Thursday, August 15, 2013

The 2013 Million

The Arlington Million
Thirteen will load for a very competitive and international iteration of the Arlington Million. Little Mike returns. I hated him last year and hate him again this year. Ramon Dominguez gave a clinic on thievery last year, lulling everyone to sleep behind Little Mike. Even Ditka who was at Arlington had the right choice with Little Mike. But there will be no lullabies this year thanks to Nate's Mineshaft who's gonna make this race honest.

I look more to class in turf races, but with a big and fairly evenly matched field, I'm gonna look deeper into the pace dynamics of this one. I think there'll be a lot of keen horses in this race, and that they could start fighting early; so I'm looking for a stayer. Grandeur has all the class and record to get this done, and he's had good luck in California so shipping shouldn't be a problem. He drew widest, but that could keep him out of trouble. There are no distance questions for this guy. He will hit the board, but I'm still gonna try to beat him. Mull of Killough is positioned nicely to get the first crack at blipping by a tiring front vanguard. He gets a jock that knows how to do it. Then there's Hunter's Light from Godolphin who gets lasix for the first time. All these Europeans should be tough as does South American Indy Point, but I'm looking domestic, to the rail. Real Solution held on well in the Manhattan last out to get third. It's hard to trust that speed figure, if you're using those for this race. It was likely inflated due to the prestige of the race and winner Point of Entry. I'm hoping he learned from PoE in that race who simply exuded class over the field to nab the wire while injured. Real Solution hasn't shown that sort of champion behavior, but the connections know how to inculcate it and I think the raw materials are there and could align. 

Real Solution
Mull of Killough/Hunters Light

Beverly D
Marketing Mix. Who knows, maybe someone can sneak a nose ahead like last year. Solid Appeal has a decent chance of doing that, but I guess there's the Euros Dank and Duntle; with names that make them sound like evil twins bent on thwarrting MM. I don't know much about either of the evil Ds, but imagine the stretch out in distance shouldn't be much of a problem. I'm gonna stick the chalk here because I think Marketing Mix has a very special ability.

Marketing Mix
Solid Appeal
Dank or Duntle

Pletcher gets the morning-line fave Jack Milton who comes out of a troubled trip in Virginia from which he took the place money. He makes a lot of sense here, but I also like the longshot Yeager who has no proven class but has been winning a lot lately. Grandeur's connections bring him along for a try in this, maybe an afterthought, who knows. I'm gonna give Tattenham from Juddmonte a shot in here as well. Desormeaux and Mott are still dangerous. I'm gonna play this horse to win as well.

Jack Milton

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Begins at Arlington
The city of two seasons: of visible breath and swollen feet has finally swung back to swollen feet. I think the races this weekend are going to be slow, and not because the heat. Because it looks like a plodderfest this Saturday with low level claimers topped with conditional state allowances. It can't always be stakes races at Arlington. And if you look at say the Grade I Mother Goose this weekend at Belmont, well I'll take a full field of plodders over 4 fast fillies. Let's get started.
Race 2 
You have to choose between speed, form and jockey. Enemy Fire is the speed and he's who I think will win. News Bulletin is in good form but he's also lost to Enemy Fire in the past and the cut back in distance does him no favors. Finally, Kent Desormeaux gets in the irons of Truebill, a closer who will have too much work to do even in good hands. With the heat the poly could be playing slowly. Use this race as a barometer.

Enemy Fire
News Bulletin

Race 3
A lot of old timers in this conditioned low-level claimer. Let's start with Pimm's O'clock, which is the British version of beer:30 (the lout's answer to what time is it). Pimm's is a ten year old that I'd love to see back in the winner's circle. I don't like the connections at all and have been frustrated with the way they've run. But at this level they could get it done. Next is Danny Miller's horse Sword and Shield who never seems to win but gets a big class break and cut back in distance but hasn't raced in many months. You won't find a win on his record over the past two years, but maybe just maybe. And if you like speed and a possible steal there's Mercadian who's been handling lesser animals as of late.

Pimm's O'clock
Sword and Shield

Race 4
Block sends a coupled entry into the race. Play the entry (1) on top, of course. Striking Hight is a nice horse, thrown to the wolves last out in a stakes race. Will he bounce back? Hard to say what it will do to his confidence. Shoot The Loop comes in off the layoff for Goldfine. He travels up in class after being on the bench, which isn't so great. I might try Lassell here.

Paired Entry (Laythatpistoldown and Fun on the Bayou)
Striking Hight
Race 5
Cheap Maidens! Blu Cobalto looks poised to win, and Kinzig comes from a red hot barn but what's with Shadwell Stable dangling a Medaglio Doro named Eben Zabeel before the claim box? Anything can happen here, but I don't like taking Shadwell's droppings.

Blu Cobalto
Eben Zabeel

Race 6
Phew! Why do we have 11 races today? This is one of the nicest ones actually. on the turf we have some top shelf first level colts. Catalano has a gaudy 41% win record and a young Empire Maker colt who started with Baffert on the coast. Coastal Empire started out slow but the light may have turned on for him. This is a typical pattern with this sire. You're not gonna get odds though on a horse that isn't class tested. Dale Bennet, also not shabby with the wins has a nice horse on the rail stretching out to break through, Next Speaker.  Most of the money could end up with Mike Maker's Wings of Fortune who tried the Lexington with poor results, but at least showing how the trainer feels about this animal. I'll be looking to get a price on Beyond Compare.

Next Speaker
Beyond Compare
Coastal Empire

Race 7
Chris Block has a lot of catching up to do to get his win percentage to where it should be. He can do it here with The Best Option. Running second in his form cycle; he should improve a bit off last and gets a little more room to hit the wire. Masquerade also looks sneaky good. The one that will take all the money is Left a Message who gets big class relief and a cut back. She should be able to push her class over these, and I'll watch the tote to see what I'm gonna do but I'm hesitant to take a very short price off the long layoff.

The Best Option
Left a Message

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Belmont

Seems like a very long time since Orb wore the garland. I guess that's a good thing. Spring should feel like it lasts forever. Just as the mint in the julep opens the season, the Belmont lets us know that summer is soon upon us.

I'm having a hard time settling on anything but the two expecteds in this one -- Orb and Revolutionary. Overanalyze is getting a lot of looks, but I can't help to think people are looking at this pattern of clunker, hit, clunker, hit and thinking he's due. I don't really trust that pattern. He did win one of the slowest Arkansas Derbies decisively and he gets Johnny V. I don't think his odds are going to be what they should, and that's something like 15-1. Freedom Child could take a lot of money. There's the tangle at the start that everyone now sees in dramatic photographic splendor. Do you want to go with a horse that popped in the slop on a speed-favoring day? I can hear the sound of mutuel slips blowing in the wind. I've never liked the cement-colored Oxbow and maybe I need to get over that, but I'm gonna need one more race opposing him. He will have contention on the front. Golden Soul was second in the Derby thanks to an astute ride by Albarado, but that may be all the gold this guy can pour this spring.

Pace has been the critical factor in handicapping the Triple Crown so far, and the pace has been opposite what the forms have suggested. So that leaves you little. It's very tough to win this type of race from far off the pace, but if there's a jock that understands Big Sandy it's Castellano. I think he'll make amends for moving too soon on Normandy, and maybe he needs to not be criticized for that ride. Most scenarios he wins that, but for some reason that's what I don't like about Casteallano and this might not be fair. But he never seems to have specific knowledge of the horse he's on. He knows the tricks that pan out and he's not afraid. He knows to bring his charge to the heat of the battle, but still. I feel the same way about Pletcher. That he understands it's a numbers game and he isn't going to get more specific in his understanding and tactics. But Pletcher seems to do well in the Belmont. And I think he's probably got a winner in Revolutionary.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Smattering of Stakes at Arlington

I love the Chicago rivalries that heat up on a Stakes days at Arlington. There's a mix of state and open stakes this Saturday starting with the Addison Cammack named in homage of a Chicago Railbird who was revered by about everyone that dealt with him at Arlington and Hawthorne. Some nice horses are shipping in including Turralure, Corporate Jungle, Great Attack and Drama Drama among others. And I love cheering for Hoo Why who continues her back from retirement rampage. Finally, the win percentage for trainer Chris Block is way too low for this very talented horseman; it will begin its correction northward this weekend.  

Addison Cammack 
Work All Week is not class-tested but he is the fastest in this race that kicks off the card with races spaced out for the Belmont Stakes simulcast. Midwest Thoroughbreds have staked out both the front end with WAW and the back with Sacred Gift. I don't see a grueling speed duel developing with the other speed Nagys Piggy Bank. I think NPB will sit off it because that's the way he wins his races. If he gets too close to the flame he burns out. With only 5 runners (the Midwesterners are not paired) there aren't many opportunities here; however, there is one horse that really likes polytrack that could be overlooked and his name is Four Left Feet. Moving out of the Janks barn isn't necessarily a good thing and he's been up the track in his last handful, but I think this guy wants to smell that burning rubber of the Arlington track. So I'm gonna put him under Work All Week.

Work All Week
Four Left Feet
Sweet Lica

Swoon's Son
An homage to the speedy Swoon's Son who set track records at sprint distances at Keeneland and Arlington. This race drew in some pretty big talent with Corporate Jungle who switches to Proctor and Turallure who was a hair shy of being the Turf Champ a couple years back. These two will take a lot of money as will local hero Workin for Hops. I'm gonna get a little sneaky and take Keep Up who was red hot ending a Kentucky campaign with a 30-1 victory in the River City Handicap. He's had trouble with a marred race and stumbling start after that but could be ready to make amends at a price. Corporate Jungle will be pounded by bettors and rightfully so, he's getting some much-needed class relief after running into Wise Dan on his ascent up the class ladder last year. Finally Turallure has been off form but has the class to make the frame.

Keep Up
Corporate Jungle 

Gaily Gaily
This is a tough one. I want to cheer for Hoo Why and this seems like a great spot for her, but Heavenly Landing has the class edge. I'll cheer for a dead heat. Closing Range also looks nice in this spot. Drama Drama is also desperate for some class relief. These are usually the races where I go with a horse on the upswing and let the classy ones drain everyone else's wallets, but I can't find a good candidate besides maybe Grandma's Rules, so I'm gonna stick with some boring, more intuitive picks here.

Heavenly Landing 
Hoo Why
Closing Range

Isaac Murphy
For backstory, it's hard to top Isaac Murphy. I simply can't do it justice like the amazing journalist Frank Borries who spent years searching for the Murphy's unmarked grave. Isaac Murphy was an African-American jockey who won the Kentucky Derby three times and had probably the best win percentage of any jockey.

And here's that Chicago rivalry I was looking for. Kip Berries has always been headstrong and has found a nice place in the turf dashes that Arlington loves to fill cards with. Here he's asked to go back to 6 furlongs on the main track, and I want him to get there. But it's probably not gonna happen. Algonquin Posse who comes with a name almost as good as Kip Berries will be tough to beat in this spot. Smiling Gambler could get up there too and Royal Posh makes a lot of sense here.

Algonquin Posse
Royal Posh
Smiling Gambler

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Onward to Arlington

Roan in the Paddock

     The Railbird is moving his tack to the Heights and going local. This meet I'm gonna dive into some early pick 4s and try to get to know Arlington a little better: its surfaces, connections and, of course, horses. I think it's gonna be a great summer. A time to put away the debates about slots and salix and enjoy racing and the rivalries that develop.

    The first question I hope to answer for all my railbirdamaniacs out there is why are they watering the polytrack between races. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What Happened that Night He Tore His Nostril?

Orb was the epitome of a sophomore, a wise fool, gifted with stride but unable to unleash it effectively. Shug wasn't going to race him in the Fountain of Youth, but changed his mind (losing his wunderkind jock, Joel Rosario, who had committed to another horse for the race thinking Orb would not run). For whatever reason Shug changed his mind and Orb took down Violence in a thrilling stretch duel that was easily the most exciting prep race this season. Violence would come out with an injury and Orb who'd somehow torn his nostril in his stall a few weeks before would take this win and never lose again. McGaughey still unconvinced he had a champion.

Can the difference between someone like Pletcher and McGaughey be epitomized by a wardrobe malfunction? How bout a bad equipment decision? For whatever reason, Pletcher decided to outfit Palace Malice in blinker for Derby 139 and he would run off with the race, smashing it to bits with a scorching pace. Collateral damage included Pletcher's Verrazano who was too close to the burning pace. This was fine for Orb who was guided without hitch down the stretch wearing the track over his coat, but having no pause to that opening stride that swallowed everyone.

Betting? Go cold on some trifectas today and have no regrets. Have fun. Don't be clever. Get absorbed by a storyline. I like the old Claiborne v. Phipps battle. Departing and Orb grew up close to each other. Orb is on another level, but Departing is ready to step up. And I like itsmyluckyday. I realize the danger in taking this guy who needs a certain track, but why not. I've loved him and had fun watching him.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Kentucky Derby 139 Selections

Normandy Invasion by Barkley Hoffman
I'm staying with the push-button hero Verrazano. Most of my bets will use him over Orb and Normandy Invasion. Orb has worked lights out, but will need a clean trip. Normandy Invasion has an amazing stride and I'm hoping he's closer to the pace in this one. Vyjack and Java's War make it into the funnies. I'm gonna oppose Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday on distance and Revolutionary I think will find trouble again. Good luck to everyone and happy Derby Day!

Normandy Invasion

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

1- Black Onyx
2- Oxbow
3- Revolutionary
4- Golden Soul
5- Normandy Invasion
6- Mylute
7- Giant Finish
8- Goldencents
9- Overanalyze
10- Palace Malice
11- Lines of Battle
12- Itsmyluckyday
13- Falling Sky
14- Verrazano
15- Charming Kitten
16- Orb
17- Will Take Charge
18- Frac Daddy
19- Java's War
20- Vyjack

Java's War

Java's War by Randy Pfeil

The Blue Grass Stakes was probably the most exciting race I've seen live. And it was won by Java's War in the last step. Palace Malice seemed to be home free as they turned, but Keeneland makes front-runners earn the wire. Palace Malice's stride was shortening, he'd changed leads more than he should have, all while Java was inhaling ground out over the center of the track, swallowing Malice just at the wire where his jock, Julien Leparoux, crop in hand, pumped his fist in the Lexington sunlight.

Mylute - The Charcoal Carrying Rosie

There's a new angle for me: Don't bet horses I can't paint. Mylute and Itsmyluckyday would qualify. Mylute is a gorgeous charcoal colt, but beyond looks and a good jock there isn't too much to love. He ran well in Louisiana but that race was marred and he just happened to be in the right place. Which isn't without merit, but he also should have gotten by Revolutionary. He's not likely to have another chance like that. When I started painting Mylute I saw a lot of upside, but the more I looked at what he's done, his breeding, etc. the less I liked. He is a looker though and I like his trainer.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


The one hundredth running of the Louisiana Derby was chaos down the stretch. It lacked a Hero of Order maybe. Or maybe that hero was Revolutionary. Kind of a tepid hero though. Revolutionary has reigned over races that have fallen apart. There was a nice duel with Mylute at the end, but we haven't seen a truly brilliant performance. We have seen courage and heart, and he makes the top ten.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


It's always nice to see a Shug McGaughey horse on the trail. He's not fixated on the Derby and even seemed a little surprised by the fast growth of Orb who hung on for a nice win in the Fountain of Youth. Violence on the inside there came out of the race injured after running the rest of the field off their feet in the early stages. Joel Rosario hopped off Orb for this race, but made up for that mistake by getting on Vyjack. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013


We have a gelding on the trail. Everyone loves a gelding even if he comes from a barn racing may not be willing to embrace. Vyjack is maturing and showing dimension. With Rosario in the irons he made a really wonderful lunge at the end to clear the overmatched Gothm field. At the end of the race I wasn't sure what to make of his chances on the trail. But his chances are growing in the nebulous search for a 3YO king.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Not sure if this watercolor takes in the size and flanks of this big boy. He's prodigious. He stumbled a bit grabbing a quarter out of the gate and was dragged off the rail by Velazquez but that raw talent and high cruising speed was there in the Tampa Bay Derby. He should destroy the field in the Wood. So far the hype seems warranted.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


It's still too early for me, but with the three day weekend I thought I'd get started on my Derby horses. Flashback is the opposite of battle-tested, but he's looked flawless. I was hoping that with the new point system there would somehow be a way to force the big stables to meet more along the trail, maybe Arkansas or Louisiana. But that has happened much lately, though the Risen Star could be a nice proxy war.

Post San Felipe
Flashback never got settled after Leparoux fought him early to make sure he didn't get boxed in. He locked eyeballs with Goldencents and the Felipe turned into an inferno. Hear the Ghost was able to snatch victory in the end. Giving Nakatani another shot at winning the elusive American Classic.

So what does this mean for Flashback? Very hard to tell. I go back and forth on whether or not I should trust a horse that tires at a mile and a sixteenth. My inclination is that it's not good at all, but we get to see if he can rebound in his final prep. He will need to take a big step forward -- both he and Leparoux.

Sunday, January 20, 2013



I've only recently learned how to pronounce this filly's name. For some reason I want to put the L somewhere later. She is out of Vertigineux (I'm pretty sure I still can't spell that right), which makes her half sis to Zenyatta. And she's by Bernandini, the stud responsible for Zenyatta's first foal. But anyone wondering genealogically about behavior and traits has to see some nifty comparisons between this scopy filly and her half sister, right down to the white cotton coming out of her ears meant to calm her. 

She's the perfect horse for Illinois, because you can't bet her. There's no way to make money off her success. And in Illinois, you can't bet anymore. Well not online or at a track. So perfect match. 

Anyway, I've hitched on to the hype of this filly because she is a lot of fun to watch. It's hard to say just how talented she is right now, but you get to see a filly learning how to run if you follow her now. She was slow to start and green in the stretch, playing the whole time. Still no problem dispatching a pretty mediocre at best field. Next stop is a Grade I for her, which should be a lot fun to watch. But that's why I like the Derby Trail so much. Watching horses learn is fascinating and extremely exciting. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Taxi and JJ

From a photo of Taxi (on right) and JJ

Magna Fortuna (a k a Taxi, thanks to his foaling date of April 15) was set to run in a Maiden Special Weight on the Thursday before Christmas at Hawthorne. A storm carrying thunder and snow was expected to hit and slog the pre-holiday frenzy of Chicagoland; it was good enough reason to escape to Hawthorne and see this colt with the incredible story. His well-bred mother spent part of her pregnancy struggling to stand in a kill pen meant to ship north to Canada for slaughter, but was somehow rescued by a brave woman who persuaded a man to sell her to her for $300. Her foal, Magna Fortuna, would run under the 11 saddlecloth in the seventh race. You can read the story here.

I sat near the connections who seemed jovial surrounded by a tarantula of camera equipment, boom mics and lighting. They had good reason to be proud and tell their story. In front of me sat one of Hawthorne's crew who had a nice table set up with what appeared to be his nephews and nieces who were excited to not be at school enjoying a rare trip to the racetrack with hamburger plates that came with silver warming covers and individual bottles of ketchup and mustard. He was explaining what was going on after the horses left the gate, how no one seemed to want the lead and the frigid headwind that came with it, but watching the break was more exciting than any analysis for the kids whose awed reflections I could see in the window as the first vanguard began to separate. Hearing him explain the race made me think just how hard it is to put into words the feeling I get when I see a band of thoroughbreds rushing past me at nearly 40 mph. How you play this scene in your head using these sheets filled with numbers then are clobbered with the reality, the life of it.

Magna Fortuna would come in a non-threatening ninth. He didn't look bad; he just didn't really know what he was supposed to be doing. It was his first race. He ran with the pack and came back to be unsaddled in front of his adoring fans who didn't seem to care where he finished; just that he was able to start.