Traditionally, the week before the Kentucky Derby is one of the quieter, less busy weeks on the racing calendar. Yet Picks & Ponderings keeps busy this weekend. From the East Coast, Nicolle Neulist previews the Grade Three Excelsior Handicap from Aqueduct. From the Midwest, Paul Mazur previews two Illinois-bred stakes from Hawthorne.
From the West Coast comes the Grade Three, $100,000 Last Tycoon Handicap. The history of this race, like nearly all races in Southern California in the Spring and Summer, traces to now defunct Hollywood Park. Formerly the Inglewood Handicap, it honored the city that hosted the former Hollywood Park. In 2013 the race went on haitus and in 2014 it returned to the stakes calendar under a new name, as the Last Tycoon. In its relocated life, the race remembers Last Tycoon, winner of the 1986 Breeders' Cup Mile. In the first BC Mile to be held at Santa Anita, Last Tycoon pulled a 33-1 upset under the riding guidance of Yves Saint-Martin.
Last Tycoon posts an upset in the 1986 Breeders' Cup Mile, the first Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. Video courtesy Youtube.
Whether with a nameplate for a city or of a BC Mile, the Last Tycoon (nee Inglewood) does have a nifty winners' roll. Southern California namesakes of the past like Swaps (1956) and Ancient Title (1973) and present like Native Diver (1963, 1964, 1966) and Gamely (1968) are among the heroes and heroines of this stakes that for many years was at a mile and a sixteenth but stretches out this year to a mile and a quarter. More recently, champion miler Leroidesanimeaux (2004) etched his name on the list. The namesake of this race, Last Tycoon, also shows up in the pedigree of 2015 Kentucky Derby contender Mubtaahij in the third generation.
All races detailed here are scheduled for April 25.
Santa Anita Park -- Race 8 -- Grade 3 Last Tycoon Handicap -- One and one quarter miles on turf -- post time 4:00 PM PT.
Can JOES BLAZING AARON steal this race on the front end? It might be possible with Tyler Baze in the irons, and it might get scrambled if ABBEY VALE is closer to the pace with a clean break like he was last time. While Santa Anita morning lines are often a source of inconsistency and consternation, it makes sense to try a one-way speed who could get clear on the front end and may not be challenged. And one who won't be favored. With Tyler Baze in the irons, you get a rider that's been on fire recently and one that won't hesitate to put a speed runner on the front end. With JOES BLAZING AARON, you get a horse that went from gate to wire last September at Belmont at today's ten furlong trip and was the controlling speed last out in the G2 San Luis Rey going twelve furlongs. Perhaps at the shorter trip and with less pace pressure he can thrive and provide a yes answer to the question at the beginning. Trainer Phil D'Amato puts two in the box, morning line favorite BIG JOHN B and ABBEY VALE. They occupy the bottom two spots with an edge to ABBEY VALE, who might get a nice mid-pack stalking trip in a race that beyond JOES BLAZING AARON, is devoid of speed. ABBEY VALE will be the higher of the two prices on the tote, and it's purely based on jockeys. But ABBEY VALE is also a last-out winner of a two-other-than allowance/optional claimer at nine furlongs over the local lawn. Five starts with no wins and two seconds at today's distance is a caution flag, but four of those starts were overseas in trickier fields. Perhaps he can get first run on the closers from the outside. The rider/trainer duo on ABBEY VALE have four trifecta finishes in the last five outs. BIG JOHN B attracts Mike Smith to ride, automatically declaring him a horse that takes tote action. Last seen over his head in the Breeders' Cup Turf against way better out-of-towners, he built some credible form last summer and fall with two three-turn wins at Del Mar and a third in the G2 John Henry. As he's unseen since last Fall, you have to wonder if he'll be fit enough or needs a race and doesn't fire his best. But the trainer hits at 23% wins and there is a steady listing of recorded works on BIG JOHN B.
#4 JOES BLAZING AARON (8/1)
#8 ABBEY VALE (3/1)
#1 BIG JOHN B (5/2)
Longshot: "He can't get the distance." You'll hear it a lot in the coming days when talking about Kentucky Derby fringe contenders and pretenders. In the here-and-now, #3 GANESH (8/1) is a horse who might find ten furlongs a good thing. He chased and ran evenly in the stretch in a one-mile turf race, and the son of Sulanami (winner of the 2003 Arlington Million, 2004 Pattison Canadian International et. Al.) may have found that race too short for his tastes. So Richard Mandella puts him on the stretchout after that first start in the states. That stretchout - and having a start under his belt - might help him run back to the form he demonstrated last year in South America with a four race win streak in 2014 that included a G2 and G1 win both at twelve furlongs. If you're thinking GANESH can't get the ten furlongs you may be mistaken, and Mandella has been having a very solid meet at Santa Anita.
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