2017 Holy Bull Stakes

Classic Empire Sets Sights On Holy Bull Stakes

After winning the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, all eyes are on Classic Empire to carry this class of three-year-olds towards the Kentucky Derby. The prohibitive favorite in the Kentucky Derby Futures Wager is already a 6/1 first choice, followed closely by McCraken and Mastery. Well get our first look at Classic Empire when he makes his season debut at the 2017 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream.

The choice to run him in the Florida circuit certainly indicates that Classic Empire will likely aim long term towards the Florida Derby. It’s the same pathway that Mohaymen took to get to the Kentucky Derby, though he was decisively upended by Nyquist at the Florida Derby. Still, Mark and Norman Casse seem to be very eager about their chances this coming spring. That all begins with a strong showing at the Holy Bull Stakes.

“Norman was very enthusiastic about the breeze,” Mark Casse said. “When you look at it from a time standpoint it is more about what he does after the breeze. He amazes us because you can’t get him tired. There’s been a lot of discussion about the 2017 Holy Bull between Mr. Oxley, Norman, and myself. I think we’re going to make it because I just think it’s good timing. I would say today is another step closer to the Holy Bull.”

The breeze that Mark Casse is referring to is a 7-furlong set that Classic Empire romped in 1:02 4/5. Classic Empire already seems to have a fairly loyal following so this news will bolster his support. But he’s by no means a homerun bet right now. The three-year-old class this year has noone that is peerless. Classic Empire is merely the horse that’s made the most of his given opportunities.

Still, Casse is overly exited about his big lead, especially as a pathway to the Kentucky Derby begins to take a more definitive shape. “He’s a bit of a bad boy, there is no doubt about that,” Casse said. “I was talking to Mr. Oxley this morning and said to him, ‘He’s different than most horses. He’s absolutely brilliant, but what makes him so good, also makes his bad.’ The fact  he is tireless, makes him tough. Somebody the other day said he walks like a panther, and that’s what he does—always ready to pounce.”

The field for the upcoming Holy Bull Stakes doesn’t have much of a field just yet but more names will surely step up to take on the derby favorite in the weeks to come.

Prize Exhibit Dominates Megahertz

Prize Exhibit’s late burst of speed in the $100,000 Megahertz Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita Park on January 16 led to her storming past the rest of the field en route to a 1 1/4 lengths win.

From post position two, Prize Exhibit and jockey Mike Smith raced off the pace set by long shot Poster Girl, who set early fractions of :23.72, :47.93, and 1:12.29 through the first six furlongs. Once the field entered the stretch, Smith got Prize Exhibit to move to the middle of the track and surge past the field. She did exactly that and wound up winning the race in a time of 1:36.56.

Jeremy’s Legacy would finish second and Into The Mystic came in third. Prize Exhibit paid $8.80, $4.40, and $3.40. Jeremy’s Legacy returned $9 and $4.60. Into the Mystic paid $3.40.

“I was able to get her to relax early and she can be on the rank side,” said Smith. “Sometimes, going into a race where there’s not much pace, everyone thinks the same thing and it worked out that way today. We took advantage.

“I got a clear trip today. I’ve been handcuffed the last few times I’ve been on her, with traffic in front of me and never had a clear path. I got her out in the clear today and it was great.”

“She finally got the trip that she needed,” said owner Deron Pearson. “Mike rode her perfectly. I think she got the ground that she wanted and it worked out well. I was a little concerned the pace was too slow, but she’s got the best kick of any of these horses in the race and she showed it today.”

In 31 career starts, Prize Exhibit had won seven races and placed in additional five.

Smarty Jones Preview: Uncontested Has Unrelenting Speed

Uncontested Will Wire Monday’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn

The Smarty Jones Stakes is set for Monday at Oaklawn Park, and the MLK holiday race has drawn a field of 8 for $150,000 purse. Uncontested is the 2-1 favorite and looks uncatchable, while the top 2 challengers on the morning line break from the inside with Petrov (5/2) on the rail and Warriors Club (7/2) on his outside. Rowdy the Warrior (6/1) and Unbridled Eagle (8/1) are additional challengers who will need a fast pace to have any chance to catch the favorite.

Uncontested is the favorite in the Smarty Jones Stakes

The 10th running of the Smarty Jones is a 1 mile prep race for the Arkansas Derby April 15 at Oaklawn, with winners expected to move on to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Uncontested is one of three runners from the Nov. 26 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), and he led that race through a blistering quarter and into the far turn before fading to fourth. He broke from the far outside post that day, and jockey Channing Hill should be able to ration his speed and energy better out front this time. Uncontested possesses a great deal of natural speed, and will be the one to catch again. Warriors Club chased the early pace and finished a head in front of Uncontested in the Kentucky Jockey Club, while Romeo O Romeo (12-1 finished last in the 12 horse field.

Petrov comes out of the weaker 3-year-old sprint division in New York. Like the favorite Uncontested, Petrov is 1-for-2 and now stretches out. He did work a strong 4 furlongs Jan. 11 at Oaklawn breezing in 48.20 which was fourth fastest of 121 runners that day.

Warriors Club is a D. Wayne Lukas trainee who has made 7 starts with a 1-1-3 record. He’s continued to improve and showed more in his first stakes try in the Kentucky Jockey Club. He won a minor stakes at Churchill to break his maiden, and the horse he beat was well regarded Cool Arrow, who came back to win while beating Rowdy the Warrior and Cu Rahy, who is in here at 15-1. That race was very slow, and Rowdy the Warrior would benefit from a very fast pace.

Unfortunately for all challengers, Uncontested is not likely to give up the lead in this race. He looks primed to carry out his speed and utilize Oaklawn’s short stretch in this 1-mile race. Jockey Channing Hill should be able to ration out his speed and carry it through to the finish with expected improvement.

The Smarty Jones Stakes is Race 8 at Oaklawn Park on Monday, Jan. 16. The 1 mile race is set for post at 4:38 pm ET.

Dixie Union Mare Tops Keeneland Sale

Susie Hart and Dr. E.C. “Pug” Hart had one goal in the penultimate session of the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale: find a replacement for the late mare Miz United States. They did so in the form of Dixie Victory, who was the day’s sales topper at $100,000.

Dixie Victory was purchased under the name of Willow Wood. She is the daughter of Dixie Union and was consigned as Hip 1457 by Shawhan Place.

“She’s a beautiful mare,” said Susie Hart. “She was the right physical, had the right look, had a live pedigree, and is a half sister to a current graded horse. I wanted to buy her for $50,000, but all the smart guys are here. Any time a really good one comes in, you can’t hide them.”

Dixie Victory will have a lot to live up to, as Miz United States was a multiple stakes winner and produced Exaggerated, Ameribelle, and Scampering. “I loved her. She was a great mare,” said Hart. “I was looking for a replacement for her, so hopefully this mare will be with us for a good long time.”

The $100,00 sales price was well above what the consignor expected. “We were surprised,” said Shawhan Place’s Matt Koch. “We knew she was going to do well. She was popular at the barn and very well received. You are always excited when one goes beyond your expectations. Obviously we were extremely happy.”

The session saw 209 horses sell for $2,489,600 for an average sales price of $11,912. Those numbers are both down compared to last year.

La Canada Stakes preview

La Canada Stakes Led By Vale Dori

Despite some rough weather hitting California over this week, Santa Anita looks on track to present the 2017 La Canada Stakes this coming weekend. The $200,000 race will feature much of the same field that competed at the Bayakoa Handicap in early December 2016. Only one of the entrants in this weekend’s tilt was not included in that race.

That standalone is Enduring Erin, a seven-year-old veteran who has a record of just 7-3-7 in 32 starts. Enduring Erin has no notable finishes in any stakes race, so she’s likely to be the longshot. Santa Anita is simply her home track.

Vale Dori is the anticipated favorite after winning the aforementioned Bayakoa Handicap over Wild At Heart, who came second. With a record of 4-1-1 in seven starts, Vale Dori is undoubtedly the most accomplished competitor in the La Canada Stakes field.

Not to be outdone, Wild At Heart has shown the type of consistency that handicappers appreciate. A strong record of 2-2-4 in 9 starts shows that she’s a more than apt show bet, and the daring play here is for her to place behind Vale Dori for a second time. Of any play, an exacta box on the two is the most logical wager at the La Canada Stakes this Saturday.

Rounding out the field are Autumn Flower and Show Stealer, who finished 6th and 4th respectively at the Bayakoa Handicap.

La Canada Stakes – Santa Anita Park on Saturday, January 14th (5:30pm EST)
1 1/16th Miles – 4+ Year Old Fillies & Mares – $200,000

PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1 Vale Dori (ARG) Mike E. Smith 125 Bob Baffert
2 Show Stealer (KY) Tyler Baze 120 Art Sherman
3 Wild At Heart (KY) Flavien Prat 120 Richard E. Mandella
4  Enduring Erin (KY) Corey S. Nakatani 120  Richard Baltas
5 Autumn Flower (KY) Drayden Van Dyke 120  Dan L. Hendricks

Oaklawn Park Offers New Show Bet Bonus

Show Bet Bonus Rewards On-Track Show Betting

Oaklawn Park is offering a new wagering option with the start of its live meet Jan. 13. Management is offering an incentive to show betting with its new “Show Bet Bonus.”

The financial incentive will be accomplished by reducing the takeout on show wagers and thus increasing the amount paid back to customers.

“We believe one of the biggest challenges in racing is attracting new fans and getting them to return,” Director of Gaming and Wagering Bobby Geiger said. “Racing and its terminology can be intimidating. Plus, if a first timer gets caught up chasing more complicated wagers, there is a good chance he or she will spend that entire first day at the races and never enjoy one of the best parts – the thrill of picking a winner and cashing a ticket.

“This year, we hope to improve the on track experience by providing a financial incentive to participate in show wagering – the easiest bet in racing. Unlike a trifecta where a person has a one in 720 chance of winning in a 10-horse race, the show pool gives players three chances in 10; you cash a winning ticket if your horse finishes first, second or third.”

Show bets made on-track will have a low 10 percent takeout. Show bets made off-track will still have a 17 percent takeout. What this does is create a 7 percent bonus in the price of show payouts made on-track.

Oaklawn purses have climbed steadily each year due to profits from Instant Racing and other casino type games. Now management is offering a new idea that should create more handle and interest in the “show”.

Fans will be able to follow the Show Bet Bonus throughout the race day on a special display that will appear on the tote boards and will be shown on in-house TVs. The display will clearly indicate the higher payout on every winning show wager made at Oaklawn.

Oaklawn’s live 57-day racing meet runs from Jan. 13-April 15.

Joyfully Leads the Way at Keeneland on Day 2

The Keeneland January horses of all ages sale Day 2 got a quick headstart straight out of the gate with one of the first horses through the ring, mare Joyfully, selling for $575,000 to International Equities Holdings.

Joyfully is the five-year-old daughter of Mineshaft, a former Horse of the Year award winner, and in foal to American Pharoah. She was consigned by Paramount Sales as Hip 389. Before being sold, a 2016 colt by her and Uncle Mo was sent to Key Palm Stable for $370,000. Joyfully is unraced and a half-sister of grade three winners Auntie Joy and Divine Oath. American Pharoah and Uncle Mo are both standing at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud farm.

“It was a great price for both mare and foal,” said Paramount’ Sale’s Pat Costello. “They were two lovely horses. Her first foal, the Uncle Mo was a cracker. He was a beautiful, big walking horse so he deserved to bring that price. He vetted out perfect and was a good colt. And the mare was absolutely beautiful and when they produce that kind of a foal, you know they’re a good mare.

“That particular package was a beautiful package and probably stood out in the sale.”

International Equities Holdings’ Oussama Aboughazale mentioned Joyfully would eventually be bred to War Front sometime this year. “She (Joyfully) is just lovely and her foal looked very well,” said Aboughazale. “I think it’s a good buy.”

2017 Sham Stakes Gormley

Gormley Brilliant at 2017 Sham Stakes

After a disappointing run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Gormley had plenty to prove heading in to the 2017 Sham Stakes. He was listed as the 8/5 second choice behind even money favorite American Anthem, who would make his stakes debut. It was an absolutely pulse pounding battle between the two three-year-olds that left everyone in attendance gasping on the edge of their seats.

American Anthem took the early lead but was quickly drafted and then matched by Gormley to start the race. The pair took the field out at :22.54 for the quarter and :45.46 at the half, marking an incredibly fast pace considering the muddy state of Santa Anita Park’s track. They hit the three-quarter pole at an equally impressive 1:10.13 before ripping down the homestretch side by side for a photo finish. At the wire, Gormley was able to stretch out by a nose to seal the victory in the 2017 Sham Stakes.

Trainer John Shirreffs was thrilled with the strategy employed during the race, noting that a fast start was pivotal to Gormley’s success in the 2017 Sham Stakes. “He’s quick. He starts quick and he gets away quickly, but then he checks himself as he gets into the race and he relaxes,” Shirreffs quipped. “It was great to see him pick it back up again and get it done.”

Winning jockey Victor Espinoza echoed this sentiment. “It didn’t surprise me how well he broke out of there today. When he’s feeling good, he breaks quickly and is already running. In the Breeders’ Cup, he broke slow, but today he came into the race in really good shape and got into it right away.”

In making his debut against one of the faster horses in three-year-old field, American Anthem was impressive and this experience will help mould the Bob Baffert trainee as we continue down the derby trail.

Gormley was worth $5.20, $2.80 and $2.40 with his 2017 Sham Stakes victory while American Anthem returned $2.60 and $2.20. Big Hit essentially ran in third for the entire race and delivered $3.60 at 11/1 odds in the 2017 Sham Stakes

2016 eclispe award nominees

2016 Eclipse Award Nominees Announced

The 2016 Eclipse Award nominees were announced on January 5th, and leading the way are California Chrome, Arrogate and Songbird who each earned nods for Horse of the Year.

Each of those oustanding performers also find themselves in the appropriate age/gender categories as well. California Chrome is one of the 2016 Eclipse Award nominees for Older Horse of the Year along with Frosted and Lord Nelson. It’s virtually impossible for either of those to build a case for outclassing California Chrome in this category.

Arrogate, who capped the season with an awesome Breeders’ Cup Classic victory, will contend with Exaggerator and Nyquist for the award given to the best amongst three-year-old colts. The 2016 Kentucky Derby winner and the 2016 Preakness Stakes winner have both since retired, while Arrogate is poised to have an incredible four-year-old campaign. Arrogate did not compete in the Triple Crown series, or any of the prep races, as a late bloomer who emerged out of nowhere at the Travers Stakes in August.

Songbird is in the three-year-old fillies category along side Cathryn Sophia and Queen’s Trust and the previously undefeated champion is more likely to win here than as the Horse of the Year. Had she fended Beholder at the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, there might be a genuine argument for her taking top honours.

A full list of the 2016 Eclipse Award nominees can be found below. The awards ceremony will be held on January 21st at Gulfstream Park.

Horse of the Year Finalists: Arrogate, California Chrome, Songbird
Two-Year-Old Male: Classic Empire, Not This Time  , Practical Joke
Two-Year-Old Filly: Champagne Room, Lady Aurelia, New Money Honey
Three-Year-Old Male: Arrogate, Exaggerator, Nyquist  
Three-Year-Old Filly: Cathryn Sophia, Queen’s Trust, Songbird
Older Dirt Male: California Chrome, Frosted  , Lord Nelson
Older Dirt Female: Beholder, Cavorting, Stellar Wind
Male Sprinter: A.P. Indian, Drefong, Lord Nelson
Female Sprinter: Finest City, Haveyougoneaway, Paulassilverlining
Male Turf Horse: Flintshire (GB), Highland Reel, Tourist  
Female Turf Horse: Lady Eli, Miss Temple City, Tepin
Steeplechase Horse: Rawnaq (IRE), Scorpiancer (IRE), Top Striker
Owner: Juddmonte Farms, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Spendthrift Farm
Breeder: Clearsky Farms, Darley, WinStar Farm
Trainer: Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, Mark Casse
Jockey: Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, Mike Smith
Apprentice Jockey: Kevin Gomez, Lane Luzzi, Luis Ocasio

I’m a Chatterbox Ready for 2017

Trainer Larry Jones and owners Carolyn and Fletcher Gray keep preparing multiple grade I-winner I’m a Chatterbox at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for her 2017 seasonal debut.

Last year saw I’m a Chatterbox’s sophomore campaign nominated for an Eclipse Award and the daughter of Munnings ended her age-four racing season in great shape. That was evidenced by a morning work on January 5, which saw her complete a half-mile run in a time of :48 1/5.

“She went really well,” Jones said. “Hopefully we don’t have any issues with the quarantine and all will be on schedule for the ($400,000, grade 3) Houston Ladies (Jan. 29 at Sam Houston Race Park).

“She’s really done well and was running her best numbers of her career at the end of the year,” continued Jones. “We didn’t give her too much of a break. Basically we just gave her a couple weeks to recover in Kentucky after the Breeders’ Cup and brought her to New Orleans to prepare for this race. After this she may get a break before preparing for the rest of the season.”

I’m a Chatterbox comes from the Lost Soldier mare Chit Chatter. She won three of her six starts last year, earning a shade over $965,000. Two of her more prominent wins came in the Delaware Handicap (gr. I) and the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I). She also finished in fifth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I)