Archive for the ‘Sports’ category


November 9, 2010

Now that the Breeders’ Cup has ended, I thought it might be fun to look back over the last 20 or so years of Horse Racing and reflect on some of the sport’s true champions. Here are my picks for the 20 best racehorses since 1990, with footage provided to support my claim.

#20: MIDNIGHT LUTE- One of the most monstrous closers that the Sprint division has ever seen, Midnight Lute is the only horse ever to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint twice. He swallowed his opponents both times over the final furlong, winning once on a fast track and once over the slop. In both races, he was forced incredibly wide around the final turn, and it made no difference as he was much the best, with a massive stride while driving through the finish. He won 6 of his 12 lifetime starts, but was unbeatable when running his race, and earned $2.69 million in his career.

#19: OUIJA BOARD– A dominant turf mare running longer distances, Ouija Board won two European Horse of the Year titles while dominating the competition on this side of the Atlantic as well. She won two Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf races, and was genuinely feared whenever she took to the turf. Her career record of 10 wins in 22 starts doesn’t quite do justice to how easily she dominated the competition in her prime, but her career earnings of $5.79 million prove that she knew how to win the big ones.

#18: LURE- One of the most successful American turf milers in history, Lure became the first horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile twice. His 1993 campaign was quite impressive, as he tallied wins in the Kelso, Turf Classic and Fourstardave before winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile despite a very troubled trip. Lure won 14 of his 25 career starts, earning $2.51 million.

#17: GO FOR WAND- This incredibly game filly met a tragic end as she broke her right cannon bone during what would have been one of the greatest stretch duels of all time in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, a stretch duel she almost certainly would have won. Outside of that race that cost her life, Go For Wand accumulated ten wins and two seconds in twelve starts, earning $1.37 over her short career. She proved that she had the heart of a champion that day, as she hobbled on three legs to the finish line before she could be humanely euthanized.

#16: AFLEET ALEX- A true fighter if ever there was won, Afleet Alex may have been the horse to finally break the Triple Crown drought if not for the absurd pace meltdown in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.  He withstood that torrid pace admirably to finish third before winning a memorable Preakness after practically falling to his knees coming around the final turn, and went on to win the Belmont as well. Alex won 8 out his 12 lifetime races, earning $2.77 million in his career.

#15: A.P. INDY- Another horse that could easily have won the Triple Crown, A.P. Indy skipped the 1992 Kentucky Derby and Preakness before dominating the Belmont and winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and earning Horse of the Year Honors that year. His real legacy has been at stud, where his progeny have included multiple stakes winners. A.P. Indy won 8 of his 11 races, winning $2.97 million.

#14: AZERI- A three-time Eclipse Award winner as Older Female Horse, Azeri also earned Horse of the Year honors in 2002 (one of only four females to win the award) after winning the Breeder’s Cup Distaff and Apple Blossom (one of three wins in that race), and enjoyed an 11-race win streak between 2002 and 2003. She is the second highest earning North American Female with $4.09 million, and won 17 of her 24 starts.

#13: SMARTY JONES: An entire nation became infatuated with this colt as he battled for the Triple Crown in 2004, and while Afleet Alex may have been more deserving the following year, no one else came closer over the course of the decade than Smarty did. He became the first undefeated horse since Seattle Slew to win the Kentucky Derby, and after handily winning the Preakness by a record 11 1/2 lengths, his narrow loss when caught at the wire in the Belmont by the fast-closing Birdstone is still one of the most crushing losses in the history of the sport. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Smarty take on older horses as he was retired due to injury shortly after his second place finish in the Belmont, the only time in 9 starts he suffered a loss. Smarty Jones earned $7.6 million in his only season of racing.

#12: RACHEL ALEXANDRA- Her 2009 Horse of the Year campaign was one for the ages, as she finished the year undefeated after initially demolishing all comers in the three-year-old filly division (a 20 length victory in the Kentucky Oaks) and eventually taking on the boys with unprecedented success. Rachel became the first filly ever to win the Preakness, and continued to succeed against strong competition, winning the Haskell over Belmont winner Summer Bird before taking Woodward Stakes against older males as well. She won 13 of her 19 career races and has earned $3.51 million over two years.

#11: HOLY BULL- Aside from his as-yet unexplained flop as the heavy favorite in the 1994 Kentucky Derby, there isn’t much that this colt did wrong that season. Highly touted going into that race after dominating the Florida Derby with a 113 Beyer, he bounced back from his setback in the Derby with wins in the Travers and Woodward in route to Horse of the Year honors. He won 13 of his 16 races, earning $2.41 million in the process.

#10 GOLDIKOVA- The only horse in history to win the same Breeders’ Cup Race three times, the European filly/mare Goldikova tackled males and won the Mile in 2008, 2009 and 2010, coming from far off the pace and showing a devastating turn of foot. Her form in Europe was spectacular as well, and all told she has won 15 of her 21 races, missing the board only once, and earning over $6 million in the process. Impressively, she will remain in training and attempt to win a fourth consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile next year.

#9: SILVER CHARM- Yet another horse with a chance to win the Triple Crown over the past two decades, Silver Charm was caught at the wire in the Belmont by Touch Gold in 1997. It shouldn’t be left unsaid that he won one of the most memorable Kentucky Derby races ever run, racing near the lead and hanging on through a dramatic stretch drive over the hard closing Captain Bodgit and pace-setting Free House. Unlike some of the horses that would find themselves in similar situations in the next decade, Silver Charm’s connections chose to keep him in racing, and he came back strong in his four-year-old campaign, winning the prestigious Dubai World Cup, the Clark Handicap and the Kentucky Cup. He won 12 of his 24 races, earning $6.94 million over three years.

#8: POINT GIVEN- Another horse that lost his shot at the Triple Crown thanks to a suicidal pace in the Kentucky Derby, the monstrous physical specimen Point Given bounced back to win the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers (four consecutive million dollar races). Sadly, he wasn’t able to prove himself in the Breeders’ Cup after suffering an injury later in the fall, but that didn’t prevent him from receiving Horse of the Year honors in 2001 after what may have been the strongest three-year old campaign of any horse over the last decade. Aside from his 5th place finish in the Derby, his career record stands virtually flawless, with 9 wins and 2 seconds in 13 starts, good for $3.97 million in earnings.

#7: INVASOR- After winning the Uraguyan Triple Crown in 2005 and finishing a game fourth in the UAE Derby to begin the 2006 season, the little known Invasor shipped north and absolutely annihilated all comers, winning the Pimlico Special, Suburban Handicap and Whitney before beating heavily favored Bernardini in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He earned Horse of the Year honors that year, but he wasn’t finished. Invasor came back in 2007 to win the Donn Handicap despite a horrible trip, and turned the tables on rival Discreet Cat, the only horse to ever defeat him, when he won the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest race. All told, Invasor won 11 of his 12 starts, and earned $7.80 million.

#6: ZENYATTA- The first female to ever win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2009, Zenyatta took some criticism over her career for being purely a synthetic specialist. Undefeated in her first 19 races before finishing second in a photo finish in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, her last, she was known for her late running, out of the clouds style. And who could ever forget her dominating size? At 17.2 hands, she stands larger than Secretariat did. Winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, she dwarfed the males. More importantly, she was the first horse in modern memory to truly unite a nation around her, and although her quest for 20 wins fell heart-breakingly short, her legacy lost no luster in her one gusty loss. She is the all-time leading money earner for females, accumulating $7.30 million in her illustrious career.

#5: SKIP AWAY- Heavily raced through four impressive seasons, “Skippy” was certainly a horse for the ages. He really began to hit his stride as a three year old after winning the Belmont and defeating the immortal Cigar in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (a race he would win again, but that one sealed his Three-Year-Old Eclipse Award), but his two best seasons came as an older horse, as he won two Eclipse Awards in that category in 1997 and 1998, winning the Horse of the Year title as well in the latter (and having quite a good case for it in 1997 as well). Ironically, his dominating win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1997 (1:59.1) wasn’t enough to take the Horse of the Year Title from the overrated (but undefeated) two-year old Favorite Trick in that year, but his win in the Woodward in 2008 was enough to seal the deal despite his loss in the Breeders’ Cup that year. Skippy won 18 of his 38 starts and earned $9.62 million, an amount that places him in the top three of all-time.

#4: TIZNOW- A personal favorite of mine, Tiznow is the only horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic twice, both in stunning fashion. I saw it live in 2000 as he out-battled the Irish champion Giant’s Causeway, and had money to win on this up-and-coming three year old, who would go on to win Horse of the Year as a result. In 2001, he would go on to win the Santa Anita Handicap, and his winning Breeders Cup Classic stretch duel with Sahkee, another European invader, was an immediate classic, although not enough to steal Horse of the Year honors from Point Given. Tiznow won 8 of his 15 starts and earned $6.42 million.

#3: GHOSTZAPPER- Perhaps the most versatile and talented horse over this entire timespan, Ghostzapper began his career as a dominant sprinter, winning 6f and 7f races before stretching out to longer distances with shocking success. In his first race around two turns, Ghostzapper won the 9f Philip Iselin with a 128 Beyer- the fastest ever around two turns.  And he wasn’t done yet; Ghostzapper captured the Woodward later that fall before winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic in a record time of 1:59.0. All in all, he won 9 out of his 11 starts from 6 to 10 furlongs, earned $3.45 million and a Horse of the Year title.

#2: CURLIN- The richest American racehorse of all time, Curlin is one of two horses during this time span to win two Horse of the Year titles, and the only one of the last decade. He will be remembered for the stunning third gear that he could switch into during his gritty stretch drives as well as for his incredibly imposing physique and competitive toughness. As a three-year old in 2007, Curlin hit the board in all three Triple Crown races, and won a thrilling, hard-fought Preakness, all against what was arguably the strongest class of his decade, including accomplished runners Street Sense, Hard Spun, Rags to Riches and Any Given Saturday. He came back to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic against older horses that year, and probably would have won a second Breeders’ Cup Classic the following year if it had been run on real dirt. Curlin would come back in 2008 to win the Dubai World Cup and repeat in the Jockey Gold Cup. His career record of 11 wins in 16 starts earned $10.5 million.

#1: CIGAR- “The incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!” Truer words have never been spoken. This legend strung together a record-tying 16 consecutive wins over two years of uncompromising travel against the country’s top competition, a feat equaled only by the great Citation. During this span, Cigar won two Horse of the Year titles, a Breeders’ Cup Classic, a Jockey Club Gold Cup, two Woodwards,  two Donn Handicaps and the Dubai World Cup- and won most of those in very convincing fashion, rarely winning by less than three or four lengths. In his 33 career races, Cigar won 19 times and earned $9.99 million.


November 5, 2010

$200 Bankroll. Here we go….


FILLY AND MARE SPRINT, 4:30 CST, 7 furlongs

This certainly appears to be one of the more wide-open races on paper with a full field of 14, but the horse that has shown the best form for this race has been the improving four-year old Ballerina winner and morning line favorite Rightly So, who is 3 for 3 at the 7f distance and comes off of two straight victories and three increasing Beyer figures. She posted a field-best 100 Beyer in her easy four length win last time out in the aforementioned Ballerina and stands to improve upon that. She figures to be near or even controlling the pace and could surely wire this field; one concern is that she will lose some ground getting to the lead out of Post #13, but with the long run into the first turn, her post shouldn’t be too detrimental. However, there are many other intriguing runners here, including the six-year old veteran Jessica Is Back, who figures to be a live longshot coming off a respectable third to Rightly So in the Ballerina. After spending time racing at over a mile during the past two years, she shortened up and was much the best in the 6f Princess Rooney, easily besting the highly touted Dubai Majesty, who will vie for favoritism here, and should relish the extra furlong. The three-year old Champagne d’Oro has been working well and could be sitting on a big race as an overlay after struggling in her last outing at 6f on synthetic, and faces a bit of a challenge coming out of the far outside Post #14. Prior to that race, she was an impressive winner over the dirt track at Saratoga in the 7f Test Stakes, posting a career best 97 Beyer figure. It will break my heart to have to play against a personal favorite of mine in the exacta, the five year-old Monarchos mare and defending champion Informed Decision. She seems to have lost a step this year, and really has always been a synthetic specialist, struggling on dirt unless the track comes up sloppy. Her workouts at Churchill have been strong, but she is still a likely underlay, although I will keep her on some multi-race wagers. I will also try to beat Dubai Majesty, who has won two of her last three over synthetic surfaces at shorter distances, but seems to always tire badly after 6f– she has never won beyond that distance. Hard-trier Secret Gypsy has won her last three races at 6f over suspect company, and was easily beaten by Dubai Majesty four races back; she takes a big step up in class here and has distance questions as well. The rest of the three year old contingent could have something to say here, as Switch shortens up after giving Zenyatta a scare at 8.5f (but may be better suited to synthetic), Evening Jewel attempts to shorten up and take a slight leap up in class (still think she fits better in the Distaff), and My Jen looks to improve on an impressive off-the-pace victory in the 6.5f Gallant Bloom. Also worth a look are Sara Louise, who closed gamely to finish third in the above race after a long layoff, and Gabby’s Golden Gal, winner of the 2009 Acorn at 8f who is unraced since January.


1. Rightly So (3-1)

2. Jessica Is Back (12-1)

3. Champagne D’Oro (6-1)

4. Informed Decision (7-2)

BETS: ($17.40)

$1 Exacta Box: Rightly So, Jessica Is Back, Champagne D’Oro ($6)

$3 Win, $6 Place: Rightly So ($9)

$0.10 Superfecta Key: Rightly So, Jessica Is Back, Champagne D’Oro/ Rightly So, Jessica Is Back, Champagne D’Oro/ Rightly So, Jessica Is Back, Champagne D’Oro, Informed Decision/ Rightly So, Jessica Is Back, Champagne D’Oro, Informed Decision, Dubai Majesty ($2.40)


Defending champion Midday could go off as the heaviest favorite on the entire card, as she has looked better this year than last year and appears to be in career form, and should be a strong single in multi-race wagering. The race gains an extra furlong due to the track configuration at Churchill, and this should make her an especially dangerous threat to repeat. Japanese import Red Desire ran a big one in her U.S. debut, finishing a close third over yielding turf in the 10f Flower Bowl. I expect her to move forward from that effort over more familiar turf and a bit more distance. Looking for value, I land again on a personal favorite in Eclair de Lune, who triumphed and held gamely in her Beverly D win at 9.5 f. The extra distance is somewhat of a concern for the four-year old, but she figures to enjoy a trip near the front of the pack in a race without much pace, and looks to be improving at fair odds. An interesting play here could be three-year old Harmonious, who boasts three consecutive improving Beyers including her 100 figure  in winning the 9f QE II Cup with an explosive late kick. She should really benefit from the added distance here, and has a win over 10f to her credit. The mystery horse is the European invader Plumania, winner of two straight at longer distances before running less than a length from Midday over soft turf in the 10f Prix Vermeille at Longchamp, but she threw in a real clunker without an excuse against the boys last time out in the Arc de Triomphe. My gut feeling is that the firm turf and long journey across the Atlantic will likely be too much for her and put her out of her element. The improving European Miss Keller could make some noise here as well, although I question whether she wants to go quite this far. The formerly great Forever Together has been digressing and is a play against in her final race coming out of the furthest post, while Yellow Ribbon winner Hibaayeb beat a suspect field and could be overbet. Hot Cha Cha and Shared Account are nice fillies but don’t appear to want any part of this distance.


1. Midday (6-5)

2. Red Desire (8-1)

3. Eclair de Lune (15-1)

4. Harmonious (6-1)

BETS: ($14.40)

$2 Exacta Key: Midday/ Eclair de Lune, Red Desire, Harmonious

$4 Place: Red Desire

$2 Place: Eclair de Lune

$0.10 Superfecta Key: Midday, Red Desire/ Midday, Eclair de Lune, Red Desire, Harmonious/ Midday, Eclair de Lune, Red Desire, Harmonious/ Midday, Eclair de Lune, Red Desire, Harmonious, Plumania ($2.40)


The Juvenile races are always tough to call, so I will go easy on this one. The horse that sticks out to me is Awesome Feather, who is undefeated in five starts at Calder and won her last start at this distance with a Beyer fig of 87, which tops the field and was easily the most impressive performance around two turns this fall. She hasn’t been tested yet, but looks to have a strong shot at a decent price.  R Heat Lightning closed with authority after a dreadful trip to finish second in the 8f Frizette at Belmont, and should enjoy the added distance here if she can settle back off the pace, while the horse she lost to, morning line favorite AZ Warrior, will need an equally perfect trip to hang on here, so I will try to beat that one. Switching to the dirt for the first time is the talented Tell A Kelly, who didn’t run a bad one in her first try at two turns over the polytrack at Oak Tree, finishing a close second after a hard trip. She should handle the dirt just fine and be poised for a big run here if she can overcome a tough spot coming out of Post #13. Of the synthetic fillies, one that deserves special mention is Delightful Mary, who ran second to Wyomia over the Keeneland polytrack at this distance and posted a Beyer figure of 86. Indian Gracey has run behind Tell A Kelly on several occasions and I don’t see much reason to place her above that one at a longer distance here, while trendy European shipped Theysken’s Theory is well-bred but geared more towards turf.


1. Awesome Feather (6-1)

2. R Heat Lightning (4-1)

3. Tell A Kelly (9-2)

4. Delightful Mary (8-1)

BETS: ($5)

$5 Place: Awesome Feather

DISTAFF, 6:30 CST, 9f

This race lost a bit of luster as Rachel Alexandra’s early retirement prevented her from ever having run in a Breeders’ Cup Race. Possibly just as good is the superstar Blind Luck, who has been close to unstoppable after an extremely taxing campaign. Her trademark late kick has been key to her success at distances past 8.5 f, and it bears repeating that her narrow loss in her last outing at that distance came while conceding 10 pounds to steadily improving archrival Havre de Grace, who barely hung on at the wire- that one won’t have the weight advantage or the shorter distance this time around. Still, the latter is one tough customer, and has posted a stunning seven consecutive ascending Beyer figures going back to her career debut last August. The speedy five year-old mare Life at Ten will be a force to be reckoned with as the controlling speed here from Post #1, and is a threat to wire the field if she is allowed to set slow fractions. There shouldn’t be much speed here, but I expect the talented Malibu Prayer to go with her early just to her outside but fade before the finish. She defeated the classy four-year-old Unrivaled Belle at this distance two races back, but that one appears a cut below the rest despite her class, having been beaten handily by Life at Ten at this distance on two occasions. Persistently benefited from a hot pace in the much longer Personal Ensign, and she won’t get the speed up front or the extra distance here. Acoma is impressive as a polytrack and turf horse but will struggle here.


1. Blind Luck (9-5)

2. Life at Ten (7-2)

3. Havre de Grace (4-1)

4. Malibu Prayer (8-1)

BETS: ($11.40)

$5 Place: Life at Ten

$2 Exacta Box: Blind Luck, Life at Ten

$0.10 Superfecta Key: Blind Luck, Life at Ten/ Blind Luck, Life at Ten, Havre de Grace/ Blind Luck, Life at Ten, Havre de Grace, Malibu Prayer, Unrivaled Belle / Blind Luck, Life at Ten, Havre de Grace, Malibu Prayer, Unrivaled Belle ($2.40)


$0.50 Pick 4: Rightly So, Jessica Is Back, Champagne de Oro, Informed Decision/ Midday/ Awesome Feather, Tell A Kelly, R Heat Lightning/ Blind Luck ($6)

$0.50 Pick 3: Midday, Eclair de Lune, Red Desire, Harmonious/ Awesome Feather, R Heat Lightning/ Blind Luck ($4)

$0.50 Pick 3: Midday/ Awesome Feather, Tell A Kelly, R Heat Lightning/ Blind Luck, Life at Ten ($3)


SPRINT, 1:30 CST, 6f

This is an extremely wide-open race with several interesting runners, and I will be forced to go deeper here in my superfecta play than any race other than the Classic. The two division leaders Majesticperfection and Discreetly Mine are finished for the year with injury, but luckily, there is one horse here that my heart is set on, and that is Big Drama, a front-running type who has shown the ability to carry his speed from start to finish, succeeding especially at this shorter sprint distance. He faded over the final furlong of the 7f Forego, but was impressive in two previous starts at 6f, posting Beyer figures of 108 and 105, which certainly put him squarely in the mix here. He hasn’t been worse than second in four starts this year, and will be my main play, and should enjoy a ground-saving trip near the front of the pack coming out of Post #1. Also interesting is the highly touted Godolphin colt and morning line favorite Girolamo, who looked to be more of a miler last year, but bounced back impressively to win the 6f Vosburgh, posting a Beyer figure of 105. He looks to be hitting his stride, and any improvement upon his last race could win this, but it bears mention that he was soundly beaten by Big Drama two starts back. How about five-year-old veteran Riley Tucker? His 6f win over this very track back in May earned him a 110 Beyer figure, the highest in the field. He ran into a bit of a slump after that, bouncing badly in his next two races and has been a bit inconsistent over his career, but appears to be back on track now after two strong performances and increasing figures at this distance. He boasts two wins over the track here and should offer good value underneath in exotics. A classy horse that could take a lot of money is west-coast shipper Smiling Tiger, who is coming off an impressive 6f score in the Ancient Title. This will be his first start over traditional dirt, which gives me pause, but reports from the track indicate that he is having no trouble with the surface, and may even end up relishing it. It would be unwise to dismiss the chances of Churchill Downs specialist Atta Boy Roy, especially with Calvin Borel aboard. He won the 7f Churchill Downs Hcp. over the sloppy track with a front-running trip on Derby day, although he was beaten fairly easily by Riley Tucker in his next start, so I suppose I prefer that one. Warrior’s Reward will give this a try, and although he surely needs more running room to show his best stuff, he will be closing hard into the finish and is a must-use underneath in exotics; he has been most successful on dirt surfaces and has never finished worse than second at Churchill, and has been training marvelously over the track. Closer Supreme Summit seems to run in a similar style, but his lack of experience away from synthetic tracks leads me to look elsewhere. Wise Dan will take some action after his 6f Phoenix win over the polytrack at Keeneland, but this lightly raced colt appears to be up against it with this bunch, as his speed figures look to be a cut below. International runner Kinsale King is the mystery horse in this field and has experience at this distance, but I will try to beat him, as the feeling is that this is more of a turf horse who has been in a serious tailspin since his victory back in March in Dubai.


1. Big Drama (7-2)

2. Girolamo (3-1)

3. Riley Tucker (8-1)

4. Atta Boy Roy (12-1)

BETS: ($21.60)

$1 Exacta Key: Big Drama, Girolamo/ Big Drama, Girolamo, Riley Tucker, Atta Boy Roy

$4 Win, $8 Place: Big Drama

$0.10 Superfecta: Big Drama, Girolamo/ Big Drama, Girolamo, Riley Tucker, Atta Boy Roy/ Big Drama, Girolamo, Riley Tucker, Atta Boy Roy/ Big Drama, Girolamo, Riley Tucker, Smiling Tiger, Atta Boy Roy, Warrior’s Reward ($3.60)

JUVENILE, 2:55 CST, 8.5f

This highly anticipated edition of the Juvenile race features a fresh crop of talent poised to become the next class of superstars. From a handicapping standpoint, I see this as a race with a lot of speed up front, as many of the runners have yet to go past 7f or to run a two turn race. I’ll look towards a horse that will run from off the pace, and I land on Jaycito, who cruised down the stretch powerfully in the 8.5f Norfolk and was much the best in that race, posting a highly competitive 88 Beyer figure at that distance. He will run over the dirt for the first time, but this son of Victory Gallop should only benefit from the surface change. Uncle Mo has been dominant in his two starts without being asked for much, but will go longer for the first time. He figures to sit just off the pace and certainly has the speed and stamina from a pedigree standpoint (Indian Charlie out of an Arch mare, and boasting the highest Tomlinson distance number in the field) to get the job done here. An intriguing Euro shipper is Biondetti, who has been perfect over the grass in his three starts. I’ll take a chance on him in exotic bets based on his pedigree (Bernadini out of a Lyphard mare, good for the second highest Tomlinson distance number in here). The speedy Boys At Toscanova will vie for favoritism with Uncle Mo, and while he has been sharp in his two victories at shorter distances, he strikes me as more of a sprinting type that will struggle to stay the distance (think Da’Funnybone in last year’s running). Stay Thirsty stands to benefit from the added distance but hasn’t gone two turns yet either, and both of these horses will be running off a long layoff so early in their careers. J.B’s Thunder has won both of his two races on the lead against suspect company in his two wins over turf and synthetic surfaces, both at two turns. He remains a bit of a mystery horse here. The same can be said for Rogue Romance, who has experience at this distance, but only over the turf.


1. Jaycito (8-1)

2. Uncle Mo (7-5)

3. Biondetti (12-1)

4. Boys at Toscanova (5-2)

BETS: ($15)

$1 Exacta Box: Jaycito, Uncle Mo, Biondetti

$3 Win, $6 Place: Jaycito

MILE, 3:40 CST, 8f

All of the focus will be upon all-world miler Goldikova‘s attempt to become the first horse to ever win three Breeders’ Cup races. She appears to be the class of this extremely talented field and will again have to begin from an outside post like she did last year, but her current form makes her the one to beat yet again. She’s won four of five starts in Europe, all grade ones, and had excuses in her one second place finish over soft turf. Her odds won’t be too enticing, so looking for a bit of value, why not take a shot with Gio Ponti, the best turf horse in America over the past two years. His connections chose this race over the Classic and I have to agree with them, as the distance and pace scenario should be to his benefit. He looked like a monster devouring horses down the stretch in his impressive win in the Shadwell Turf Mile last time out, and with some speed up front should be flying down the stretch again here, and there is every reason to think he can win this one. Paco Boy has run within a neck of Goldikova three times this year across the pond, and with a better post in this race certainly has a shot to turn the tables at acceptable odds. One has to make room for Proviso as well, as this tough turf mare should also benefit from a pace meltdown. She has won her last four races, all Grade Is, with consecutive increases in Beyer figures. Her best effort puts her right in the mix here at juicy odds, but she will also have to overcome a wide post. I’ve never been a huge fan of Court Vision, but his fourth place finish in this race last year as well as his victory last time out at Woodbine at this distance forces me to include him underneath in exotics. His best races have come at this distance as he struggles to go much longer, so he appears to be in the right place, and his win over The Usual Q.T. gives him the nod over that one in my handicapping process. The race will likely be dictated completely by the speed of the dazzling Sidney’s Candy, who figures to go straight to the lead out of the #9 Post. He takes a big step up in class here and is coming off a long layoff, but should lead most of the way, and could wire the field if he is allowed to set slow fractions, with longshot Get Stormy the only other early pace factor. Delegator placed fifth here last year against some of these so I will look to others, especially as lightly raced as he has been since then.


1. Goldikova (6-5)

2. Gio Ponti (4-1)

3. Paco Boy (6-1)

4. Proviso (12-1)

BETS: ($13.60)

$5 Place: Gio Ponti

$5 Place: Paco Boy

$0.10 Superfecta: Goldikova, Gio Ponti, Paco Boy/ Goldikova, Gio Ponti, Paco Boy/ Goldikova, Gio Ponti, Paco Boy, Proviso/ Goldikova, Gio Ponti, Paco Boy, Proviso, Court Vision, Sidney’s Candy ($3.60)

DIRT MILE, 4:20 CST, 8f

This highly contentious race is another that could go a variety of ways and offers some great value plays, especially since I will be attempting to beat two of the favorites. The horse for the course in this race appears to be four-year-old Here Comes Ben, who has won four straight races at 7f (two of them at Churchill), winning all of them with a strong late kick that seems to indicate that a mile may be his ideal distance. He has posted increasing Beyer figures over those four races, and the 104 he earned in his last effort winning the Forego at Saratoga is competitive here, especially with an slight improvement. I suppose I like the five-year-old Tiznow horse Tizway just as much, as he seems to have really gotten hot this fall, winning the Kelso handily (105 Beyer) after running a strong third to Quality Road in the Met Mile back in May. This has always been his ideal distance throughout his career, and he looks to be sitting on a big effort. Godolphin colt Vineyard Haven looks to be a massive overlay on the morning line, and bettors may avoid him after a confusing third place finish behind Here Comes Ben and Big Drama in the 7f Forego last time out. In only his second start this year, the colt likely gained some fitness and should move up here as he attempts to return to his two year old form. The surprising morning line favorite is ironically Morning Line (7-2), the impressive winner of the Pennsylvania Derby and another horse sired by the great Tiznow. I prefer his half-brother in this race, as Morning Line doesn’t seem like a mile horse to me; his impressive victories have come with an explosion of speed at slightly longer distances. He certainly deserves a look, but is worth trying to beat at these odds. Another one that will take a lot of action is Crown of Thorns (4-1), last year’s runner up in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. I have too many question marks about this horse, who despite his considerable talent and competitive figures has never really found a niche. He is proven at shorter distances but has never run on dirt and hasn’t won a race in over two years. He seems to have a lot to overcome at such a short price. Another synthetic specialist from last year’s Sprint race is Gayego, who stands a fair chance here, but I will play the dirt vs. synthetic angle against him as well, while keeping him in mind for the bottoms of my exotic wagers. Live longshots include Aikenite, who seems to feel right at home at this distance but lacks the speed of the top choices here, as well as Mad Flatter, who posted an impressive score at 8.5 f at Calder last time out, earning a 105 Beyer figure in the process.


1. Here Comes Ben (6-1)

2. Tizway (6-1)

3. Vineyard Haven (10-1)

4. Crown of Thorns (7-2)

BETS: ($20.40)

$1 Exacta Box: Here Comes Ben, Tizway, Vineyard Haven

$5 Place: Here Comes Ben

$5 Place: Tizway

$2 Place: Vineyard Haven

$0.10 Superfecta: Here Comes Ben, Tizway, Vineyard Haven/ Here Comes Ben, Tizway, Vineyard Haven/ Here Comes Ben, Tizway, Vineyard Haven, Crown of Thorns/ Here Comes Ben, Tizway, Vineyard Haven, Crown of Thorns, Gayego ($2.40)

TURF, 5:00 CST, 12f

The Euros always seem to have a class advantage in this race, and this year is no exception, although it is worth taking note of all the concerns this week from the Euro connections regarding the extremely firm turf at Churchill. Morning line favorite Workforce was an impressive winner of the prestigious Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, but that was over the soft going. Still, he appears to be in top form coming out of that race and is two for three at the 12f distance against top company overseas, posting Racing Post ratings of 129 and 130 in his two victories. Possibly a bit more intriguing is Behkabad, who finished a troubled fourth in the Arc but was the winner of two straight at 12f before that race, again over soft ground. The 127 Racing Post Rating he earned in winning the Prix Niel two races back puts him in contention with his rival, and he stands to improve upon his Arc finish with a better trip, which shouldn’t be a problem in this smaller field. Those two truly look to in a different league than the rest of these, and are a must use in multi-race wagers, but since there isn’t any value in boxing that exacta, I’m inclined to play the firm turf angle against them and look for some value. Al Khali is an American four-year old who actually prefers firmer ground and has been on the improve after sitting away from the pace in his last two starts, and posting three straight increasing Beyers. He closed like a freight train to overtake Winchester in the 11f Bowling Green Hcp. two starts back; he’ll see that foe here and should like the added distance. He ran well to finish fourth less than a length from the winner over softer ground in his last start at Woodbine, and again was coming late. Euro invader Dangerous Midge takes a big step up in class here but has a shot at a price; he has won twice at this distance in dominating fashion running over firmer ground. The aforementioned Winchester proved he can get the distance in winning the Turf Classic last time out, and although he faced a suspect field that day, he never runs a bad race. Arlington Million winner Debussy is worth a look as well, although he figures to be placed forwardly here and may struggle with the distance. Easier to dismiss are Telling, who seems to only fire at Saratoga, and Champ Pegasus, who is a nice colt but doesn’t stack up here in terms of speed.


1. Behkabad (9-5)

2. Workforce (7-5)

3. Al Khali (10-1)

4. Dangerous Midge (12-1)

BETS: ($10.40)

$1 Exacta Box: Al Khali, Dangerous Midge

$6 Place: Al Khali

$0.10 Superfecta Key: Workforce, Behkabad, Al Khali/ Workforce, Behkabad, Al Khali/ Workforce, Behkabad, Al Khali, Dangerous Midge/ Workforce, Behkabad, Al Khali, Dangerous Midge, Winchester ($2.40)

CLASSIC, 5:45 CST, 10f

What a field we have here for the richest race in American racing. In all races, it is important to analyze the probable pace scenario, and that is an especially important part in handicapping this very deep race. I expect the early pace to be highly contested, with at least five horses that figure to vie for the early lead. The most talented of these speed horses is Quality Road, who will start from Post #1, and will have no choice but to go straight to the front of the back to avoid getting boxed in. He was won four of his five starts this year, his only loss coming after being nabbed at the wire in the Whitney while conceding five pounds. There are questions as to whether this is his ideal distance, and I agree that it probably isn’t, but he has enough talent to carry his speed for 10f and enjoy a ground-saving trip if he can avoid traffic trouble. His 121 Beyer figure in the 9f Donn Hcp. towers over this field and is hard to ignore. Just outside of him is the speedy Haynesfield, who comes fresh off of a front-running win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but he won’t get away with the fractions he was able to dictate in that race to separate himself from the field. First Dude should show early speed as well and has been a fighter all season, but is still winless in his career to this point, and this looks to be a pretty tough spot. Coming from the outside are Japanese import Espoir City, who has never raced beyond 9f and could struggle with switching from turf to dirt, and the improving Etched, who will also try this distance for the first time after running impressively to win the 9f Monmouth Cup. He narrowly defeated hard-trier Musket Man in that race, but he is another that may prefer a bit less distance. All of this pace figures to set up well for the closers, and there are many strong runners to choose from. I’ll use Blame as my main play, as his victory over Quality Road from off the pace in the Whitney was among the most impressive races run by any horse this season. His distant second in the Jockey Club can be forgiven, as he’ll have quicker fractions to sit back on this time, and it is likely he gained an element of fitness from that effort. He has had success over this track with two wins at 9f, both times begging for more distance. What can be said that hasn’t been said of the Queen Zenyatta, who attempts to end her career a perfect 20 for 20 and become the first horse since Tiznow to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic two straight years. I played against her hard last year and was sorry, and while her task will be admittedly more difficult this time around (facing a tougher field and on a less familiar track and surface), I can’t discount her will to win or her closing kick. It is pretty clear at this point that she will relish the distance, and there isn’t any reason to believe that she won’t like dirt just as much, if not more, than synthetic- after all, she has won twice over a traditional surface. Two talented three-year-olds should also be making late moves down the stretch. Lookin’ at Lucky will likely be in more of a stalking position, so he could get first jump on the closers. He has been most impressive in his last three races, winning the Preakness, Haskell and Indiana Derby from off the pace. His “luck” continues to be anything but, as he will have to overcome yet another horrible post draw. Moreover, I’m concerned that the competition in those races was a bit weak, and without a strong showing at 10f to his credit, I will look towards the rapidly improving Fly Down to fill out my exotics. This one likes to come from far off the pace, and has shown an unparalleled turn of foot that could benefit him down the long Churchill stretch. He came from the clouds to narrowly miss winning the 10f Travers in a photo finish, and didn’t really have any pace to make his move om when finishing third last time out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. After two consecutive 10f races, he could be hitting his peak and sitting on a big effort. I will play against Paddy O’Prado here, who despite his closing kick and success over this track, is better suited to turf or needs slop- he was beaten easily over a dry track in the Preakness, and his connections are getting greedy with this entry in my opinion, as he would be a real threat in the Turf.


1. Blame (9-2)

2. Zenyatta (8-5)

3. Quality Road (5-1)

4. Fly Down (15-1)

BETS: ($30.10)

$1 Exacta Box: Blame, Zenyatta, Quality Road

$1 Exacta Key: Blame/ Fly Down, Lookin’ at Lucky

$5 Win, $10 Place: Blame

$2 Place: Fly Down

$0.10 Superfecta Key: Blame/ Zenyatta, Quality Road, Fly Down/ Zenyatta, Quality Road, Fly Down, Lookin at Lucky/ Zenyatta, Quality Road, Fly Down, Lookin at Lucky, Haynesfield ($2.70)

$0.10 Superfecta Key: Zenyatta, Quality Road/ Blame, Zenyatta, Quality Road/ Blame, Zenyatta, Quality Road, Lookin’ at Lucky, Fly Down/ Blame, Zenyatta, Quality Road, Lookin’ at Lucky, Fly Down ($2.40)


$0.50 Pick 4: Uncle Mo, Jaycito/ Goldikova, Gio Ponit, Paco Boy/ Here Comes Ben, Tizway/ Behkabad ($6)

$0.50 Pick 4: Uncle Mo, Jaycito/ Goldikova/ Here Comes Ben, Tizway, Vineyard Haven/ Behkabad, Workforce ($6)

$0.50 Pick 3: Tizway, Here Comes Ben, Vineyard Haven, Crown of Thorns/ Workforce, Behkabad, Al Khali/ Blame ($6)

$0.50 Pick 3: Tizway, Here Comes Ben/ Workforce, Behkabad/ Blame, Zenyatta, Quality Road, Fly Down, Lookin at Lucky (($10)


October 1, 2010

It’s October, and that means time for Oktoberfest brew, College Football and Horse Racing! There is a lot going on this Saturday, beginning with five Grade One races at Belmont Park, leading into a tremendous day of games. Let’s start with the ponies.

VOSBURGH STAKES, 6 furlongs, 2:23 CST

This is a decidedly uninspiring bunch for such a big prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, so I won’t be playing it too heavy. I think the key to this race is beating morning line favorite Girolamo, who didn’t fire in his last race, the 7f Forego. To me this race is a bit shorter than his ideal distance, so I’ll try to beat him at these odds. The two fastest Beyer figures at this distance belong to the veteran RILEY TUCKER (110) and the inconsistent but talented WALL STREET WONDER (109).  The speedy Snapshot is worth a look, as is the accomplished Driven By Success, but I’m going to play this one small and stick with the aforementioned two.

BETS- Exacta Box with Riley Tucker and Wall Street Wonder, Place Bet on Riley Tucker

FLOWER BOWL, 10 furlongs, 2:59 PM

One of the day’s more challenging races. RED DESIRE figures to run a big one here in her first start on American soil and certainly can’t be left out. I think that Forever Together is worth trying to beat as her form this season has been a bit off, and in my opinion putting her closer to the pace as her connections have suggested will likely worsen her chances. Instead, I’ll look to the rapidly improving SHARED ACCOUNT, who closed stoutly at 9f to finish second ahead of Forever Together last time out in the Diana. This looks to me like a horse that is begging to run 10f. KEERTANA easily defeated Forever Together in her last start, the 10.5f Glens Falls, so I don’t imagine the distance will be an issue for her either. I’ll play against Changing Skies and Ave at my own peril, as they certainly are two that could benefit from a faster than expected pace. However, for a class comparison, I’m drawn to the result of last year’s Queen Elizabeth II Challenge race at 9f, where Shared Account and Gozzip Girl, another runner with a shot here, easily bested Lady Shakespeare, who had no trouble shaking the other two off in the New York Stakes in June. Gozzip Girl is a big question mark and her 6th place finish last time out off a long layoff leads me to look elsewhere.

BETS- Exacta box with Red Desire, Shared Account, Keertana, Place Bets on Shared Account, Red Desire

BELDAME, 9f, 3:35 PM

The sudden and unexpected retirement of Rachel Alexandra took a bit of the luster away from this race, but not to worry, I still see a horse to single in my Pick 3 here in this small field. That horse is LIFE AT TEN, who had won six straight before engaging in a suicidal pace duel with Rachel Alexandra and tiring badly last time out in the 10f Personal Ensign. She should be able to dictate her own pace here and should feel right at home at this distance. She had no trouble whatsoever with morning line favorite Unrivaled Belle on this very race track when winning the Ogden Phipps, so I certainly prefer her to that one- I like that exacta but it doesn’t figure to pay much. I’ll try to beat Persistently, who may take some action following her recent victory over Rachel Alexandra and Life at Ten in the Personal Ensign. She really needed that extra furlong though, and isn’t as likely to benefit from a pace breakdown. Queen Martha seems to have lost her prior form and Miss Match is a toss.

BETS- Win Bet on Life at Ten


Easily the day’s hardest race to handicap, as any seven of the eleven starters could win the race without surprising me, and that isn’t even including last year’s 43-1 winner Interpatation. PADDY O’PRADO is the morning line favorite and certainly appears the most consistent, but has yet to run past 10f or face older horses, and while I will use him here it would be wise to dig a bit deeper. Perhaps the horse that is improving the most is AL KHALI, who closed like a freight train after a horrible trip to win the 11f Bowling Green from off the pace last time out, and looked hungry to run another furlong. If he can repeat that effort and get a decent trip he will be hard to beat. He ran closer to the pace when finishing third in the 12f Sword Dancer, but the two horses that defeated him are here as well. TELLING demonstrated an impressive turn of foot to get up by a length and win that race for the second year in a row, although he has been inconsistent in every other race in between. Whether or not he can duplicate that effort in his next start back remains to be seen. Perhaps a more reliable option who has also won at 12f is the Sword Dancer’s second place finisher BEARPATH, who also won the Pan American Handicap earlier this season. If I like Bearpath, I can’t ignore the classy European NEVER ON SUNDAY, who ran a game second to him in that race. I’ll have to use all of those horses to fill out my Pick 3, and that isn’t including the scary filly Treat Gently who will certainly relish the distance. I’ll stand against her as she takes a leap up in class to face the boys here, and will try to beat Winchester, who will likely go off as the second choice at post time. Perhaps still benefiting at the windows from his Belmont Day upset over Gio Ponti in the 10f Manhattan, extra distance since that race has shown to be not to his liking. Last year’s winner Interpatation has not looked good this year.

BETS- Exacta Box with Al Khali, Bearpath and Paddy O’Prado, Place Bets on Al Khali and Bearpath


If Horse-of-the-Year frontrunner BLAME runs back to his Whitney performance, everyone here is running for second place. This horse has the pedigree and the turn of foot to suggest that 10f will be his ideal distance as he attempts it for the first time, but we will look for some value anyway. The horse that appears to have the best shot to pull the upset is the improving three-year old FLY DOWN, who boasts the high Beyer at the distance (105) from his photo-finish second place effort in the Travers. He has shown an affinity for this track, winning the 9f Dwyer with ease and closing with force to narrowly miss winning the Belmont Stakes. His running style and turn of foot remind me of another three-year old, Concern, who got hot in the fall and went on the win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. There isn’t much pace here, but HAYNESFIELD could hang around longer than you might expect if he is allowed to get out on the lead and dictate fractions. He has been successful at Belmont and has some experience at the distance, and his fourth place showing last time out can be slightly discounted based on some pretty severe early gate trouble. Another horse that could be close to the pace is the accomplished West Coast shipper Rail Trip, who I will try to beat. To me, there are simply too many question marks, as he will be making his first start on true dirt after having some issues with injuries this summer. I also don’t think that he will benefit from the extra furlong, as his major victories have all been over 9f with the exception of defeating a pretty weak field in last year’s Hollywood Gold Cup, a race that he was unable to win at the 10f distance this year. Tranquil Manner and Hold Me Back figure to be flying late, but I’m not sure there will be enough pace to get them on the board.

BETS- Exacta Box with Blame, Fly Down, Exacta Key with Blame, Fly Down/ Haynesfield, Place Bet on Fly Down

PICK 3: Life At Ten/ Al Khali, Bearpath, Paddy O’Prado, Telling/ Blame, Fly Down

Life At Ten/ Treat Gently, Never on Sunday/ Blame


Give me OKLAHOMA -3.5 over Texas: Neither team has looked good so far this season, with the Sooners struggling on defense, and the Longhorns basically looking anemic offensively. In this case I expect Oklahoma’s offense to take advantage of the fact that Texas hasn’t exactly been sharp on the defensive side of the ball either, giving up 34 points last week to a UCLA team that Stanford shut out the week before. I expect Oklahoma regain the momentum in this rivalry and win this game fairly easily.

Give me WISCONSIN -2 over Michigan State: The Spartans are getting a lot more credit for beating an average Notre Dame team in overtime on a lucky play than they deserve. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is improving on both sides of the ball and I expect them to run all over MSU, even on the road.

Give me STANFORD +7 over Oregon: Going into Eugene at night is not an ideal situation, but this looks like too many points to me so I will go with the Cardinal to cover here. Oregon’s offense has been impressive indeed, but Stanford’s defense has arguably been even more so, and QB Andrew Luck is right in the argument for the Heisman Trophy. This should be a great game and I expect it to be close.

Give me ALABAMA -8 over Florida: This has become a great SEC rivalry all of the sudden, but the Tide got the better of the Gators pretty easily last season at a neutral site and that was when Florida had Tim Tebow. Now they don’t, and they go into Bryant-Denny stadium for a night game against essentially the exact same Alabama offense. Do the math.


August 20, 2010

It is upon us! Pigskin, pigskin, pigskin! Here are some thoughts I have on what I think are this year’s top 20 college football teams:

Sleepers: Texas A & M, Oregon State, Georgia, Houston, Washington

#20: PENN STATE (11-2, 7 Offensive Starters Returning, 5 Defensive Starters Returning)- The Nittany Lions will have a big hole to fill at quarterback after losing leader Darryl Clark to graduation, but should still have a serviceable offense with sophomore Kevin Newsome running the show. Senior running back Evan Royster returns and will be the focal point after an 1100+ yard effort last season, and will get help on the line from senior guard Stefan Wisniewski. Six defensive starters will need to be replaced but there are veterans returning, and the Penn State defense is almost always a stout one even during rebuilding years.

#19: AUBURN (8-5, 8 Offensive Starters Returning, 8 Defensive Starters Returning): This young squad began to hit their stride towards the end of last season, giving eventual champion Alabama all they could handle in the Iron Bowl game before winning an intense an exciting Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. The bulk of that team returns with more experience, but the Tigers will see new faces at the skill positions after losing running back Ben Tate and their quarterback to graduation. Still, Auburn is a sneaky pick to improve and surprise with this well-rounded team.

#18: NORTH CAROLINA (8-5, 9 Offensive Starters Returning, 9 Defensive Starters Returning)- The question for the Tarheels will be how many points they are able to put on the board. They may not need many, as nine starters return to create what is arguably the nation’s strongest defense. The unit will be particularly strong in the middle and in the secondary as All-America candidates abound between linebacker Quan Sturdivant, senior cornerback Kendric Burney and senior safety Denuta Williams. The line won’t be shabby either, as star defensive tackle Marvin Austin returns for his senior season. Senior T.J. Yates returns at quarterback, and with a more experienced group returning, UNC fans are hopeful that the team will improve upon its dismal offensive production from a season ago.

#17: FLORIDA STATE (7-6, 7 Offensive Starters Returning, 6 Defensive Starters Returning)- Quarterback Christian Ponder was among the nation’s elite passers last season before a season ending injury, and his presence gives hope to the Seminoles as the post-Bowden era begins. He’ll have plenty of protection, as all five starters on the line return, led by senior guard Rodney Hudson, and will also have a strong target in junior Bert Reed. The defensive perils of last season are well-documented, but FSU brought in Mark Stoops as the new coordinator, who will try to turn it around with half of last year’s squad returning with more experience.

#16: PITTSBURGH (10-3, 5 Offensive Starters Returning, 6 Defensive Starters Returning) Sophomore Dion Lewis was one of last season’s biggest surprises, as he finished one yard short of 1799 rushing yards as a freshman, which was good for third in the nation. He returns to lead an offense that will have to make a replacement at quarterback, but junior flanker Jonathon Baldwin should help newcomer Tino Sunseri’s transition. The defense should be especially strong up front, as a unit that led the nation in sacks last season returns its top two pass rushers in Greg Romeus (8 sacks) and Jabaal Sheard. Put it all together, and this looks like the best Pittsburgh team in many years.

#15: USC (9-4, 5 Offensive Starters Returning, 6 Defensive Starters Returning)- After the offseason that the Trojans had, it is hard to gauge their enthusiasm coming into a season that is devoid of potential reward. The talent is there, but will their heads be in it? We’ll call this a rebuilding year, but with sophomore Matt Barkley leading the offense, and with targets like senior receiver Ronald Johnson to throw to, something tells me they will be right in the hunt for a Pac-10 title, albeit with no roses at the end. The running game should find some strength with a massive offensive line led by center Kristopher O’Dowd and tackle Tyron Smith. This certainly won’t be a vintage USC squad, but the talent is there for Lane Kiffin to begin to rebuild the program amid a lot of controversy.

#14: MIAMI (9-4, 5 Offensive Starters Returning, 8 Defensive Starters Returning)- There is excitement in South Florida, as the Hurricanes will have an early opportunity to avenge their controversial 2003 loss to Ohio State that cost them a national title- and arguably sent the program into a freefall. Even if Miami can’t win that game, they still have a strong shot to win the ACC and earn a trip to a BCS bowl. Junior quarterback Jacory Harris showed moments of brilliance last season, but also had intermittent slippages in concentration that caused him to lead the ACC in interceptions. He’ll have experienced targets in LaRon Byrd and Leonard Hankerson at his disposal, and should make improvements this season. The defense isn’t flashy, but is well-rounded and deep, returning eight starters.

#13: OREGON (10-3, 9 Offensive Starters Returning, 8 Defensive Starters Returning) The Ducks would have been a top five preseason pick if not for the dismissal of star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli for legal reasons during the offseason. Star tailback LaMichael James had some offseason troubles of his own and will miss the first game, but should be poised for another 1500+ yard season after that. Oregon will be speedy and athletic as always, but one has to wonder about how their chemistry will be affected by these unfortunate issues. Nevertheless, a solid portion of last year’s team returns on both sides of the ball, so Oregon should definitely still expect to be in the hunt for a second straight Rose Bowl berth. The defense should be improved, led by a solid core of linebackers.

#12: FLORIDA (13-1, 5 Offensive Starters Returning, 5 Defensive Starters Returning)- In my view, a #3 preseason ranking is setting expectations a bit high for a team that will have to replace arguably the best college quarterback of the century. Junior John Brantley will get his long awaited chance to fill those shoes, and will have a strong rushing option in Jeff Demps in the backfield. The talent is there on defense, but the Gators will be depleted from the standpoint of experience, as six starters must be replaced. This young team should improve as the season progresses, but it would take a lot for them to fight their way into the national title picture. However, the schedule seems fairly manageable, and if they can find a way to pull the upset on the road at Alabama, who knows?

#11: TCU (12-1, 9 Offensive Starters Returning, 7 Defensive Starters Returning)- After coming one game short of a perfect season in 2009, the Horned Frogs have something to prove this season. Senior quarterback Andy Dalton is back running the show, and will have all three receivers back as targets. With nine starters returning from an offense that ranked fifth nationally in scoring a season ago, points shouldn’t be much of a problem for this team. Four key starters must be replaced on a defense that was the best in the nation last season, but the pieces are certainly there to duplicate that effort and give opposing offenses nightmares. The schedule looks pretty easy after an intriguing opening weekend game against Oregon State, and TCU could very easily find itself with another chance at an undefeated season.

#10: ARKANSAS (8-5, 9 Offensive Starters Returning, 6 Defensive Starters Returning) Junior quarterback Ryan Mallett returns to lead what figures to be the nation’s most explosive passing attack, and he is my preseason pick to win the Heisman Trophy. The receiving corps are simply stacked, led by star junior Greg Childs, who will get support from Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and tight end D.J. Williams. Expect lots of points. The main issue the Razorbacks will face is on the other side of the ball, where six starters return from a unit that ranked last in the SEC in total defense a year ago. The good news is that they won’t have to be perfect to win a lot of football games, but they’ll need to tighten up considerably to take this team to the next level.

#9: WISCONSIN (10-3, 10 Offensive Starters Returning, 5 Defensive Starters Returning) Prepare for a ferocious ground attack this season from the Badgers, as senior Gabe Carimi, a 6-7, 315 pound tackle, anchors the nation’s toughest offensive line. This bodes well for the prospects of talented junior running back John Clay, last year’s conference player of the year. Quarterback Scott Tolzien came into his own as last season progressed, and he returns nearly the entire offense, including top target senior tight end Lance Kendricks as well as junior receiver Nick Toon. The defense will have some holes to fill, especially up front, and could be a work in progress, but they are likely to have plenty of support from the offense.

#8: TEXAS (13-1, 4 Offensive Starters Returning, 6 Defensive Starters Returning)- Quarterback Garrett Gilbert should feel a bit more at ease this season than he did during his sudden appearance in the national title game last year. The offense will be a composed of a lot of new faces, but the running game should be able to find its footing behind talented sophomore Tre Newton. The departures of Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley will be noticeable offensively, but this year’s Texas team should succeed on the strength of its defense. The defensive unit is especially strong in the middle and in the secondary, led by free safety Blake Gideon, who had six interceptions last season. The line is strong as well, as defensive end Sam Acho returns from a ten sack season. The defense will still have some replacements to make, and will need to step up while the new offense finds a rhythm.

#7: NEBRASKA (10-4, 9 Offensive Starters Returning, 6 Defensive Starters Returning)- The Bo Pileni era should move into full swing this season, as a team that played extremely well in the last half of the season returns a lot of familiar faces. Quarterback Zac Lee will have his top receiver back in Niles Paul, while star running back Roy Helu Jr. retrurns after an 1100+ yard season. The defense should again be very strong, especially in the secondary, as Prince Amukamara returns after leading the team with five picks last year. There is talent on the line as well, as leading tackler Jared Crick returns along with senior end Pierre Allen. The Huskers get Texas at home on October 16th, a date that could revitalize the program before it makes a big move to the Big Ten next season.

#6: IOWA (11-2, 6 Offensive Starters Returning, 8 Defensive Starters Returning)- Stylistically, Iowa will try to win its games this year the same way it did last year- with defense. This unit is one of the nation’s toughest, as there is depth and talent across the board, but especially along the front line. Senior Adrian Clayborn returns after a domination 2009 campaign that saw him make 11.5 sacks, create four fumbles and return a punt for a touchdown, and senior tacks Karl Klug will add assistance on the line. If there is any gap at all defensively it is in the middle, but the secondary, led by strong safety Tyler Sash (team leading 6 interceptions last season), should pick up the slack. The offense should make improvements as well, as returning starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi has experienced options at the skill positions. Sophomore running back Adam Robinson could be poised for a breakout season, while top receiver Derrell Johnson- Koulianos should make a lot of noise as well.

#5: VIRGINIA TECH (10-3, 7 Offensive Starters Returning, 3 Defensive Starters Returning) The composition of this Hokie team should give head coach Frank Beamer something to scratch his head about- when was the last time that Virginia Tech relied on its offense instead of its defense and special teams? That will be the case this year, as Darren Evans returns from injury along with star running back Ryan Williams (1655 yards rushing last season, a school record, and as a freshman no less) to form the nation’s strongest backfield. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has had his struggles over his three seasons leading the offense, but he’s nothing if not experienced, and will have his top three receivers back. There will be lots of work to on the other side of the ball, but without getting too over dramatic, I’ll assume that Beamer can get things sorted out- he always seems to.

#4: OKLAHOMA (8-5, 6 Offensive Starters Returning, 5 Defensive Starters Returning) The Sooners look to be a cut above the rest of the Big 12 this season, and they will try to turn the tables on last year’s nightmarish campaign. Sophomore quarterback Landry Jones gained a slew of unexpected experience last season as he filled in for injured star Sam Bradford, and he wasn’t half bad. Junior Ryan Broyles is among the nation’s very best receivers, while running back DeMarco Murray has always been a force when healthy, and is likely sitting on a career-defining season as a senior. There is serious star power on defense in linebacker Travis Lewis and defensive end Jeremy Beal, and their experience should help develop some of the young talent who will have big shoes to fill in the middle-the Sooners lost all-world tackle Gerald McCoy to the NFL as well.

#3: OHIO STATE (11-2, 8 Offensive Starters Returning, 6 Defensive Starters Returning) If quarterback Terrelle Pryor can duplicate his Rose Bowl performance another 12 times over the course of the season, the Buckeyes could be right back in the national title picture. Pryor will benefit from a deep offensive line, led by center Mike Brewster and lineman Justin Boren. They should help create offensive opportunities with new faces in the backfield, while Pryor will have returning starter DeVier Posey as his main target at receiver. The defense will be stout as always, with experienced end Cameron Heyward on the line and Ross Holman leading the linebacking corps, and should be able to overcome the loss of five starters. A huge rematch of the 2003 National Championship against Miami looms large on the second weekend of the season.

#2: BOISE STATE (14-0, 9 Offensive Starters Returning, 9 Defensive Starters Returning) It is nothing short of a travesty that Boise State begins the season ranked as low as #5 in the Coaches Poll. This is a team that has posted two undefeated seasons in the past three years, and returns more combined starters on both sides of the ball than any other team on this list. Junior quarterback Kellen Moore is the real deal, and star running back Jeremy Avery returns after rushing for 1150 yards last season. Moore will have lots of options downfield, including receiver Titus Young and tight end Kyle Efaw. What could separate this team from Boise State teams of the past is the strong defense, as nine starters return from a unit that ranked 14th in total defense a year ago. The Labor Day matchup against Virginia Tech is a national title elimination game right out of the gates, but if they can win that one, get past Oregon State and then run the table, they deserve to be in the championship.

#1: ALABAMA (14-0, 8 Offensive Starters Returning, 1 Defensive Starters Returning)- The Tide lost their entire defense, and this is certainly a cause for concern, but Nick Saban has pulled in a class of recruits that could be even better. Defensive end Marcell Dareus earned MVP honors in last year’s championship, even with that star-studded defense, while linebacker Dont’a Hightower should return from injury in top form. The offense remains absolutely stacked. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram will trade carries with dynamic sophomore Trent Richardson to keep defenses guessing, while the line returns enough manpower to continue to create holes. Quarterback Greg McElroy is still undefeated as a starter, and the incredibly athletic receiver Julio Jones continues to be underrated on the national spectrum. His explosive speed is even more dangerous on special teams. With a manageable preseason schedule and Florida and Auburn both at home, Alabama already has repeat on the brain.

Heisman Picks:

1) Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

2) Mark Ingram, Alabama

3) Kellen Moore, Boise State

4) Terelle Pryor, Ohio State

5) John Clay, Wisconsin

6) Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State

7) A.J. Green, Georgia

8- Julio Jones, Alabama

9) Jake Locker, Washington

10) Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech

BCS Predictions:

BCS National Championship: Alabama vs. Boise State

Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oregon

Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Nebraska

Sugar Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Arkansas

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Iowa

Belmont Picks

June 3, 2010

Despite the lack of a Triple Crown storyline, this year’s Belmont is still loaded with intrigue and in my opinion, it is a pretty strong field even without Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Preakness winner Lookin’ At Lucky in the mix. Only three runners from the Derby return for the Belmont, but several horses who fell out of that race for various reasons are here, and many are fresher and much improved since then. As always, pedigree figures into this marathon of a race (12f! Oh the humanity!), and an interesting stat that I ran across is that 17 of the last 20 Belmont winners have had either a sire or damsire that were victorious at 10 furlongs or longer. I’m going to bet against that trend this year for my own reasons, but have included that information, and put in caps those that meet that criteria (only four horses). Let’s take a look at this year’s field, in order of my preference:

1) First Dude (101 Beyer, 352 Tomlinson, Stephen Got Even/ Smart Strike) PP #11, 7-2- I normally don’t pick horses in this race that like to go right to the lead, but after his fantastic second place effort in the Preakness setting hot fractions, you have to like his chances in a race without much speed. He could very easily get loose on the lead with much softer fractions and have plenty in the tank coming home. His long strides and massive physique figure to benefit him through the track’s sweeping turns, and he appears to be a horse that is improving rapidly.

2) Ice Box (100 Beyer, 270 Tomlinson, Pulpit/ TABASCO CAT) PP#6, 3-1 Morning Line Favorite- Nobody closed faster in the Kentucky Derby than this horse, and after a nightmare trip to boot. His gallop out was monstrous after that second place finish, and there isn’t much doubt he would have won a 12f race that day. He isn’t likely to see the same type of pace set up here but he figures to be flying late regardless, especially coming in fresh after passing on the Preakness, and the extra two furlongs should do nothing but help his chances. His damsire Tabasco Cat won this very race, and trainer Nick Zito seems to be hot lately.

3) Fly Down (99 Beyer, 303 Tomlinson, MINESHAFT/ Fly So Free) PP#5, 9-2- This late bloomer demonstrated a magnificent turn of foot in winning the Dwyer over this very track. He is lightly raced, but a duplication of that effort will certainly factor here in a big way, and his pedigree suggests that the distance won’t be an issue. I always like to give horses a long look when they have shown success over the same race track, and he’s the only horse in the field with a win at Belmont.

4) Stately Victor (94 Beyer, 290 Tomlinson, GHOSTZAPPER/ Dynaformer) PP#9, 15-1- I loved his chances in the Derby, and he actually ran pretty well there to finish eighth after a somewhat crowded trip. There are still a lot of question marks surrounding him, and whether or not he is simply a synthetic specialist, but his turn of foot and pedigree could still make him a force to be reckoned with if he runs a big race. I won’t be using him on top but think he stands a good chance to hit the board.

5) Spangled Star (87 Beyer, 386 Tomlinson, Distorted Humor/ Kris S.) PP#2, 30-1- If you are looking for a sleeper at a big price, this could be the horse. So far in this year’s Triple Crown races, pedigree and distance figures have played a big role, so overlook the horse with the highest Tomlinson distance figure in the field at your own peril. Although his speed figures aren’t really competitive with the rest of these, he has posted three straight improving Beyers, and if he can improve again and benefit from the distance, who knows?

6) Interactif (94 Beyer, 330 Tomlinson, Broken Vow/ Broad Brush) PP#12, 12-1- He is another that has question marks, mainly as to whether or not he is better suited to turf, but he was certainly on my Derby short list and deserves a look if for no other reason than he should be able to run his race and make a late move from the back of the pack. He has been inconsistent but should be fresh. I like others more but wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit the board.

7) Make Music For Me (97 Beyer, 266 Tomlinson, Bernstein/ Carson City) PP#4, 10-1- Aside from Ice Box, he made up the most ground coming down the stretch in the Derby and was running pretty wide so he definitely has a big chance to make an impact here with a similar effort. Whether he benefited from the sloppy track like Paddy O’Prado did remains to be seen, and I have my questions as to whether he wants to go all the way to 12 furlongs based on his pedigree. Still, if you’re betting based on Kentucky Derby finishes, he’d be your place horse.

8- Drosselmeyer (92 Beyer, 346 Tomlinson, Distorted Humor/ Moscow Ballet) PP#7, 12-1- He was high on everyone’s list after he closed gamely to get up for the show spot in the Louisiana Derby, but then he was easily bested by Fly Down last time out over this same track. He’ll need to improve vastly to catch that one, and really, the more you look at the Louisiana Derby race the less sense it makes.

9) Game on Dude (95 Beyer, 312 Tomlinson, AWESOME AGAIN/ Devil His Due) PP#8, 10-1- He is intriguing based on his pedigree for sure, but not at these odds. He impressed in his last start against inferior competition but was beaten pretty easily in the Florida Derby without excuses. You can throw out his Derby Trial flop as he clearly didn’t enjoy the footing, but I like others better.

10) Stay Put (90 Beyer, 327 Tomlinson, Broken Vow/ Dixieland Band) PP#10, 20-1- Another horse that appears to be improving, but his last three Beyers have been pretty consistent and those figures are well below what it will take to win here. His most impressive win came over a sloppy track and he may be just a touch outclassed here.

11) Dave In Dixie (95 Beyer, 291 Tomlinson, Dixie Union/ Wavering Monarch), PP#1, 20-1- His last three Beyers have been decreasing, and it appears that he might have enjoyed synthetic surfaces more than dirt. He’ll be fresh coming in off eight weeks rest, but his pedigree doesn’t really stack up, and coming from the rail if he’s forced to chase First Dude early, he could be toast in a hurry.

12) Uptowncharleybrown (91 Beyer, 226 Tomlinson, Limehouse/ Langfuhr) PP#2, 10-1- A lot of people think this horse has a chance here but I am failing to see the logic. Nothing about this horse suggests that he wants to run a race of this distance, and his Tomlinson figure is the lowest in the field by a large margin, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise just eyeballing his immediate pedigree. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong but I can’t come up with a logical reason why he should be a factor.

Bets ($20 Unit):

I really the like the top three here and see a pretty big separation from the rest of the field (Amazingly, all three of my top choices are grandchildren of the great A.P. Indy, a winner of this race). Given that these are likely to be the top three betting favorites as well, there isn’t much value in straight wagers or in a three horse exacta box, so I’ll try to hit the trifecta with those three and throw my next two choices into the show spot….and throw a couple bucks on a high price to win for insanity insurance.

$1 Tri Key: First Dude, Ice Box, Fly Down/ First Dude, Ice Box, Fly Down/ First Dude, Ice Box, Fly Down, Stately Victor, Spangled Star

$2 Win (hedge) on Stately Victor or Spangled Star, game time decision based on the odds.


May 15, 2010

Well, that certainly felt good! Lookin’ at Lucky turned the tables on Super Saver after his first clean trip in three races, and made a monster move around the far turn to overtake the surprisingly hot pace, which is almost certainly what cost Super Saver any chance here. But how impressive was First Dude? After setting decimating and entirely unexpected fractions, he still battled Lucky down the stretch and amazingly held on for the place spot ahead of a hard closing Jackson Bend and Yawanna Twist, who both also ran quite well close to the pace. Suffice to say I’m glad that First Dude’s distance Tomlinson number caught my eye and I ended up using him under Lucky in the exacta instead of Aikenite. Had I known that the first 1/4 was going to go in :46.2 I might have had a different opinion, but First Dude stayed the course anyway. Sweeeeet victory!

Preakness Picks

May 14, 2010

This certainly isn’t the strongest Preakness field I’ve ever seen, but it might be one of the most intriguing. It’s great to see four of the top seven finishers from the Kentucky Derby make it back on short rest, along with at least five other horses that had every right to be in that race but didn’t quite make the earnings cut. With Hurricane Ike now out with an injury, this race should set up much differently than that one did, as there is not nearly as much speed here, and the likely fractions (think :48.0 instead of :46.0)  should benefit horses closer to pace more so than they did during the Derby. Here’s a brief look at who I think has the best chances in this wide open Preakness Stakes, a race in which I can make a pretty good case for any one of them to win. Top 2010 Beyers, Post Positions and Morning Line odds in parentheses:


1) Lookin at Lucky (98 Beyer, PP#7, 3-1)- Had yet another disastrous trip in the Derby from the dreaded #1 post and fell way too far back early to have a shot at the board, and still rallied impressively to finish 6th. This might actually be his ideal distance, and this is his last chance to prove he’s for real as he finally gets an ideal post starting in the middle of the field. The pace scenario isn’t as favorable as it was for him in the Derby, but I can’t jump off now…with a clean trip, I think he’s still the most talented runner in the field and will probably be positioned a bit closer to the lead. We’re all still waiting for his coming out party. I just hope he isn’t worn down after one of the roughest campaigns in recent memory.

2) Super Saver (104 Beyer, PP#8, 5-2)- Derby winner could very well dictate the pace, and his ascending Beyers in last three starts suggest a horse that is continuing to reach his full potential. He’s impossible to leave out especially considering if he has it his way he could wire the field with ease, but if he runs into any trouble getting to the lead, it’s important to remember that Borel isn’t at Churchill anymore. Still, the top two appear to vastly outclass the rest of the field.

3) Schoolyard Dreams (94 Beyer, PP#2, 15-1)- Showed a strong turn of foot in the Tampa Bay Derby, beating the eventual Derby winner while getting a few pounds, and had excuses (health issues?) in his 4th place Wood Memorial finish. Aside from that effort he’s never missed the board, and he is working extremely well and is fresh after missing the Derby earnings cut; all signs point to improvement in the near future. His running style should fit just fine here, as he’ll enjoy a ground saving trip just behind the front runners.

4) First Dude (90, PP#11, 20-1)- He’ll probably be close to the pace as well and deserves a close look based on his field-high Tomlinson distance rating. He’s actually a half brother to Schoolyard Dreams, both sired by Stephen Got Even, so I suppose if I like that one I have to respect him as well. I’m not sure he has demonstrated the same versatility and turn of foot, and he’s still waiting for an above average speed figure, but he stands a good chance to sit off the pace and may very well just keep on going. Pleasant Prince had his number in the Florida Derby but the pace collapsed in that race, and Paddy O’Prado beat him very narrowly in the Blue Grass. He’s fresh and training well, and looks like a live longshot at these odds.

5) Paddy O’Prado (100 Beyer, PP#10, 9-2)- A repeat of his 3rd place Derby finish will have him in 2nd here, but how much did he benefit from the mud on Derby Day? Is he tired after that huge effort? A bounce candidate? He sure seems to change leads a lot as he tires, and he still has yet to prove himself on a dry dirt track. I’m looking elsewhere but admittedly frightened, and might be sorry on Saturday night, but you can’t use everyone, especially since he figures to take a lot of action at the windows.

6) Dublin (98 Beyer, PP#12, 10-1)- Seems to be always there at the end but still refuses to pass anyone down the stretch. He improved upon each furlong in a respectable 7th place finish in the Derby, arguably his best effort to date, but hung again without any excuses. Would need to take a leap forward here and may be gassed after a pretty tough spring campaign. You can’t ever count D. Wayne Lukas out completely, and he stands to benefit from Gomez taking over, but I still think he lacks that killer instinct in the stretch.

7) Aikenite (91 Beyer, PP#1, 20-1)- Looked much improved in his second place Derby trial effort, closing on the winner from far back, a style that suits him much better than chasing the pace. He’s been beaten twice by Jackson Bend but seemed to be gaining ground in shorter races, and may be ready to turn the tables. However, closers may be up against it this time based on the likely pace scenario, and I can’t get past the fact that he’s been handily beaten by half of the field in previous races.

8- Jackson Bend (93 Beyer, PP#6, 12-1)- Always tries, but still has distance issues. He will definitely be closer to the pace than usual in this race, which could work to his benefit if he can get away with really slow fractions, but I have a feeling Super Saver will have something to say about that. The feeling here is that this is more of an 8f horse, and that making the lead will likely make those last 300 yards even more difficult than usual.

9) Pleasant Prince (99, PP#3, 20-1)- Flattered by Ice Box’s 2nd place finish in the Derby; he lost to that one by a nostril in the Florida Derby but that effort has looked somewhat like a fluke since. He had excuses in a dismal Blue Grass over polytrack but didn’t really fire or make a strong move in his next outing in the Derby Trial even with its fast fractions, and was beaten handily buy some of these there. He probably needs a much hotter pace (46ish, like what he got at Gulfstream in his best race to date) than he will get here.

10) Caracortado (98, PP#9, 10-1)- Closing type is talented and will probably get some support at the windows but won’t have a super hot pace to run at. In response, he may attempt a style shift and go with the pace, but I probably don’t have to tell you how I think that will turn out. He moves to dirt for the first time, but distance figures (lowest Tomlinson figure in the field- by a mile) and pedigree suggest this isn’t his best spot.

11) Yawanna Twist (96 Beyer, PP#5, 30-1)- I have to admit that I was impressed with his Gotham performance, as he closed hard to nearly overtake winner Awesome Act, another strong closer. However, as mentioned, I don’t feel like this is a race to play more than one closer in, and he is probably a step behind in terms of class. He may try to go early as well, which gives him a fighting chance, but won’t be my play.

12) Northern Giant (92 Beyer, PP#4, 30-1)- Probably the only horse in the field that I can’t really make a case for. Seems like he needs a shorter race and a sloppier track.

BETS ($35 unit):

$1 Exacta Box: Lookin at Lucky, Super Saver, Schoolyard Dreams

$4 Exacta Box: Lookin at Lucky, Super Saver

$1 Exacta Key: Lookin at Lucky, Super Saver/ Schoolyard Dreams, First Dude

$1 Exacta Box: Schoolyard Dreams, First Dude

$10 Place: Lookin at Lucky

$5 Show: Schoolyard Dreams


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