After a week off , there are three stakes races on Saturday that will award points along the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail. 2016 Juvenile Champion Classic Empire returns in the Holy Bull (Gulfstream 12th), El Areeb, winner of the Jerome, returns in the Withers (Aqueduct 8th), and a non-distinguished group of five square off in the Lewis (Santa Anita 2nd). Let’s take a look at the Holy Bull.
Holy Bull (Gulfstream 12th) – This race is obviously centered around Classic Empire, who finished off his 2 year old year with wins in the Breeders Futurity at Kenneland and the Breeders Cup Juvenile en route to a unanimous Eclipse Award win, handed out on January 14th. Let’s take a look at the field.
1 – Gunnevera – This Antonio Sano runner comes off a 5-length win in the Delta Jackpot on November 19th. Gunnevera made a massive sweep from the back and was much the best of a field of questionable ability. We’d like to see the second place finisher, Hot Sean, a Bob Baffert trainee who was on the pace, come back and run but he hasn’t yet. He was dusted by Classic Empire at Keeneland and his Saratoga Special win was aided by a massive pace collapse. As the second choice, I want to see him run his last race again before I fully get on the bandwagon.
2 – Perro Rojo – He lingered at the back of the Mucho Macho Man on January 7th and has been beaten by double-digit lengths in each of his four stakes tries.
3 – Classic Empire – There’s not much to say about his obvious merits. He has run two races better (one much better) than anyone else in the race and even if he is not fully cranked to win today, it’s hard to see someone else jumping up and beating him. He’s a short price and a very likely winner.
4 – Talk Logistics – We’re writing this on Wednesday night, before the morning line comes out, and I think Talk Logistics will be the fourth choice, at worst the third choice, and he’s the underneath key. Watching the Mucho Macho Man back, he was clearly the trip horse you wanted out of that race. Here’s what we wrote in our review post:
The most interesting horse coming out of the race is Talk Logistics (#3) for trainer Eddie Plesa. This horse was in a good spot behind the pace into the far turn but was stuck waiting for room and shuffled back a few spots, even steadied a bit late on the turn. Finally, Paco Lopez took him to the far outside and he was moving very well late, though the top pair got the jump on him. It’s not out of the question to think he could have won if he had gotten clear sooner.
He stretches out to two-turns for the first time here and his pedigree doesn’t scream route racing but this is probably a spot he can handle. Depending on how aggressive Julien Leparoux is with Classic Empire, he should be able to be no worse than the 2-path, and maybe on the inside right behind the speed on the first turn.
5 – Irish War Cry – We’ve been a fan of this Jersey-bred since he debut in November for Graham Motion and he makes his first appearance in a graded stakes race here. He came from off the pace in his 6-furlong debut and wired the field (on a very slow pace) in the Marylander on New Year’s Eve. I was thinking that we would see him next week in the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay, likely an easier spot than this one, which feels like a confident move by his trainer. By Curlin, he should have no trouble stretching to two-turns today, but he’s going to be farther off the pace than last time (his pace figures are very slow), and face a much tougher field as possibly the third choice. I’ll root for him (it would be cool to have a Jersey-bred on the Derby trail), but I’m not convinced he’s ready for this.
6 – Fact Finding – This Pletcher charge comes off a December 10th win when he wired the one-mile Smooth Air in the slop, beating a very weak field. He is probably going to the lead but will have some talented runners right on his heels. We’re going to operate under the opinion that he has faced much weaker and this will be a tough spot for him to make his 2-turn debut.
7 – Shamsaan – This will be his first time on a fast track, but both of his dirt wins were in off the turf races against much weaker fields with slow speed figures.
8 – Cavil – He was the 5-2 favorite in the Mucho Macho Man and had to chase inside behind the winner Sonic Mule. It wasn’t necessarily an easy trip but he dropped back without posing a threat, and his one big race was a wire job in an off the turf race against a weak field. I’m skeptical of the big figure he ran in that race, though at least he’ll be a much bigger price in this one.
9 – Fire for Effect – He put in a nice off-the-pace rally to break his maiden on January 7th at this 8.5 furlong distance. That was a weird race that came up slow and was run on a sealed track. Plus, that was an ugly-looking race where the runner-up Monaco was all-in at the 3/8ths pole and the third and fourth place finishers were 43-1 and 34-1. Plus he has a bad post.
The Pace – I would expect Fact Finding and Cavil to be sent forward early to avoid being caught too wide on the first turn. Classic Empire and Talk Logistics should be right behind in good stalking positions.
The Play – I don’t have much interest in trying to beat Classic Empire. Our underneath key will be Talk Logistics. We’ll play a cold exacta Classic Empire over Talk Logistics and a few trifectas with Talk Logistics in second and third around logicals with Classic Empire on top.