Picks and Ponderings may physically be in San Diego this weekend, but we haven't forgotten our roots.
The stakes season continues at Hawthorne this weekend with a pair of turf routes for Illinois-bred older horses. Previously, both the Buck's Boy Handicap and the Illini Princess Handicap were fixtures of the fall stakes season at Hawthorne, though both were last run in 2014. In 2015, Hawthorne carded a pair of turf routes -- but also allowed non-Illinois-bred horses who ran on the circuit recently to participate, and called those Illinois-preferred races the Cicero Handicap and the Stickney handicap instead. The 2016 fall meet elapsed without turf stakes, but with the recent release of Illinois Department of Agriculture funding, Hawthorne has reintroduced the series of state-bred stakes to the fall meet.
Selections in the Illini Princess Handicap and the Buck's Boy Handicap are made for turf only.
Race 2: Illini Princess Handicap, three-year-olds and up, Illinois-bred fillies and mares, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 3:22pm CST
Though Illini Princess would be a perfectly cromulent name for an Illinois-bred racemare, there is none on record, making this race ripe to be renamed for a great Illinois-bred turf mare when the time comes. The Buck's Boy may have been an early stakes success for one recent Illinois-bred Grade 1 winner, but the Illini Princess was the site of a surprising defeat for another. Speedy mare La Tia, winner of the 2014 Matriarch (G1), never got the front end she loved so much in the 2013 Illini Princess. Instead, the one who found the early lead -- and the early lead -- was Katie the Lady, herself a half-sister to stakes winner My Mertie and to the horse who finished second in the Hawthorne Derby last week, Blue Sky Kowboy.
With all the rain this week, assuming this race will remain on the turf, there will be some cut in the ground for this race. There should also be a target up front, with LOVELY LOYREE, DREAMOFJEAN E., and even ONE LIZ showing strong early pace. This should all set up beautifully for AMERICA MON AMIE. She ran an excellent second this summer in the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap over boggy going, but that day she just couldn't catch LOVELY LOYREE, loose on the lead. Here, it will be a different story, and she may handle the ground best of all. (If you watched the Hawthorne Derby last week, perhaps it's something in the female line -- My Bariley, who relished the soft ground and won the Hawthorne Derby, is a half-brother to AMERICA MON AMIE.)
PRADO'S SWEET RIDE has shown more checkered form over softer going. She disappointed in the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap, but ran too good to lose over a course rated soft in the Marie Krantz Memorial at Fair Grounds, and the horse who nosed her out was a quality mare: Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf entrant Kitten's Roar. PRADO'S SWEET RIDE has had a bit of bad luck with running into lone leaders -- she not only chased LOVELY LOYREE around in the Spellman, but had to chase easy leader Daddy's Boo around last out in the Steve Morgan Memorial Stakes. PRADO'S SWEET RIDE should get a sweeter setup here, and if she channels the soft-turf mare who raced so well in the Krantz, she will be a sharp late threat.
Among the speed types, LOVELY LOYREE appeals the most. The mare consistently runs well, and though she will not have it easy with DREAMOFJEAN E. and possibly also ONE LIZ going to the front, she has proven that she can sit just a bit off and still be effective. Her score in the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap also suggested that LOVELY LOYREE can thrive over a softer footing. Yes, the last race was a disappointment, but she was getting over a few issues from over the summer and was still rounding back into form. If the real LOVELY LOYREE shows up here, she will be the one they have to catch late.
#2 AMERICA MON AMIE (10/1)
#5 PRADO'S SWEET RIDE (9/5)
#4 LOVELY LOYREE (2/1)
Longshot: #1 CHLOBEE (20/1) has been beating the odds since her 104-1 maiden special weight shocker early in the Arlington meet. She ran her best race yet last out, winning a two-turn grass allowance against state-bred allowance fillies and mares at Arlington. She has to take yet another step forward to win this, and she still has to answer the soft turf question, because she has never raced over a surface like she'll see on Saturday. But, her off-pace running style and her strong late pace should suit this spot well, and the odds will be long enough to make the risk/reward balance work out.
Race 4: Buck's Boy Handicap, three-year-olds and up, Illinois-bred, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 4:45pm CST
It is fitting that Hawthorne runs the Buck's Boy Handicap, as Buck's Boy is one of just two Illinois-bred horses to have won a Breeders' Cup race. The Bucksplasher gelding wired the 1998 Breeders' Cup Turf. That was one of his six wins in ten starts that year, a tally that also included the Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont; on the strength of that record, Buck's Boy earned the 1998 Eclipse award for Champion Grass Horse. The most illustrious winner of the Buck's Boy Handicap is recently retired multiple Grade 1 winner The Pizza Man. Before he was winning graded stakes, he was winning Illinois-bred stakes, and his second career stakes victory was a comfortable score over Star of Paradise and Ice Climber in the 2012 edition of this race.
Once again, the kind of going will be a major factor in this race. OAK BROOK ran an excellent race over a boggy footing in the Black Tie Affair Handicap earlier this summer, making him a threat on that angle. But? This race has so much speed. OAK BROOK may be the classiest of it, but GONEGHOST is a rocket early, HEY PRETTY BOY is a frontrunning turf sprinter, and even CHRISTIAN C tends to show early foot. OAK BROOK is so game and gutsy near the front that he makes sense as a defensive use. But, if you're looking for value, you'll find it elsewhere.
Trainer Chris Block has a strong hand in this race, with a pair of live entries in BOLD RALLY and CAMMACK. CAMMACK is the more class-proven of the pair, coming out of a victory against open stakes horses in the Les Ahrens Memorial Stakes. He has excellent tactical versatility, and his consistency is admirable. He also has wet turf form, as he finished a credible second behind a game OAK BROOK in the Black Tie Affair over a boggy Arlington course. But, one can only thing he'll be almost as short of a price off that last win -- and, perhaps even shorter, comparing the recent form of the two. In a race this competitive, a bit of a price is attractive -- and last time, not this time, was the time to get CAMMACK at sweet odds.
The slight nod on top goes to the "other" Block, BOLD RALLY -- the one who stands to go off a bit better than his morning line. Trainer Chris Block had BOLD RALLY for most of his career, lost him at the claim box for $30K back in August, and snapped him back up for $25K last month. BOLD RALLY's recent form, combined with the fact that the grey son of Fort Prado is already a stakes winner over the Hawthorne turf course, suggested that he'd be pointed to the Buck's Boy next out -- and that is bearing out. With so many gadflies that OAK BROOK will have to deal with on the front? As long as BOLD RALLY can find his namesake late run on the softer going, he can win this at a fair price.
#4 BOLD RALLY (4/1)
#3 CAMMACK (7/2)
#5 OAK BROOK (3/1)
Longshot: #9 IN THE CHAMBER (8/1) is the onetime Block horse (and the *other* grey son of Fort Prado) who Scott Becker claimed this summer -- and has not since lost at the claim box. This space seriously considered tabbing IN THE CHAMBER on top, and 8/1 would be an outstanding price for what you're getting with him. Though his last couple of victories have come on the front end, he has some excellent efforts rallying from off the pace. It also helps that IN THE CHAMBER's last two efforts over a yielding turf course were strong -- a frontrunning win and a close second from off the pace -- suggesting he should be able to handle the footing in the Buck's Boy.
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