by Jeff Siegel
November 7, 2018
Recap – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2018
The remarkable Vasilika – easily the claim of this year or maybe even any year - now has amassed $591,528 in earnings since being haltered by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer for $40,000 out of a winning effort Feb. 11. She somehow managed to lose her next race by a neck in a first-level allowance but since has reeled off eight consecutive victories, three of them graded, including a dominant win in today’s Goldikova over a mile on turf. Flavien Prat has been aboard in every race during the winning streak and in his postrace comments said, “a mile, a mile and on-quarter, it doesn’t matter.” Next on the agenda most likely will be the Matriarch at Del Mar, a Grade-1 at Del Mar Dec. 2. A victory in that race won’t be enough to overtake Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Sistercharlie in Eclipse Award polling, but it should land her in the top three amongst voters. There’s always next year.
Hillside Turf Course specialist Tiz a Billy received a confidence building win when trainer Brian Koriner took advantage of four straight below standard runs to drop him into a $25,000 claimer in late September, and the result was a seven-length romp that showed the gelding’s tires still had plenty of tread. Raised to $50,000 in today’s sixth race, the son of Tizway was knocked down to 6/5 and romped again, earning a 95 Beyer speed figure, just one point below his career top. Tiz a Billy now has won five career races over the downhill course but has never won a race anywhere else. As sharp as he is right now, it will be tempting for Koriner to try to find a race for him at Del Mar, or maybe up north, but it might be wiser to just put him away for a couple of months and then point for the re-opening of Santa Anita in late December.
Speaking of horses for courses, River Boyne ran his perfect record over the Santa Anita turf course to five with a fully-extended victory in the Twilight Derby over the New York shipping Hill Prince winner Have At It, with 37-1 Desert Stone outrunning his odds to finish an excellent third, a half-length behind the winner. In his previous start when facing essentially the same type of competition, River Boyne was beaten into third at even money in the Del Mar Derby and earlier this year finished off the board in the American Turf at Churchill Downs (though he reportedly came out of that race sick). Clearly, the Irish-bred 3-year-old is most comfortable in Arcadia, so he’s another that probably shouldn’t be seen again until the tour swings back to Santa Anita in late December.
Recap – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2018 – SANTA ANITA
Away since August of 2017, Easy Grader had a right to be a bit rusty in a first-level $40,000 optional claimer in today’s sixth race over five furlongs on turf. The work tab wasn’t especially impressive, and the 5-year-old mare had no history of running well fresh, so we played against her in the race that was to be won by the in-form Moon Kitty in what turned about to be a faster-than-par race for the level. Saving ground in the second flight to the turn and then appearing to be backing out of it at the quarter pole, ‘Grader found brief renewed energy into the lane to move within range but then felt the effects of the layoff and gave out in the final stages, winding up fourth, beaten four lengths. We’ll be expecting a forward move off this tightener at Del Mar, perhaps with a one-level class drop. Dirt is an option; she broke her maiden way back in October of 2015 on the main track. In the same race, the Doug O’Neill-trained favorite Dis Smart Cat wound up last and was subsequently a voided claim.
Most hot-shot Bob Baffert-trained debuting 2-year-olds receive significant wagering action, sometimes more so than deserved, but Count Di Luna was as cold as ice in the sixth race, a six-furlong sprint dominated on the tote by the second-timer Stretford End. The Simon Callaghan-trained colt had run subsequent Street Sense Stakes winner Improbable to a neck in his debut earlier this meeting in a race that was assigned a Beyer speed figure of 84, and nothing more was expected to be needed for the son of Will Take Charge to beat this field. Turns out that was true – an 84 Beyer WAS good enough - and that’s exactly what Count Di Luna earned in his length-and-one-half score over the 3/5 favorite, who checked in more than seven lengths clear of everybody else. The winner, a son of Cash Call Futurity-G1 winner Liaison from near-millionaire earner House of Fortune, flashed good (surprising?) early speed to press the issue, shook off his pace rivals into the lane and then bravely withstood Stretford End’s extended bid through the lane to win like a colt with an excellent future, especially since his pedigree suggests he’ll be better routing than sprinting. Of course, it’s not too late for Stretford End to be a good colt, too, but it’s twice now that he’s had every chance to break his maiden but was unable to seal the deal when it mattered the most.
California-bred stakes races can be very strong, or very weak. The $200,000 Golden State Juvenile Stakes was very weak, except for the first two finishers, Cruel Intention and Galilean, who finished a neck apart at the end of the seven-furlong sprint while winding up 16 lengths clear of everybody else. These are two good colts, as the powerful 90 Beyer assigned to the race clearly demonstrates, and they seem certain to meet again down the road. Both are a credit to their sires. Cruel Intention, purchased for $200,000 at Barretts in April, is a son of the good sprinter Smiling Tiger but out of a mare who couldn’t win a restricted (nw-2) $12,500 claimer during her racing career. Galilean, a $600,000 buy at that same sale, is by the prolific Uncle Mo but was a produced by a mare that never won a race and was beaten for maiden $12,500 at Woodbine.
Recap – FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2018
Chicago Style hadn’t raced since January, and is a proven marathoner, so his appearance in the restricted Lure Stakes over a mile on grass in today’s seventh race was for nothing more than preparatory purposes. Obviously, trainer Tom Proctor wanted a good race, but the result wasn’t going to be as important as the actual performance, one that would provide evidence that the son of Kitten’s Joy was ready to embark on another successful string of lucrative long-distance races. Though Chicago Style wound up fifth in the Lure, Proctor got what he wanted. The veteran gelding finished eagerly into the teeth of a strong final quarter (the leaders came home in :23.58 and ‘Style picked up five lengths), so this was the absolute perfect prep. It’s important to note that Chicago Style won twice last year over the Del Mar Turf course and then was beaten a neck in the 11-furlong Hollywood Turf Cup. The 2018 Turf Cup is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 23, exactly three weeks down the road. We expect Chicago Style to be in the field.
Just how good is Give Me a Hint? Well, she’s undefeated in three starts, all victories accomplished by daylight, she’s earned $151,040, and clearly is far ahead in the class of California-bred juvenile fillies. She has a lovely stalking style, and with Beat Hollow on the bottom side of her pedigree she has a right to not only handle at least a mile but grass as well. But based on Beyer speed figures (she’s earned numbers of 68-74-61) trainer Bob Hess, Jr. would be wise to keep her in state-bred company, and that’s probably what he’ll do. Her win in today’s seven-furlong Golden State Juvenile Fillies was visually pleasing, even though the final time of the race (1:26.45 with a final furlong in an ugly :14.23) most certainly would indicate otherwise. Modest numbers notwithstanding, this is a quality filly and as long as she’s not asked to do too much, she’ll remain a cash register for her connections.