With the Memorial Day holiday, this weekend stretches to Monday. Locally, it means a holiday race card at Arlington on Monday. (Chicago Race of the Day can help keep you on top of that!) Nationally, it means the three Grade 1 races of the weekend all happen on Monday. They’re all at Santa Anita. The Gamely, for fillies and mares on the turf, features a showdown between west coast turf queen VASILIKA and east coast invader RYMSKA. In the Shoemaker Mile, an open-company turf mile, it’s DELTA PRINCE who comes to play against west coast stalwarts like BOLO, CATAPULT, BOWIES HERO, and OHIO. In the day’s lone Grade 1 dirt race, both VINO ROSSO and LONE SAILOR visit Arcadia to try their hand against the leader of the handicap division, GIFT BOX.
Here at Picks and Ponderings, we will take a brief look at all three of Monday’s Grade 1 features at Santa Anita.
Santa Anita Park: Monday, May 27
Race 7: Gamely Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one eighth miles on the turf, post time 4:00pm PDT
I understand why Chad Brown is sending RYMSKA to this — she has always shown promise, but still looks like the “B” or “C” string from the shedrow. The mile and an eighth suits, and on the whole, the west coast turf division isn’t as tough as the east coast division she has been facing. Even so, it’s difficult to take the inevitably short price: she’s a tough nut to crack. Sometimes she finishes spectacularly; sometimes she finishes merely okay. The good news for RYMSKA is that there’s rain in the forecast Sunday, meaning the turf might be a bit less than the usual super-firm west coast turf. Even so, she’ll have to have her running shoes on to beat VASILIKA, who has become synonymous with the west coast turf mare division. Most of her runs have come on firm going, but she won over good ground three back, and even though she has mainly been running miles lately she is 5-for-7 at a mile and an eighth. She also stands to get the jump on RYMSKA, which could make all the difference.
Beyond those two? OLLIE’S CANDY is offered a tough task off a layoff, but she has a right to be able to handle it. She has only run five times, but showed up each and every time, winning three and being beaten a neck in two others. She should be able to get a spot close to the pace, her best kind of trip, and with only RYMSKA inside her she should be able to save ground. She hasn’t raced since the Del Mar Oaks (G1) last August, and has been moved to the John Sadler barn in the meantime. Sadler knows how to get a horse ready off a layoff, and has a solid positive ROI with new arrivals to his barn.
#4 VASILIKA (8/5)
#1 RYMSKA (5/2)
#2 OLLIE’S CANDY (4/1)
Longshot: #8 CAUSEFORCOMMOTION (8/1) comes off a dominant score in the Santa Barbara (G3). That was at a mile and a half, and her classiest form does over distances longer than nine furlongs. However, She has a win at this distance already, and has shown the ability to sit close to the pace or further back, even at a distance so short. She also does her better work with rider Geovanni Franco, who takes the call again today. Her trainer Eric Kruljac has been on fire this meet, and CAUSEFORCOMMOTION looks like and up-and-comer who can make some noise in the Gamely.
Race 8: Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), three-year-olds and up, one and one fourth miles on the dirt, post time 4:30pm PDT
GIFT BOX has wrapped up his position at the top of the handicap division, gamely defeating Battle of Midway in the San Antonio, then stretching out to the Classic distance and outslugging McKinzie in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1). He returns to the same course and distance for the Gold Cup, but won’t have to face a horse as tough as McKinzie. GIFT BOX should get an advantageous trip near the front end — perhaps setting the pace, perhaps tracking BLITZKRIEG or CORE BELIEFS — but the pace doesn’t look to be swift no matter what, making it look like GIFT BOX will have plenty of energy left to hold off the cavalry. He’ll be a heavy favourite, but it seems too cute to try and beat him.
Among the rest of the field? I’m still baffled by trying VINO ROSSO in the Carter last time; I can only imagine it had something to do with him having some common ownership with Life’s a Parlay, who ran in the much more suitable nine-furlong Excelsior (G3) on the same day. Now he stretches back out to a route distance, and though it’s a Grade 1, it’s not quite as deep a 10f race as either the Kentucky Derby or the Travers last year, his two other 10f efforts. He has tactical speed, trainer Pletcher doesn’t joke around when he puts a horse on a plane, and he looks like GIFT BOX’s toughest foe. Up-and-coming CORE BELIEFS also appeals. He is untested at the Classic distance, but is already a two-time graded stakes winner at a mile and an eighth, including a win in the New Orleans Handicap (G2) despite coming first off a long layoff and facing older foes for the first time. CORE BELIEFS returns to his home circuit, keeps rider Geroux from his last-out victory, and should get an advantageous spot on or near the lead. He has plenty of upside at a price likely to drift up from the morning line.
#5 GIFT BOX (8/5)
#7 VINO ROSSO (4/1)
#6 CORE BELIEFS (4/1)
Longshot: Sure, this isn’t an easy place for #1 BLITZKRIEG (6/1) to go first-time dirt, or first-time mile and a quarter. But, he has risen from the claiming ranks to the graded stakes ranks through the winter and spring, winning each of his last four starts by open lengths. He has speed from the inside, but can be tactical even from such a post. And, being by War Front out of an Arch mare with plenty of stamina in the family, his pedigree reads like one that makes it worth rolling the dice at ten panels. BLITZKRIEG is getting good at the right time, and has some longshot potential in the Gold Cup.
Race 9: Shoemaker Mile Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, one mile on the turf, post time 5:00pm PDT
Jimmy Jerkens isn’t 27% with shippers by random chance — he finds smart opportunities for shipping his horses, and shows up in the right place at the right time. And, he has found a cozy spot for DELTA PRINCE. The lightly-raced six-year-old, five-for-thirteen lifetime, always showed talent but finally got his first G1 in the Makers 46 Mile last month at Keeneland. It wasn’t the toughest G1 turf mile in history…but it was probably tougher than the Kilroe, the race whose top four finishers were OHIO, CATAPULT, DESERT STONE, and RIVER BOYNE. The biggest question is the pace — more recently he has sat well off the pace, but he’ll have to find a way to get closer than he has in recent efforts. Even with that question, he’s a contender, but it means it may be worth looking for alternatives at a short price.
There isn’t a lot of speed in this race, and the one likely to make the running is BOLO. He set the pace for most of his allowance return on April 28 — his first start in almost two years — just being caught late. This is a step up, but it’s also his second start off that break and a turnback to a better distance. The return was good enough to suggest that BOLO has picked up where he left off, and he’s the prodigal son of a muddled West Coast turf division. A reasonable improvement second off the lay puts him right in a race where he’ll get a nice setup. Sorry to steal the Longshot Writer’s thunder, but he’s the pick.
Among the rest? CATAPULT has the class, but tends to be better at longer than this, and more of an underneath sort at a mile. Use him underneath, but he has no appeal at a short price on top. RIVER BOYNE, on the other hand, has a bit more upside. Unlike many of these west coast turf horses who have been trading blows into their five, six, seven-year-old seasons, RIVER BOYNE is a four-year-old just now getting his bearings against older. It was a bit silly to see him go off at such short prices against older foes in two of his last three starts, but he was never embarrassed; he had trouble in the Thunder Road (G3), and then wasn’t far away in either the Kilroe (G1) or the San Francisco (G3). His record at a mile is solid, his best work has come at Santa Anita, and he gets a top local turf rider in Flavien Prat.
#6 BOLO (20/1)
#8 DELTA PRINCE (5/2)
#4 RIVER BOYNE (6/1)
Longshot: We had some thoughts about BOLO, but someone stole our thunder.
You can take “Picks & Ponderings” with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Arlington International Racecourse. And you can get “Picks and Ponderings” in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking “Create Subscription.” It’s a FREE service, and you’ll never get any unwanted spam.