withers and Concert Tour got a 94 in the San Vicente, Dream Shake topped them when he flexed his muscles to such an extent that he produced a 96 while earning his maiden diploma.
Peter Eurton, who won the Grade I BC Juvenile with Storm the Court, trains Dream Shake.
When it came to making the morning line for this race, I knew I was going to install Bezos as the favorite. The only question was just how low of a favorite would I make him. I had no doubt that he would be heavily bet because of all the hype. I seriously considered making him even money or even 4-5. But if I went that low on him, then I would have been compelled to make bigger prices than I wanted to on many of the horses in the race, including Dream Maker.
Ultimately, I made Bezos a 6-5 morning-line favorite in the field of nine. He was hammered down to 3-5 favoritism. I made Mr. Impossible the second choice at 7-2. He went off at 7-2. But because of all the money that poured in on Bezos in the win pool, if you liked anyone other than Bezos or Mr. Impossible, you got an inflated price. I made Dream Shake 10-1 on the morning line. He was allowed to get away at a generous 20-1.
As for Bezos, when push came to shove, he let his numerous backers down. Third early, he faltered in the stretch and finished seventh, 15 1/4 lengths behind Dream Shake.
TRAINER JULIO CANANI PASSES AWAY
Julio Canani, who won three Breeders’ Cup races during his training career, died last Friday at a hospital in Pasadena, Calif. He was 83.
Jay Privman wrote the Canani obituary for the Daily Racing Form. As someone who has been reading the DRF for over 50 years, I can say that I have never seen a better-written obit for that publication than this one.
“Canani had been suffering from dementia and recently contracted COVID-19, friends said,” Privman wrote. “His training career effectively ended in fall 2015, when the California Horse Racing Board suspended him following allegations of financial impropriety regarding the sale of racehorses. He was a denied a license when he applied for reinstatement in 2017, but he was allowed to visit the track, though his illness by then had taken hold.”
Canani won the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Mile with Silic, 2001 BC Mile with Val Royal and 2004 BC Juvenile Fillies with Sweet Catomine. Sweet Catomine was voted the 2004 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly.
Privman put it perfectly when he called Canani “one of the most colorful characters the Southern California racing community has ever known.”
In all the years since I first started going to the races in the 1960s, Canani was, without a doubt, one of the most colorful characters I ever came across.
“He had a devilish sense of humor and a fractured relationship with the English language, elements that were brought out in the character Turo Escalante, a trainer in the HBO series ‘Luck,’ played by actor John Ortiz and modeled after Canani,” Privman wrote.
I certainly can attest that Canani loved to bet on horses. One time at the Del Mar press box mutuel window in the early 1980s long before there were self-service terminals, I made a huge tactical error. I got in line behind Canani as the horses had just reached the starting gate. Well, Canani took so much time making his wagers with the teller that I got shut out. My horse, of course, won. Lesson learned. From then on, I knew better than to ever again get behind Canani in a mutuel line if it was close to post time.
“Canani loved to gamble, either on horses he claimed that he thought would improve, or horses he had handicapped or seen training in the mornings,” Privman wrote. “He would cheer loudly while snapping his fingers, trying to get his runners up while often imploring riders with nicknames that are not printable.”
No doubt Canani was snapping his fingers furiously during the stretch run of the 1989 Santa Anita Handicap. Canani trained Martial Law, who won the prestigious Big ’Cap in a shocking upset. Martial Law paid $103.60 for a $2 win ticket.
I called the 1989 Santa Anita Handicap chart for the DRF. In the chart comments, I wrote: “MARTIAL LAW, prominent early after getting away in good order, remained within close attendance of the lead on the backstretch, came on readily while under right-handed pressure to forge to the front a furlong out, then drew clear in the final sixteenth while finishing strongly while under aggressive handling.”
Finishing second at odds of 40-1 in the field of 11 was Triteamtri. Stylish Winner, the longest shot in the race at 80-1, came in third. Nasr El Arab, the 7-5 favorite, finished eighth.
What made winning the Big ’Cap with a 50-1 outsider extra sweet for Canani was he beat his mentor, Bobby Frankel, who trained Triteamtri.
“Canani was a native of Peru who emigrated to the United States as a teenager, working initially for Tommy Doyle,” Privman wrote. “He worked his way up the training ladder with his skill and wits, graduating from claiming horses to stakes runners, his career arc mirroring that of Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, whom Canani idolized, calling him ‘Presidente.’ ”
The last time I saw Canani was at a convenience store near Santa Anita not too long after he had been suspended by the CHRB. I was in the store that morning to get a cup of coffee. After we chatted for a bit, we both got in line. And once again it was to my detriment that I got in a line behind Canani. That’s because it took him quite a long time to buy a whole flock of lottery tickets. But at least this time Canani did not cause me to get shut out.