With so many great races this weekend from Santa Anita to New York and Indiana in between, there is so much that can be written. So instead of spinning some epic saga… let’s pick some winners. The National Football League has their Play 60 program to encourage kids to exercise. The weekend horse racing has Play Saturday for adults.
Indiana Derby (gr. 2), Hoosier Park, 3-year-olds, 1-1/16 miles, $500,000
Post Time 6:15 pm EDT Saturday
Preakness Stakes (gr. 1) winner Shackleford stands on the Indiana Derby program page as the 8-to-5 morning line favorite, coupled with stable mate Friends Place as part of the Dale Romans (photo right)-trained entry. This will be the second consecutive year the Preakness winner has come to Anderson, Indiana for the Indiana Derby as Lookin at Lucky won this race last year as part of his championship season. Hoosier Park has also been a frequent stop for Romans, who is the all-time leading stakes winning trainer at the track.
None of those accolades, trends or records will be helping Shackleford Saturday night however, as the Indiana Derby has drawn a qualified cast of eight. What seperates Shackleford from the other seven is the class in which he has competed this year. After finishing second at 68-to-1 in the Florida Derby (gr. 1), Shackled hit the Triple Crown and came out, not only with a win in the Preakness, but as only one of three horses this year to competed in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
After a short vacation, Shackleford hit the Resorts Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in New Jersey where he was second to a Bob Baffert-trained Coil. Coil was a record 5th Haskell for Baffert, so the runner-up for Shackleford was no disgrace.
But the next race seemed to give an indication that the miles and competition may be taking an effect on the iron horse of the 2011 sophomore class of Thoroughbreds. After leading the Travers Stakes for the first three-quarters of a mile, Shackleford tired badly and finished second to last, more than 22 lengths behind winner Stay Thirsty.
Should that be the case and the Preakness winner has little left in the tank, the obvious choice is Caleb’s Posse, trained by Oklahoma/Texas mainstay Donnie Von Hemel. The homebred son of the $10,000 stallion Posse, has had a constitution testing campaign this year as well. Caleb’s Posse was perhaps the most impressive in his last race when he came from off the pace to sour the comeback of one-time Derby fave Uncle Mo in the King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. 1) at Saratoga in late August.
At one time considered a Kentucky Derby contender after finishing second in the grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park in March, Calleb’s Posse skipped the Triple Crown and has spent the year winning the grade 2 Ohio Derby at Thistledown in June and the grade 2 Amsterdam, also at Saratoga. Although the King’s Bishop and Amsterdam were seven and 6-1/2 furlongs respectively, Calleb’s Posse should have no problem with the Indiana Derby distance of 1-1/16 miles having won the Ohio Derby at the same distance of eight and one-half furlongs.
Among others to watch are 4-to-1 morning line choice Wilburn, a nice winner of the $300,000 Smarty Jones over the same surface in his last race and Populist Politics, a participating third in the super slow Super Derby (gr. 2) in his last race at Louisiana Downs Sept. 10.
Indiana Derby Picks
6 - Caleb’s Posse
4 - Populist Politcs
1 – Shackleford
The Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. 1), Belmont Park, 3-year-olds and older, 1-1/4 Miles, $750,000
Post Time: 5:46 pm EDT Saturday
Like the Indiana Derby, the Jockey Club Gold Cup has a morning line with solid entry as the favorite with Flat Out and Birdrun coupled as part of the Preston Farms, Inc.-owned entry at 7-to-5. Also like the Indiana Derby, the second choice in Belmont the morning line is just one tick off favoritism, in this case at 8-to-5.
While Birdrun is no slouch, having won the grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park in June, it appears Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott may have the Birdstone in the Jockey Club Gold Cup: Stay Thirsty likes to run on or near the lead. Flat Out, also trained by Mott, likes to come from off the pace. No other horse in the field appears likely to test Stay Thirsty on the lead and insure an honest pace. So instead of leaving it others, Moss has the speedy Birdrun in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Although Birdrun may keep Stay Thirsty from stealing the Gold Cup, his presence will not leave Stay Thirsty and jockey Javier Castellano without options. A son of 2006 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Bernadini, Stay Thirsty appears to like the lead, but need it as was the case in his victory in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. 2) two months ago when he was as far back as fourth in the first half-mile.
Not only is this is the first race for Stay Thirsty against older horses, but he is the only 3-year-old among the seven entrants. It will be a whole new class of characters waiting for Stay Thirsty this time in the saddling paddock before the race.
Flat Out and Birdrun are both 5-year-old horses; A.U. Miner and Rodman are both 6-year-olds. Drosselmeyer and Ice Box, two veterans from the 2010 Triple Crown wars, are the youngsters here at age four. There’s not a gelding in the bunch.
We also know that consistency has been a rarity in both the 3-year-old and older ranks this year. That too works against Stay Thirsty who is coming off two consecutive wins. A.U. Miner is the only other Gold Cup starter to have won his last race having taken the $200,000 Greenwood Cup at Parx Racing near Philadelphia in July.
There is also that $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic elephant on the grandstand apron. Will trainer Todd Pletcher wind the strings tight on Stay Thirsty to win the $750,000 Gold Cup with nearly seven times that much sitting at Churchill Downs Nov. 6 waiting to be claimed?
Flat Out also comes out of a difficult summer also with a win in the grade 2 Suburban at Belmont then firing at both the Whitney Handicap and Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, running second in both to Tizway and the filly Havre de Grace respectively.
That leaves the door open enough for me to think that Rodman will have a big day at Belmont Park Saturday. Second to Tizway in the Metropolitan (gr. 2) at one mile in May and third behind Flat Out in the Suburban, he may have been set for a big race in the Woodward, but traffic trouble in the first turn quickly faded those hopes and he finished seventh. Rodman should improve significantly off that race.
Jockey Club Gold Cup Picks
The Vosburgh Invitational (gr. 1), Belmont Park, 3-year-olds and older, 6 furlongs, $350,000
Post Time: 3:57 pm EDT Saturday
I chose to handicap the Indiana Derby and the Jockey Club Gold Cup because of their popularity and probable influence on the richest horse racing in North America, the Breeders’ Cup Classic. With Havre de Grace in the Beldame Invitational (gr. 1) and Uncle Mo in the Kelso Handicap (gr. 2) in the two races preceding the Gold Cup and two obvious singles, find a horse with a price in the Vosburgh and I’ve got a Pick-4 ticket to bet. Havre de Grace is a better single than Uncle Mo in my opininion, so if one would want to spread a little in the Kelso, that might not be a bad idea.
In trying to find something that might provide more return, Apriority peaks interest as one who likes to come from off the pace. Although his only two wins this year have come against optional claimers, the son of Grand Slam has shown he can compete at this level after a second in the Carter Handicap and fourth in the Vanderbuilt, both grade 1 races earlier this year in New York. He was also just a nose short of Aikenite from winning the seven furlong Churchill Downs (gr. 2) two starts back.
Giant Ryan will also be difficult to pass up at 12-to-1 coming off of five consecutive victories going back to an optional claiming race at Aqueduct in March. In his last race, he came from just off the pace to win the grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder in Florida. That race was just more than 60 days ago, but he has been training well in the morning coming into this race.
3 - Apriority
6 - Big Drama
8 - Trappe Shot
Race 7 - 3-5-6-8
Race 8 - 3
Race 9 - 5
Race 10 - 3-4-1