Pago Hop Stakes Handicapping Preview

Pago Hop Stakes Starts Late Pick 4 at Fair Grounds

The $75,000 Pago Hop stakes is restricted to 3-year old fillies and this year’s edition has drawn a full filed of 14 to be run on New Year’s Eve at the Fair Grounds Race Course.  The about one-mile event over the Stall-Wilson turf course attracted seven stakes winners, topped by a pair of improving types with excellent back-class in Most Beautiful (GB, 5-1) and Mom’s On Strike (8-1) breaking from the far outside post. Those two will have their hooves full in their first starts at the New Orleans oval, as they take on a quartet of stakes-winning local course lovers in Princess Erindelle (20-1), Inconclusive (20-1), Pancake (30-1) and the race favorite Believe in Bertie (3-1).

Believe in Bertie is a homebred from the Klein’s. She’s a deserving favorite but faces many pressers as that’s her running style as well. She’ll have to break clean from the No. 12 post, but it will still be tough to get towards the lead with many others showing front-running speed. She likes the turf course at the Fairgrounds as she won like a wild thing Nov. 26 by nearly 6 lengths under a hand ride. But one thing to note, she’s never broke this wide and in her past several races she drew the inside and went to the front at the break.

Gianna’s Dream (4/1) is a filly from Twirling Candy. She runs like her father breaking like a rocket and running many competitors into the ground. She has six straight in the money finishes since the summer including four front-running wins. Gianna’s Dream has won on four different turf courses this year and tries to take her picture at the Fair Grounds for the first time with Florent Geroux aboard. Geroux won his 1,000th career race here Thursday. Gianna’s Dream is 2-for-2 at this 8 furlong distance, and running next to her is Frozen Hannah (12-1), who she beat in a stretch duel at Saratoga this summer. Frozen Hannah was 3-1 that day while Gianna’s Dream was 9-1, and Frozen Hannah has come back with another runner-up finish plus a win last time out Sept. 29 in a $50,000 claimer at Belmont.

Mom’s On Strike (8/1) nearly pulled the shocker at 51-1 last time out Oct. 15 at Belmont. She closed hard and was flying down the lane. She’ll find her way to the back again breaking from the far outside, but with a blistering pace she could benefit most if she can get clear coming home.

Princess Erindelle (20/1) may be sitting on a career effort at a huge price. She’ll be overlooked at the betting windows, but not by us. This one is regally bred for the weeds and has given good account of herself as well. She just needs the perfect pace setup to unleash that big move she has shown in the past including her stakes win here March 5. In a field filled with lots of speed, Princess Erindelle is one to watch in her seventh race at the Fair Grounds, but she’ll need to reverse her current form.

The remainder of the field for the 33rd running of the Pago Hop, which goes as the eighth of 11 races and first leg of the $0.50 late Pick-4, is comprised of multiple restricted stakes winner School Board Prez (20-1), Ready for Chianti (12-1), Nobody’s Fault (12-1), Always Right (12-1, La Peregrina (12-1), Motown Lady (12-1) and Pageant Material (20-1) is the also eligible.

NYRA to Run Eight $100,000 Maiden Races

Thanks in part to an ongoing program for two-year-olds offered by the New York Racing Association (NYRA), a total of eight races each worth $100,000 will take place next spring in the run up to the Astoria and Tremont run, which are the first two juvenile stakes races of the year.

The races will be broken down into three trials. Below is the trial schedule for Astoria:

Trial A – 4 1/2 furlongs – April 19
Trial B – 5 furlongs – May 3
Trial C – 5 furlongs – May 17

Trial A will be held at Aqueduct Racetrack and Trial B and Trial C will take place at Belmont Park. All races will be in preparation for the Astoria on June 8.

Trial schedule for Tremont is as follows:

Trial A – 4 1/2 furlongs – April 20
Trial B – 5 furlongs – May 4
Trial C – 5 furlongs – May 18

The Tremont trials will take place at Belmont park, leading up to the Tremont Stakes on June 9.

There are also turf races implemented into the trials thanks to positive response from fans and horseman last year. For fillies, the Astoria Trial D will be five furlongs on turf and will take place on May 25. The Tremont Trial D, also five furlongs and on turf, runs the next day on May 26.

Each trial field is limited to a field of ten, with each winner netting $50,000. All horses will be paid. If each trial fields a full ten the payout will be the aforementioned $50,000 for first, $20,000 for second, $10,000 for third, $7,500 for fourth, $5,000 for fifth, $4,000 for sixth, and the seventh through tenth-place finishers will split the remaining $3,500. There will also be a bonus program for New York-bred trainers and owners.

“A strong 2-year-old program is important to the Aqueduct and Belmont spring meets and the high demand for the bonus program in 2016 shows us that we’re moving our racing program in the right direction,” said NYRA Senior Vice-President of Racing Operations Martin Panza. “It’s one thing to offer races, but it’s another thing to make sure they go. We want our horsemen to feel confident when they send their 2-year-olds to New York in April, May, or June, that we will make every effort to be sure these races are used.”

Nyquist Fine Following Colic Surgery

Champion Nyquist, who will be standing at Darley in 2017 for his first season, is recovering from successful colic surgery performed at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute on December 22.

Darley Chief Operating Officer Dan Pride said Nyquist was showing signs of discomfort, which led to the operation. Unless there are any further complications or setbacks, Nyquist will be able to start his breeding season as scheduled in February. He is set to stand for $40,000.

“He was just uncomfortable in the stall and our night watch contacted our stallion manager, Graham Lovatt and (director of farm operations) Michael Banahan, and they made the decision to take him to Hagyard,” said Pride. “The team there did a great job. They quickly diagnosed him and got it taken care of.”

Pride gave credit to both the Darley staff and Hagyard team for an early diagnosis and said the surgery was “about as straightforward as you could have, given the situation.”

“There was a little twist that they had to undo, but it was very straightforward,” said Pride. “Assuming he has a normal recovery, and there is no reason he shouldn’t, he’ll be available to start the breeding season in February on schedule.”

“We’re very optimistic,” said Darley president Jimmy Bell. “In most of these cases, when you catch them early enough, your chances improve greatly over something else getting to be more problematic. We have a very alert crew and had a very good response from the Hagyard team.”

Nyquist won eight out of 11 career starts and earned over $5.1 million.

Conquest Enforcer Impressive Gate to Wire Winner in Mathis Brothers Mile

Conquest Enforcer Wins California Debut on Turf at Santa Anita

Conquest Enforcer made a winning debut for his new connections, taking the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile on opening day at Santa Anita Monday. The winter-spring meet opener featured four stakes races and concluded with this gate to wire winner, as Conquest Enforcer rewarded his new trainer Phil D’Amato and Loooch Racing with a 1 ¼ length victory as the 9-5 favorite.

Conquest Enforcer, a 3-year-old Into Mischief colt, broke sharply with Flavien Prat aboard. He settled into the backstretch and led the first half mile in fractions of :22.91 and :46.11. When the field turned for home and tried to catch the leader, Conquest Enforcer showed another gear and hit the wire in 1:33.64, ahead of hard-charging Mittersill, who finished a half-length in front of the show horse, Moonlight Drive.

“I can’t ask for better than that (two victories on his return from France),” said Prat. “It was a great day. He broke so sharp, I just wanted him to relax on the lead. He didn’t relax until the backside and then he got going. Phil (D’Amato) said he has a great turn of foot and he seemed so sharp. I was a little worried in the stretch, but he kicked away.”

The Mathis Brothers Mile was the fourth graded stakes of the day and concluded the $1 million guarantee late Pick 4. The winning numbers were 11-4-2-4 and a .50 cent ticket with those combinations paid $756.60 with a Pick 4 prize pool of more than $1.6 million.

4 CONQUEST ENFORCER $5.60 $3.80 3.00
1 MITTERSILL $7.00 $5.40

Trainer Phil D’Amato was confident in his colt, who was purchased at the November 2016 Keeneland sale for $750,000.

“I am very happy,” commented D’Amato. “He’s settled into our program really nicely and I think the sky is the limit with this horse. Prat is a great fit for him. This horse actually reminds me of Obviously and he guided Obviously to a nice Breeders’ Cup win and hopefully next year we’re doing the same with this horse.”

Conquest Enforcer won his fifth race in eight starts, and his first graded stakes victory was worth $120,000 and boosted his career earnings to $480,640.

Horse Racing Calendar Starts New Year at Santa Anita

1 Million Guarantee All-Stakes Pick 4 Highlights Opening Day at Santa Anita

Merry Christmas to all, including the horse racing fans who enjoyed their only day off of the year Christmas Day. Horse racing runs 364 days a year in the United States, and the New Year for horse racing fans begins Dec. 26 with the opening of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita.

Nine races with full fields including four graded stakes should make for another strong start at Santa Anita. The all-stakes late pick 4 starting with race 6 has a guaranteed prize pool of $1 million, which will make for plenty of betting opportunities.

Here are some horses to consider on your pick 4 card opening day Dec. 26. Use this racing calculator when figuring the amount for your pick 4 betting combinations.

Race 6 $100,000 San Simeon (G3). A wide open 6 ½ furlong race on the turf with many contenders to consider, and we’ll point to five as our biggest selection of the four races. Look for horses that have had success down this unique course, which is shaped like a mark before the horses straighten out for the stretch run.

  • Holy Lute (9-2), Richard’s Boy (5-1), He Will (6-1), Stormy Liberal (8-1), Tough Sunday (20-1).

Race 7 $300,000 La Brea Stakes (G1). This 7 furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies has a trio of fine fillies that we’ll include.

  • Lightstream (2-1), Finley’sluckycharm (5-2), Enola Gray (9-2).

Finley’sluckycharm is the fastest horse in the race and has won her last three at Churchill Downs by a combined 21 lengths. Lightstream is more battle tested with 3 wins in four starts at 7 furlongs.

Race 8 $300,000 Malibu Stakes (G1). Kentucky Derby runner Mor Spirit returns from a long layoff, but we’ll leave him out and go with a pair of top contenders.

  • Mind Your Biscuits (5-2), Sharp Azteca (3-1)

Mind Your Biscuits can close and was 3rd last time out in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and speed horse Sharp Azteca could wire these as he did last time out in a minor stakes, and he’s working well over the track and also won the Pat Day Mile on Kentucky Derby Day.

Race 9 concludes the pick 4 in the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile on the turf.  We’ll single out a horse with Flavien Prat aboard as he returns to riding following an injury suffered in a spill. Super feed trainer Phil D’Amato has this 3-time winner at Woodbine training well over this course including a 5 furlong bullet in 59 flat Dec. 19.

  • Conquest Enforcer (7-2)

A .50 cent Pick 4 with these combinations costs $15. Adding a second horse in the final race 9 makes it a $30 ticket.

During the winter-spring meet from Dec. 26 to April 9, Santa Anita is running a free contest called ShowVivor. There are five ways to win with five different cash prizes totaling $5,000. Pick one horse from one live race each day. Rules and additional details are here.

Juddmonte Purchases Coolmore’s Pegasus Spot

The rematch the horse racing community has been salivating over — Arrogate vs. California Chrome — is one step closer to happening thanks to Juddmonte Farms purchasing the Pegasus World Cup spot owned by Coolmore Stud.

Arrogate is owned by Juddmonte Farms and their agreement to purchase Coolmore’s spot in the first ever $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (gr. I) means Arrogate will be the one likely to run in the anticipated event, as Juddmonte confirmed he “will continue his preparation with that race in mind.”

No details, including how much it cost Juddmonte, have been released other than “it is for the 2017 Pegasus World Cup Invitational only.”

The only thing that could get in the way of an Arrogate-California Chrome rematch at Pegasus at this point is an injury to either horse. The two were last seen battling it out in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), which went to Arrogate, and it will be the last time they do battle before California Chrome retires to Taylor Made Farm next year.

“It [the Pegasus World Cup] is a great idea and anyone that comes up with an idea for a new race like this—and they’re trying to make something very, very positive happen in the racing industry in the month of January when usually nobody is talking about horse racing, it deserves at least consideration for as much support as we could give to it,” said Juddmonte Farms Manager Garrett O’Rourke. “All things being equal, we would definitely go because we just feel like this is something that obviously has a tremendous reward. It’s an idea that you would like to see being supported.”

2016 La Brea preview

Tough Crowd in 2016 La Brea Stakes

The 2016 La Brea Stakes will fall on the day after Christmas and poses some interesting money making opportunities depending on your flavor. This race is for three-year-old fillies and has a lot of talent involved, but the value might be somewhere in the middle. That is, of course, you prefer the outright favorite.

At 4-1-1 in six starts, Lightstream is entering the 2016 La Brea Stakes with a 2/1 number that pegs her as the favorite. Her performance at the Raven Run, where she went from 8th to 1st like a bullet, is more so indicative of where she is now compared to up-and-down outings in previous races this year.

“We’ve tried to space her races and we don’t run her unless she’s doing good, so fortunately enough she’s been pretty consistent all year,” said trainer Brian Lynch. “The ankle chip could have been a blessing. Sometimes it gives them a chance to mature. Sometimes everything happens for a reason.”

“Ultimately tracks vary from coast to coast,” Lynch continued while acknowledging the strength of the field in the 2016 La Brea. “A lot of time speed doesn’t come back, but there’s plenty of speed in the race. A few could get to banging heads and the race could set up for her or could not.”

One of the biggest threats in the field is Enola Gray, one of the top three-year olds at the lower tiers up until recently. Losing out at the Betty Grable Stakes did a lot to put a dent in her otherwise sparkling reputation. She was a heavy 1/9 favorite in that race but will be a more reasonable 9/2 third choice at the 2016 La Brea Stakes. There are those – such as me – who firmly believe that she is a worthy standalone play. With a record of 4-2-0 in six starts, you’re looking at one of the most consistent performers at this race.

Chao Chom, who upset Enola Gray at the Betty Grable, will be an 8/1 longshot alongside Perfect Pic (6/1), Lunar Empress (20/1) and Coniah (15/1).

The more probably entries include second cohie Finley’sluckycharm who is pretty much being excused for her 7th place finish at her last stakes outing. There’s nothing on her resumé to suggest that the W. Bret Calhoun trainee is worth the gamble.

Same goes for Jerry Hollendorfer’s Constellation who was last out placing 4th at the Cicada Stakes. She had previously won the Ruthless Stakes but there’s little in her body of work to say that Constellation is actually a contender at the next level.

The wisest choice is a pairing of Lightstream and Enola Gray, but standalone’s on either to win is a fine strategy at this post-Christmas race.

2016 La Brea Stakes – Monday, December 26th at Santa Anita
7 Furlongs – 3 Year Old Fillies – $300,000

PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1 Lunar Empress (KY) Norberto Arroyo, Jr. 119 Richard Baltas 20/1
2 Lightstream (KY) Julien R. Leparoux 121 Brian A. Lynch 2/1
3 Finley’sluckycharm (KY) Brian Joseph Hernandez, Jr. 119 W. Bret Calhoun 5/2
4 Constellation (KY) David Romero Flores 119 Jerry Hollendorfer 6/1
5 Coniah (CA) Tyler Baze 119 Carla Gaines 15/1
6 Chao Chom (CA) Kent J. Desormeaux 119 Gary Stute 8/1
7 Enola Gray (CA) Mike E. Smith 119 Philip D’Amato 9/2
8 Perfect Pic (ON) Santiago Gonzalez 119 James M. Cassidy 6/1

23 Thoroughbreds Dead From Lexington Fire

We have a sad bit of news to report today. There was a fire this past Sunday at Mercury Equine Center in Lexington, which unfortunately led to the death of 23 thoroughbreds. The news comes courtesy of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The sad news was relayed to the daily paper by trainer Eric Reed, who owns the Mercury Equine Center. According to Reed, the fire began sometime after midnight and may have possibly been caused by either an electrical issue or lightning. There were extended thunderstorms on early Sunday morning reported in the Lexington area.

Reed mentioned six of his employees were able to save 13 horses. One of the horses saved was Old Fashioned, who is valued at over $100,000.

“They were heroes, the people who work for me,” Reed said to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“They went above and beyond what I could even imagine anybody trying to do. We ran into the barn, the smoke was so black we couldn’t even see. The only thing you could see was the flames,” said Reed.

One of the horses that died in the fire was a three-year-old filly who recently won $100,000 from running in a stakes race. Between the value of the horses killed and the barn, over $2 million was lost because of the fire. “I’ll never get this nightmare out of my mind,” said Reed.

The Mercury Equine Center is located on Russell Cave Road on top of property that was once the original Spendthrift Farm training facility.

Eskenformoney Wins Rampart Stakes

Eskenformoney Rallies Down the Lane to Win Rampart at Gulfstream

Eskenformoney won her first graded stakes race Saturday, rallying past the pacesetters to win the $100,000 Rampart Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream.

“It’s nice to see her get that [graded win]. She deserved it,” said trainer Todd Pletcher of Eskenformoney. “She had knocked on the door several times this summer and had just missed and as a 3-year-old, as well. She seems to like Gulfstream. She’s always consistently run well here and it’s good to see her pick up a graded win.”

As expected, the two favorites Curlin’s Approval and Genre dueled on the front end through six furlongs in 109.71. But Eskenformoney steadily inched in closer, letting out three wide entering the head of the lane before digging in through the deep stretch to win by ¾ of a length over race favorite Curlin’s Approval. Genre was 1 1/2 lengths behind in third.

“Talking to [jockeys] Johnny [Velazquez, aboard Genre] and Javier [Castellano] before the race, we said it looks like you want to be involved early so the strategy was to come out running with both of them,” Pletcher said. “I think Genre just showed a little more natural speed. Javier made a conscious effort to try to stay as close as he could and was kind of pecking at [Curlin’s Approval] down the backside to maintain that position and it worked out.”

Eskenformoney went off at 5-1 odds and returned $13.20 to win, $4.40 to place and $2.80 to show. Her final time covering 1 mile was 1:35.47. Curlin’s Approval was the only 3-year-old filly in the field of 7, and she finished second to pay $2.40 in her first start beyond seven furlongs.

“This was her first race in 56 days. I think she’s at her best when she runs every month to six weeks, so we’ll see,” owner Happy Alter said as he considers upcoming races for Curlin’s Approval including the $100,000 Hurricane Bertie (G3) Jan. 28 and $200,000 Inside Information (G2) March 18, both at seven furlongs.

The victory in the Rampart was trainer Todd Pletcher’s second of the day after saddling Stanford as the Harlan’s Holiday winner.


Rivals Renew in Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream

Rampart Stakes Features Stablemates Genre and Eskenformoney

The $100,000 Rampart Stakes (G3) is one of five stakes races Saturday at Gulfstream Park, and 7 fillies and mares will chase the $60,000 first place prize over 1 mile on the main track. Genre (9-5) and Curlin’s Approval (5-2) are the top contenders along with Eskenformoney (3-1).

Curlin’s Approval enters off a fourth-place finish in the Raven Run (G2) on Oct. 2. She’s had two strong works over the track including a bullet 4 furlongs in 45.90 on Nov. 30. She’s won 3-of-5 starts this year at Gulfstream and is fast enough to get a pressing spot. Trainer Martin Wolfson wins at a solid 38% clip when stretching runners out to a mile or more, which is her first try at the distance.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has a pair of fine fillies in here including the favorite Genre, who is the class of the field and drops down from her 3rd place finish in the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 9. The daughter of Bernardine is 4-2-1 in 7 starts this year, but her 4 furlong works have not been sharp the past month. Her stablemate Eskenformoney is 2-1-1 in four lifetime starts over the track for Pletcher, and she was 2nd to Genre by a neck at Monmouth July 31. Those two rivals will challenge each other a fifth time Dec. 17. With 19 races to her credit and 11 in the money finishes, Eskenformoney will challenge Genre and Curlin’s Approval for top honors again Saturday.

“They’ve run against each other and it’s been pretty close. They’ve been training together, too, so hopefully it’s a dead heat … for first,” Pletcher said. “I think both fillies have run well here at a one-turn mile and both have won at a one-turn mile here, and both of them seem to be training very well.”

The Rampart Stakes is Race 5 at Gulfstream on Sat., Dec. 17 with post time at 2:00 p.m. ET and will be followed by the day’s headliner in Race 7, the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes.