Winter has still not quite come to Hawthorne yet, though it is inching close. Gone are the sixty-degree days...though temperatures in the forties are still rather warm for 35th and Cicero this time of year. After a week off for Christmas, Hawthorne has a full card of nine races on Saturday, including a four-pack of maiden races.
In addition to this coverage of Hawthorne, Picks and Ponderings also has coverage of Santa Anita's four stakes races for Saturday's opening day. Our own Paul Mazur will also be on Elite Racing Network on Saturday afternoon between 3:30pm and 5:30pm CST, to discuss Saturday's stakes races at Fair Grounds.
Edited on December 26 to reflect muddy track conditions.
Hawthorne Race Course - Saturday, December 26
Race 1: $17,500 maiden claiming, two-year-olds, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 12:50pm CST
Selections: Waverly Avenue (7), Awesome Citizen (6), River Place (3)
Waverly Avenue is a first-time starter, but there is some pedigree precedent for success, since one of the runners out of his dam (Mutabayen) won first time out at age two. Though there was a long gap in his worktab from May to October, he has been regularly drilling since the end of October, which means he should be fit here. Victor Santiago has the call to ride. Santiago wins at 21% in sprints, and his +0.54 ROI with Brisnet N/A types suggests he can boot maidens home at prices. Awesome Citizen has six starts underneath him, more than anyone else in this field. What makes him interesting here is speed. There looks to be very little early speed here other than him. Unless one of the first-timers guns it, rider Hulio Felix could set him on the front and lead the field around. This appears the right class level for him, given the improvement he showed last out (his first time at this level). River Place was third against state-bred $17,500 maidens, and goes into open company at that price here. It is a slight rise in class, but his speeds are in range, and he has the potent duo of trainer Jim DiVito and Tim Thornton behind him. That pair has been 4-9 to win and 6-9 in the money over the last two months. DiVito himself wins at 22% with juveniles, and 20% in maiden claimers.
Race 2: $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, non-winners of a race since July 22, races where entered for $4,000 or less not considered for eligibility, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 1:20pm CST
Selections: Nachas and Joy (3), Winningcherokee (4), Flathead River (7)
Nachas and Joy has been favoured in his last ten starts, but stands to go off at a bit of a price with Canterbury runner Winningcherokee and perpetual money-burner Limeshare in the field. Nachas and Joy comes second off the lay for trainer Jim DiVito, a winner 30% of the time in that circumstance. He has the versatility to send (if Flathead River does not) or rally from midpack. A return to form second off the lay should beat this set. Winningcherokee races for the first time since July, but trainer Clay Brinson wins at 23% with runners laid off three months or longer. He is a mid-pack type, but can rally into slow to nonexistent paces. This is easier company than he wa sfacing a Canterbury this summer, and he has solid lines at Hawthorne and the distance. Flathead River gets a rider change from Killian Hennessy to Julio Felix. As Flathead River is a speed horse, the change away from Hennessy (who almost always rode off-pace, no matter a horse's typical style) is key. With no other can't-rate types in the field, and two money finishes against similar when he was taken off his usual running style, Flathead River could be in the right form and place to wire this.
Race 3: Maiden special weight ($20,000 purse), two-year-olds, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 1:50pm CST
Selections: A Lucky Dream (7), Little Nubb (5), Yenisey (2)
This maiden special weight field looks wide open, so why not take a long price with some things to like? A Lucky Dream starts for the third time, and has been well beaten in his two races. Still, those were both polytrack sprints. This will be his first time on dirt, and first time at two turns. Two turns should help this one a lot -- he is by Sidney's Candy, and half to two-turn type Indianaughty. He has been posting works frequently since mid-November, so as long as he looks fit in the paddock, the price should be right to bet that two turns wakes this one up. Little Nubb starts for the second time, and is another first-time route runner. The breeding on him is all route -- his dam produced a stakes winner at 1 3/16 miles, and unraced sire Like Minded is by Mineshaft out of Fantastic Ways. Fantastic Ways, a daughter of Secretariat, was a stakes winner at nine furlongs. Little Nubb was third against similar last time out, and should improve further going two turns. With the rain that has fallen, Yenisey -- the Vashchenko B entry -- gets a look. Shorter-priced Cortege may be taking a class drop here, a big one, but he did not exactly love the slop out at Churchill. Yenisey has not tried slop yet, but so far, four of twelve starts by Trappe Shot babies over off tracks have been wins. It is a small sample, of course, but for a trainer who wins 19% of the time with horses moving from maiden claimers to special weight -- and hits the board 50% of the time in that situation -- he is worth a try at a price.
Race 4: $7,500 maiden claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 2:20pm CST
Selections: Ensonador (5), Refashion (3), Allibadalli (2)
Without a lot of speed in this race, Ensonador threatens to wire. She gets a switch to Victor Santiago, a strong front-end rider, and her speeds are typically in range compared to what he faces today. The fact that she has only started seven times is also a plus, as this field is full of career maidens who have started ten, fifteen, even twenty times before. Refashion is the one to beat here. She comes in third off the lay, and was second last out in her first try against this level. That finish came over this same course and distance. Though she rallied from the clouds in that start, the pace that day was hardly breakneck, and there is no one who towers over this field like the horse who passed her last out, Astronomy. Allibadalli is a swing, at 20/1 on the morning line. However, she has never tried a route distance before. Being by Senor Swinger out of a Sunday Break mare, her breeding suggests she should have gone long sooner. Her sprint form has been poor, but as a runner likely to drift even longer than her morning line, her breeding is enough to merit a shot against this weak field.
Race 5: Maiden special weight ($20,000 purse), two-year-old fillies, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 2:50pm CST
Selections: Northern Sweet (10), Crusader Girl Too (6), Bella Carmella (5)
Northern Sweet debuted last out; she drew the rail, and never got involved. However, there is precedent in her pedigree for her to figure it out -- full brother Copus won second time out at age two, and half-sister Cooper's Keeper graduated fourth out at three. Furthermore, trainer Bradlee Rainwater has a +$5,00 ROI with second-time starters, with five wins in fourteen starts. The outside post should keep her out of trouble, and she gets a switch to rider Jesse Lantz, who has been red-hot with Bradlee Rainwater (4-10 wins, 7-10 in the money) over the last two months. Crusader Girl Too has impeccable mud breeding -- Bellamy Road out of a Tiznow mare. With the rain today, this comes into play. She is a first-time starter with a bit of precocity in her pedigree, too. Bellamy Road babies win at 10% first time out, and she is half to Frabster, who won second time out at two. Add to this the fact that trainer Michael Reavis wins 20% of the time in maiden specials, and rider Victor Santiago wins sprints 21% of the time, and Crusader Girl Too looks strong. Bella Carmella looks the speed of this field. She sent last out against state-bred maiden special weight types, and finished third beaten just two lengths. She changes to rider Juan Molina, a 19% rider with front-end types, and a 21% winner in sprint races.
Race 6: $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, N3L, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 3:20pm CST
Selections: Mongolian Union (2), Back From Africa (4), W W Orient (5)
Though Mongolian Union just cleared N2L last out, his best races fit well in with this. He has hit the board in four of five starts over the Hawthorne track, and though he may be a bit better at six and a half furlongs than six, his 10-1-2-5 line suggests he is no slouch at this distance, either. In a field so full of inconsistent types, Mongolian Union's reliability makes him attractive. Back From Africa is the most lightly-raced of this group. He won his first two career starts, both earlier this meet at Hawthorne. He stretched to a route against $12,500 beaten company last out, and was well beaten. Here he cuts back to a sprint distance at which he has won before, and drops against easier company than he faced last out. Trainer Clay Brinson is sharp with these big class drops, and also has a +$2.45 ROI with these sprint-route-sprint patterns. He looks back in the right place. W W Orient has typically gone long. He finished off the board in his only try at six panels, but that was at Fairmount against protected company. A son of Orientate out of a Marino Marini mare should be worth trying at a sprint again, versus a level at which he has hit the board before. In terms of pace, he does his better work close to the pace, but can also rally from a length or two off -- a useful style with no slam-dunk can't-rate types, but plenty of possible speed. Finally, the connections appeal: he runs for the old Emigh/Becker/Stiritz triumvirate who has owned this meet.
If the track remains wet this late in the card, don't sleep on Smokey's Bandit (8). He found a career best performance last out, in his first race over the slop. That comes as no surprise, given that Discreet Cat babies tend to do well on off going. His best races have come making early rallies from midpack. Here, he will likely get a good bit of speed in front of him, and the outside post should give him some room to make that run.
Race 7: $12,500 claiming, three-year-olds and up, three years old OR N3L, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 3:50pm CST
Selections: Turbulent War (7), Wildwood's Afleet (4), Red Warrior (10)
Turbulent War is a pure pace play here -- a 15/1 morning line horse who is one-way speed in a race where no one else really likes to go to the front. He has also won his only start over off going, making him an even stronger play if there is still moisture in the track this late in the day. Both of his wins have had him in front at every call. Last out, against this level of company, he gunned it to the front, though was a little rank, and went too fast. He faded to fourth. However, both of his wins did have him carrying his speed a mile and a sixteenth, and he has had a sharp work since that last start. If new rider Edgar Perez can get him to calm down just a bit, he could win this game of catch-me-if-you-can, blowing up the tote in the process. Wildwood's Afleet was claimed away from trainer Scott Becker two starts back -- and re-claimed by Becker for this same $12,500 tag last out. This is a bit tougher company than Wildwood's Afleet beat last out, since that was an N2L race, but he was second in his only attempt over two turns. That came after he got burned in a speed duel. Wildwood's Afleet has been better from off the pace than on the fractions, and if rider Chris Emigh can get him to relax a bit, he could get first -- and best -- run on Turbulent War. Outside-drawn Red Warrior takes a huge class drop here, down from $50,000 beaten company at Keeneland and Churchill in his last two starts. His speed figures are strong, and he has been in the money in four of five tries over the Hawthorne dirt. The big question with Red Warrior is his running style. He does his best work rallying from well off the pace, suggesting he may be left with a lot to do with so little speed in this race. Still, he has rallied well into less-than-heady pace setups before, and has a shot here as a result.
Race 8: Allowance ($21,000 purse), three-year-olds and up, Illinois-bred, non-winners of $9,800 once OR non-winners of a state-bred race other than maiden, claiming, or starter OR N2L, six and a half furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:20pm CST
Selections: Even Fever (6), Lazylovin (2), Prize Native (7)
I don't always pick last-out $5,000 claiming winners to beat allowance types next out, but when I do, they have as much as Even Fever has going for him here. This is a six and a half furlong race, and Even Fever has hit the board in five of seven starts. He also has a strong 19-5-8-2 line over the Hawthorne main -- all of his wins have come here. He can win from the front end, a stalking spot, or midpack. He keeps Victor Santiago in the irons. Santiago has ridden Even Fever for his last four starts, for three wins and a second. Santiago is also trainer Chris Dorris's "A" rider this meet -- though the +$5.20 ROI in the last two months is a bit inflated thanks to Lookin for Luv's $155 maiden win last month, the 23% win rate and 47% in-the-money rate suggest they pair behind live horses. Lazylovin ran for Dorris earlier in the meet, though was claimed for $8,000 by Michael Reavis two back. Reavis sent him straight into this level of allowance company in his most recent start -- and he rallied from the clouds to finish third over a sloppy track. With Nanea and Gray Mensch both one-way speeds, and others who have shown some early zip, Lazylovin could get a sweet setup again. Though he has not won yet at six and a half furlongs -- the biggest strike against him -- he was second in his only recent start at the distance. Prize Native is a stalking type, and may get first run on the leaders here. He finished second against similar state-bred allowance types last out, going a flat six panels, and was third in his only start so far over six and a half. He has a 7-2-2-1 record over the Hawthorne strip, and his recent speeds are right in line with what he needs.
One horse who deserves a side note is Lights On Brite (9). He is consistently a bit too slow to rate as a win candidate here, but his 6-1-4-0 line at this specialist six and a half furlong distance stands out. He has also hit the board in both starts over off tracks. His win against beaten $12,500 company last out suggests he is in good form, and he should be a price to round out the exotics.
Race 9: $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, non-winners of two races in 2015 OR N4L, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 4:50pm CST
Selections: Saint's Back (6), Shameonsuave (7), N'est Ce Pas (4)
Saint's Back takes a massive class drop here -- going into $5,000 beaten company after beating $12,500 beaten types in her last start. Still, trainer Patti Miller has solid success with these big class drops, with four of her last 13 similar droppers winning, and seven in the money. This allays the "fire sale" fears, as does the fact that last out was a short field in which two of the six runners did not finish -- Saint's Back, the longest shot on the board that day, was just lucky enough to avoid the trouble. In terms of pace, she will likely be forward, though she has an ability to contend, or even relinquish and regain the lead if necessary. Tim Thornton, a rider with whom she has done some of her best work, returns to ride. The only other runner in this field who appeals strongly is Shameonsuave. Though she does her best as a stone closer, and should get oodles of pace to attack with Read to Me, Friendly's Rap, and Coyote Breeze all in the field. She drops here from open $5,000 to beaten here, and she beat this level going this distance two starts back. Even last out, against the tougher company, she was second behind a razor-sharp Nikaluk. With all of her wins having come at this distance, including two at Hawthorne, she looks in the right place to run well again. N'est Ce Pas is a bit of a wild card here. She has done most of her recent running on grass, but does have one win in two starts over the Hawthorne main. That win came at two turns. She has been facing significantly better company all year, and was second in an open $8,000 turf mile earlier this month. With no shortage of speed to attack, this class-dropping closer is hard to ignore here despite the likely short price.
Should the track be off this late in the day, Coyote Breeze (3) figures. She has a 7-3-1-0 line over off going, including a second-place finish in the mud two starts back. Though her frontrunning style gives pause, she does have at least some rating gear, and faces softer company than she has faced in her last three starts. She was in the money for all of those last three starts, as well. Should she stay at her 8/1 morning line, if there is still moisture in the track, she will be nicely overlaid.
Photograph by Nicolle Neulist.
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