There's big stakes action this week. Three-year-olds take vital steps to the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks in both New Orleans and south Florida. And the Picks & Ponderings duo has these races covered, with Nicolle Neulist looking at the Gulfstream-based preps of the Florida Derby and Gulfstream Park Oaks and Paul Mazur looking at the Fair Grounds-based preps of the Fair Grounds Oaks and Louisiana Derby. This is the weekend of the Dubai World Cup, which Nicolle Neulist providing analysis of three major races on that rich card.
Despite the out-of-town focus in recent months, Picks & Ponderings has not abandoned its local focus. It has always been, and remains, a blog about Chicago racing. We just now have expanded our focus to include big races from other venues. Stakes races from Hawthorne and Arlington are still covered with the same energy, and the March 28 program sees the first two stakes in Chicago for 2015. They're for older Illinois-bred sprinters and carry a purse of fifty thousand dollars. Lumped together in the past - whether with other Illinois-bred stakes or on the Illinois Derby Day card, these stakes this year became stand alone events that anchor the later half of the March 28 Hawthorne card.
Hawthorne's simulcast feed is also free to watch on phones and tablets using the Horse Races NOW mobile app.
Hawthorne Race Course -- Race 7 -- Third Chance Handicap -- Six furlongs on dirt -- post time 4:50 pm CT
Formerly known as the Governor's Lady Handicap, this race for older sprinting females honors Third Chance. Co-owned by Chicago-based nightly news anchor Ron Magers, Third Chance (by Kafwain out of Temporada) won Illinois-bred stakes and was named a divisional champion at ages two, three, and four. She closed out her in the Cammack Handicap at Arlington in 2012 defeating Illinois-owned males. On the open stakes level she was third in the 2010 G3 Arlington-Washington Lassie. The race's namesake won this race when it was the Governor's Lady in 2012.
When last we saw the Illinois-bred female sprint division, it looked a lot like a coffee klatch group. In those klatch groups, there's someone different to pick up the bill. In the female sprint division, it means a new face each time around. So the same faces come back around - for twenty five thousand less than last year. A new face in form is EXQUISITE LADY, who beat males in clearing the two-other-than condition two back and annexed a third-level last time out. It won't be a free lunch for her on the front end - look for DOC GALORE from the outside stall to be on the pace, but EXQUISITE LADY does have gameness on the lead. That gameness was demonstrated three back beating SUMMER AGAIN, second in last fall's Powerless. Brought to you by the same owner as longtime sprint stakes stalwart River Bear. It's possible that EXQUISITE LADY and DOC GALORE duel themselves to death, and SCARLETRIDGERUNNER would reap the spoils. While she can be speed as she was last time out, she can pull back if the pace is wicked fast - as seen in a win to closer out her 2014. Perhaps she bit off more than she could chew in the stakes race at Oaklawn, and she has an obvious affinity for the local dirt - five wins in six career tries. Quality humans are behind this one - they've worked together nine times in the meet with two wins and two more podium finishes. With two speeds signed on that could fry each other, WIN'EM ALL could get the set-up. With Chris Emigh back in town after wintering at Oaklawn, it's a team that's reunited and one that frequently punts home winners on this circuit. Like SCARLETRIDGERUNNER she was in deep in the American Beauty for a hundred thousand down at Oaklawn. A past stakes winner, she might be back in form based off a podium finish in the Powerless. Goes blinkers on, which is a 26% success rate for the trainer.
#5 EXQUISITE LADY (2/1)
#2 SCARLETRIDGERUNNER (7/2)
#7 WIN'EM ALL (5/1)
Longshot: This space normally gives hope to the hopeless and throws out a horse lined at double digits on the morning line. But both have serious red flags: FIRE TRICKS is not on her best surface and is out of form; SUMMER AGAIN got in form last fall, but the form looks fleeting. Try #4 DOLLY PEACH (8/1), who hasn't won a state-bred stakes in three years but manages to nibble in these events - she was fifth in the Powerless and fourth in the Murphy last year. However, she's been hanging around types like Richies Sweetheart and Fleet Encounter, and doing so in open company. It's second off the layoff here for this runner (not so inspiring) but a runner that's got eight podium finishes in sixteen tries over the Hawthorne dirt. Maybe it's her turn to pick up the check in the coffee klatch.
Hawthorne Race Course -- Race 8 -- Robert S. Molaro Handicap -- Six furlongs on dirt -- post time 5:20 pm CT
For older male sprinters, this was race was formerly known as the Chicagoland Handicap and it honors the former state senator and racing advocate. Notable winners include River Bear, three time winner of this race in 2010, 2012, and 2014 and earner of nearly a million dollars.
The best Illinois-bred sprinter in the land remains Work All Week, but he's working his way back into form and shots at bigger prizes. In a race like this he'd be asked to race with a cinder block tied to his hoof.
Like the girls a half hour prior, this race projects a two-speed number on paper. Only this time around, RIGHT NOW RICHIE may be quicker from the gate and get the jump on the other speed, RAMBLING RICHIE. An Emmanuel Cosme/Steve Manley team-up, RIGHT NOW RICHIE might have found the Oaklawn race in the winter a bridge too far and he's back among the state-bred types, having hit the podium in an open twice-other-than allowance/optional claimer last out. Hasn't had a win since early October when he cleared the two-other-than allowance condition and has been in the claiming conditions on account of the dearth of races Hawthorne has beyond the N2X level that are not stakes. Should RIGHT NOW RICHIE and the other speed RAMBLING RICHIE get into a duel that fries each other, CREATIVE ART looks to get a catbird trip. CREATIVE ART beat RIGHT NOW RICHIE last time in an N2X/$25K allowance /optional claimer and has been a shrewd claim (though not the first) for owner William Stiritz. CREATIVE ART gets the additional asset of Vicente Guidel riding, who has been hitting all the right notes in his apprenticeship. The winner of the 2014 Lightning Jet - the fall complement of this race - LUV BANDIT returns here. He justified his sprint form by going around two turns at Oaklawn in an allowance/optional claimer over fellow local Hattaash and winning a route, but the move back to a sprint seems to be puzzle or scream "prep for later". Chris Emigh climbs aboard, which demands respect as does the swift work on March 18 at Fairmount. The Scott Becker/William Stiritz trainer/owner pair have two in here, and Becker is ten for thirty in training for the meet.
#1 RIGHT NOW RICHIE (8/1)
#3 CREATIVE ART (7/2)
#4 LUV BANDIT (9/5)
Longshot: Bounce or no bounce? After being winning stakes at two and being adrift at three, #6 RAMBLING RICHIE (10/1) came off the shelf last time out and won over stalking type CREATIVE ART and in-and-out type HAWK'S IMAGE last out. RAMBLING RICHIE was gelded before that start, so perhaps getting gelded unlocked his form. And perhaps it's made his mental make-up better. While RAMBLING RICHIE could regress (or "bounce") off his last race, he likely won't be pounded down in the wagering, making it a more appetizing wagering proposition to ask: bounce or no bounce? Apprentice Maria Thornton, who woke the dead on her last time, gets the repeat assignment.
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