In the Money

Horse racing insight that's loose on the lead

Kentucky Derby Path: Top Billing gets true test in second start

December 30th, 2013

By J.J. Hysell

Top Billing, a possible Kentucky Derby contender trained by Shug McGaughey, is entered in an allowance optional claiming race Friday at Gulfstream Park.

Shug McGaughey

Shug McGaughey

The race will provide a true test for the son of Curlin as it is at a distance of 1 1/8-miles.

Top Billing, owned by William S. Farish and E.J. Hudson, Jr., landed on the Derby radar with a sharp debut win going six furlongs over the slop at Laurel Park on Dec. 6.

Top Billing moved from his Fair Hill base to Payson Park Training Center in December to prepare for the transition.

Jockey Joel Rosario is named to ride Top Billing, who drew post five in the eight-horse field.

Also entered are the Todd Pletcher trained duo of Ichiban Warrior and Commissioner and Cousin Stephen, a maiden winner at Aqueduct trained by Chad Brown.


Kentucky Derby Path: Key 2-year-old races to close out 2013

December 27th, 2013

By J.J. Hysell

Several intriguing 2-year-old races are on tap to close out 2013.

On Friday, attention turns to the ninth race at Fair Grounds, an allowance optional claiming test at one mile and 70 yards.

Gold Hawk

Gold Hawk

Gold Hawk, a son of Empire Maker out of the champion mare Caressing, seeks to build on his impressive debut at Churchill Downs in November. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the bay colt has trained steadily over the Fair Grounds surface and retains jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. He is part of a Winchell entry with Zantastical, a son of Zanjero who is 1 for 5.

Bret Calhoun has a formidable duo in the race in Son of a Preacher (Miguel Mena) and Plug Catcher (Rosie Napravnik), both sharp debut winners at Churchill Downs who regressed in their second start. Son of a Preacher, a Florida-bred son of Pulpit, tested turf but didn’t show as much kick with a fifth-place finish. A return to dirt could propel him back to top form.

Albano, brother of Mark Valeski who was third behind Son of a Preacher in that key maiden race, has won two straight. Be Well, second to Son of a Preacher, won his next out and was second to Albano in the Sugar Bowl Stakes.

Son of a Preacher

Son of a Preacher

Plug Catcher’s debut win was over the slop, and he has more to prove as he faded to ninth with no apparent excuse in his first try at two turns on a fast Churchill Downs dirt surface. The son of Roman Ruler remains one to watch here, however, as he has trained superbly over this particular surface and adds blinkers.

Al Stall’s Purple Sky looked like the next big thing with a memorable last-to-first rally at Churchill Downs in his second start. In the same allowance as Plug Catcher’s recent start – won by Almost Famous – the son of Pulpit had some traffic trouble but was flat and finished seventh. He’s had a few works over the surface and Stall has been doing well with his juveniles, so an improved performance would not be a surprise.

Bayou St. John is an interesting contender for trainer Michael Stidham. The son of Bernstein won his debut over this surface and at this distance in an off-turf test that featured mostly experienced foes. If not here, look for this gelding when he does get the call on grass at sprint or middle distances.

Two races at Santa Anita catch the eye. In the third race, Bob Baffert’s The Admiral stretches out to a mile after a rallying third in his debut at six furlongs on synthetic. The half-brother of Madcap Escapade by Giant’s Causeway showed promise in that first run and extra distance on dirt should be his game.

Baffert also entered Icy Ride, a son of Candy Ride who was fifth behind Baffert’s very talented Indianapolis in his debut going six furlongs on synthetic.

Cool Samurai, second to Wicked Strong at a mile at Belmont Park in his debut, should contend for trainer John Shirreffs. Rough Passage, a son of Stormy Atlantic who as third to Beach Hut in his debut, and Fuzzy Logic round out the short field going a mile.

The second race should shed some light on the sixth race, an allowance optional claiming at six furlongs, as there are some parallels. Beach Hut returns here for Baffert along with Chitu. Although not likely to produce a Derby contender, this race features some who could emerge as talented sprint or middle-distance runners.

Beach Hut jumped up to stakes company and two turns off a debut win, and it proved too much for the son of First Defense, who was a lackluster seventh in the Real Quiet Stakes. He should bounce back with a return to dirt, a drop to allowance and the cutback in distance. It’s interesting to note, however, that Baffert is bringing him back in a sprint.

Chitu, a son of Henny Hughes out of the A.P. Indy mare Sea Gift, is a tough one to gauge. He won his debut over highly regarded Yard Line and The Admiral in front-running fashion going six furlongs. On the surface he looks like a solid sprinter, but there’s stamina aplenty on the dam side. Will he go to the front once again?

Street Icon is a valid contender with some very eye-catching works at Hollywood Park in preparation for this, his first race since finishing eighth in the Willard Proctor Memorial in June. In that race, the son of Street Boss was in contention until he suddenly dropped back. The sharp works indicate he’s ready for a comeback.

Papa Turf, fourth to Shared Belief in the Hollywood Prevue, returns to his preferred surface. Golden Gate invader Benny Time, a son of Benny the Bull, is half-brother of Sok Sok, a multiple stakes-winning warrior who was 12 of 52.

Other races of interest include the sixth race at Laurel Park, featuring Magdalena Bay, a Kiaran McLaughlin-trained filly by Distorted Humor making her debut, and the second race at Gulfstream Park.

A one-mile test on dirt, the Gulfstream race features one to watch for the future in Secret Someone. The Bill Mott trainee might not be a first-out winner, but the daughter of A.P. Indy out of Unbridled mare Private Gift is bred to excel at a classic distance.


One of the most anticipated non-stakes juvenile races is slated for Saturday at Santa Anita. Some serious pedigrees among the eight entered in the fifth race, a six-furlong maiden test.

Bob Baffert’s two contenders hail from strong female families. First-time starter Indian Smoke, a son of Zensational, is out of two-time Eclipse Award winner Indian Blessing. All eyes will be on this gray, whose sire dominated the California sprint scene in 2009.

Baffert’s other entry, Pimpernel, is by Elusive Quality out of the Eclipse Award-winning speedy mare Xtra Heat. This colt was third to Top Fortitude in his debut on synthetic at Hollywood.

Both Baffert colts boast super sprint pedigrees. There are a few here who could develop into serious route runners, including trainer Peter Miller’s Garen, a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Invasor by Street Cry who is making his first start.

Another top-notch pedigree – particularly for Churchill Downs – belongs to Chelios, a son of Distorted Humor out of the A.P. Indy mare Grat. Trainer Tom Proctor’s colt gets Gary Stevens for his debut.

Eoin Harty’s Tumbaga, a son of E Dubai, is one who could do well at first asking. Both Gameboy Luke (third) and Cherubim (eighth) exit the maiden race won by Indianapolis.

Two outstanding turf races for juveniles at Santa Anita are the Eddie Logan Stakes (race 4) and a one-mile maiden race (race 6).

In the fifth race at Fair Grounds, an allowance optional claiming sprint on turf, Solitary Ranger makes his first start since a disappointing ninth in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. He’ll face Gun Roar – a son of Bernstein making his grass debut (often a winning angle) – and speedy Florida-bred Copy Catter.

Other juvenile races of interest include: a full field of turf runners in the sixth race at Gulfstream, the Maryland Juvenile Championship Stakes at Laurel, the Red Hedeman Mile at Sunland and fillies in the eighth race at Tampa Bay.


Calm Water, a full sister to Emollient, makes her second start – and first on turf – for Bill Mott in the fourth race at Gulfstream Park.

The seventh race at Santa Anita, a six furlong maiden race, could emerge as a key test for fillies.


Kentucky Derby Path: Plans for Almost Famous, Coup de Grace, Conquest Titan, more

December 23rd, 2013

By J.J. Hysell

The Kentucky Derby trail is heating up as connections of several early prospects are making plans for the route they’ll take to Churchill Downs.

Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm announced Coup de Grace, the 2 for 2 son of Tapit trained by Chad Brown, is likely to make his next start in either the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25 or the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 18.

Coup de Grace made an impressive debut at Aqueduct and followed up with a sharp allowance win at Gulfstream on Dec. 15.

“His next race should let us know just how much talent he has,” Porter said.

Almost Famous, a son of Unbridled’s Song trained by Pat Byrne, is likely to make his next start in the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1.

Almost Famous

Almost Famous

Almost Famous, a Churchill Downs-based allowance winner who is 2 for 3, was scratched from the Kentucky Jockey Club the day of the race with a bruised hind hoof.

“The Gulfstream Park Derby is a good spot for him,” Byrne said in a press release. “It wasn’t originally in my plans, but he’s acting like he wants to run and he’s doing well. . . We’ll take it one race at a time, but obviously the Florida Derby would be a nice target, and we’ll go from there. Gulfstream is always a tough meeting.”

Two top Mark Casse trainees – Coastline and Conquest Titan – are currently based at Palm Meadows and are possible for the Holy Bull.

Coastline, a son of Speightstown, won the Street Sense Stakes and was eighth after a troubled start in his most recent race, the Delta Downs Jackpot on Nov. 23.

Conquest Titan delivered one of the most impressive performances of both Stars of Tomorrow cards at Churchill Downs with his last-to-first victory in an allowance on Nov. 30.

Trainer Larry Jones has a nice Derby prospect in Albano, brother of Mark Valeski, runner-up in both the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby.

Albano, winner of the Sugar Bowl on Dec. 21 and 2 for 3 overall, will likely stay based at Fair Grounds for his Triple Crown campaign, beginning with the Lecomte.



“We’ll just hope he turns out to be a few steps better than his older brother,” Jones said in the Fair Grounds notes.

Shug McGaughey recently issued an update on his top 2-year-olds, Honor Code and Top Billing, both at Payson Park in Florida.

On Honor Code, gutsy winner of the Remsen Stakes, McGaughey said: “I’ll probably start working him around the first of the year and see where it takes us. I would think the Fountain of Youth would – if everything went right – probably be in our plans, but before that, I don’t know.”

On Top Billing, a son of Curlin and an impressive debut winner over the slop at Laurel, he said: “I’ll look for a spot for him when I see the new (condition) book.”


Kentucky Derby Path: Who stands out in this weekend’s races

December 12th, 2013

By J.J. Hysell

The Road to the Kentucky Derby, May 3, 2014.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby, May 3, 2014.


A few stakes remain for Kentucky Derby hopefuls before the 2014 slate begins with a bevy of points up for grabs. This weekend features the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Saturday and the Springboard Mile at Remington Park on Sunday.

It’s important to keep in mind that the CashCall, at 1 1/16-miles, is run over a synthetic surface. How that comes into play regarding the first Saturday in May will depend on each runner’s multi-surface ability. Oxbow, a decent fourth in last year’s CashCall, went on to win the Preakness and finish second in the Belmont Stakes. His record shows he was a much better performer on dirt but was competitive on synthetic as well.

Five CashCall participants were included in the first Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby Future Wager: Tap It Rich (25-1), Tamarando (42-1), Shared Belief (32-1), Kobe’s Back (84-1) and Bond Holder (40-1).

I wouldn’t be surprised if Shared Belief continues his ascent. His Hollywood Prevue show was easily one of the best performances by a 2-year-old in California this season. This Jim Rome-owned talent is strides ahead of many of his peers. If you’re thinking Kentucky Derby, however, the prospects of this Candy Ride gelding transferring to a mile and a quarter over the fickle Churchill Downs dirt surface are quite dim.

Tamarando is one of the most consistent performers on this circuit and all three of his career victories have been on synthetic. A California-bred son of Bertrando with a middle-distance pedigree making his eighth start, he doesn’t fit the profile of a Kentucky Derby candidate. He’s taking on a classy group of foes but he fits here.

It’s tough to see Bond Holder return to synthetic when he showed some much flair on the switch to dirt in the FrontRunner. He fared well at Del Mar but it’s obvious he’s better in dirt routes. His fourth-place run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was better than it looks on paper and this Doug O’Neill trainee boasts bloodlines that have historically found success in long distance tests at Churchill Downs.

The Tap It Rich bandwagon stalled after his fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Bob Baffert’s colt was likely a victim of too much too soon when he jumped from a taxing debut win to the marquee Grade 1 challenge in less than a month. There’s reason to believe this son of Tapit can bounce back with solid efforts in route races – the question of a transfer to another surface is the dominant question. This is his first try over synthetic and he trains on dirt at Santa Anita. HRTV reported Tap It Rich will run with a different bit that is designed to help with his tendency to veer out.

Trainer John Sadler was reportedly unhappy with the far outside draw for Kobe’s Back in the field of 13. The colt’s second-place finish in the Prevue was a step in the right direction considering the long layoff. The son of Flatter has raced exclusively on synthetic and will be stretching out for the first time. He has the most to overcome and the most to prove.

Notes on a few longshots: Candy Boy showed an affinity for the surface and gets Gary Stevens in the saddle. His pedigree is super-synthetic. Karma King removes blinkers but looks more fitted to be a sprinter. Poker Player appears to be a multi-surface threat who excelled on a soaked synthetic surface at Keeneland that many of his foes found uninviting. Of the Kenny McPeek-trained duo of Sheikinator and Rankhasprivileges, Sheikinator – a son of Curlin – looks like one to watch for the future, specifically on dirt.

The Springboard Mile at Remington Park on Sunday features a field of 12. Last year, Texas Bling popped the 128-1 upset over Will Take Charge. Texas Bling is entered in an allowance at Remington on Saturday – ever the longshot at 15-1.

A solid performance would vault a few of these competitors into the Derby preps at Oaklawn next year, so it’s important to keep tabs on this race.

The accomplished Smack Smack, owned by singer Toby Keith’s Dream Walkin Farm, is the headliner. He’s 4 for 5 and boasts a win at this distance. The Don Von Hemel trainee, a son of Closing Argument, should not be overlooked if he makes the early Kentucky Derby prep scene.

After a foray into the world of turf and synthetic, Boji Moon returns to dirt, likely his best surface. It should be noted for the future that the Iowa-bred gelding, a son of Cactus Ridge, recently posted an outstanding work over the Oaklawn surface.

Trainer Larry Jones sends Divine View, a son of Divine Park who won his debut during the November night racing card at Churchill Downs.

Walt, a son of Run Away and Hide, has won both career races at Remington by a combined 12 lengths and is returning off just a week’s rest.

Others to watch from this race are the Wesley Ward duo of Pachanga Party, a Florida-bred sprinter, and New York-bred Noble Cornerstone, a debut winner who gets first-time Lasix and jockey Kent Desormeaux. Bret Calhoun’s Louies Flower is facing a true class test but has a nice pedigree for a stretch-out. Steve Asmussen’s Sapling winner Dunkin Bend boasts the class and has been training well over the surface.

On Sunday, Chad Brown’s Coup de Grace returns in an allowance at Gulfstream Park. Coup de Grace, a son of Tapit, topped out at 48-1 in the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager based on his debut win at Aqueduct on Nov. 9. Javier Castellano is named to ride Coup de Grace, who faces eight foes in the mile test.




Zaikov set to return Friday at Gulfstream

December 9th, 2013

By J.J. Hysell

Zaikov, who romped by 14 lengths in his debut in March at Gulfstream Park, is set to return to the track Friday in an allowance race at Gulfstream.



The gray 3-year-old, trained by Todd Pletcher, turned heads with his impressive first start against nine foes in a six-furlong maiden test. His final time was just as eye-catching: 1:09.78.


Zaikov was sidelined after that race with what Pletcher said was a minor shin issue, as reported by the Daily Racing Form.

Zaikov is by Distorted Humor and out of the champion mare Wait a While, a multiple Grade 1 winner also trained by Pletcher.

Zaikov, owned by Arindel Farm, is part of a 10-horse field in the six-furlong race, a $25,000 allowance optional claiming event. Jockey Javier Castellano is named to ride. Post time for race 6 is 3:05 p.m. ET.