This week, Picks and Ponderings takes a (figurative) road trip to a place we’ve never visited before: Youngstown, Ohio. The Steel Valley Sprint, the flagship race of the meet at Mahoning Valley Race Course, anchors Monday’s card. It’s a six-furlong dirt race for three-year-olds, with a purse of $250,000, the biggest purse of the winter meet.
The race drew a field of twelve, including three from the local barn of Larry Rivelli: BIG DRINK OF WATER, DUGOUT, and GET HAMMERED. GET HAMMERED has yet to try stakes company, though BIG DRINK OF WATER won the 2018 Arlington-Washington Futurity, and DUGOUT is a multiple stakes winner in New York-bred company. If DUGOUT were to run well in the Steel Valley Sprint, it would also continue a red-hot month for his dam Rooney Doodle: DUGOUT is a full brother to Powerless Handicap winner Jean Elizabeth, and a half-brother to Lightning Jet Handicap second-place finisher What’s Up Dude.
Another face in the Steel Valley Sprint who may be familiar to Chicago racetrack denizens is MANNY WAH. Though he has spent most of his career racing in Kentucky and Louisiana for trainer Wayne Catalano, he broke his maiden at Arlington and ran fourth behind Dabo in the Bruce D. Memorial Stakes this year.
Rivelli is one of two trainers vying to become the first trainer to win the Steel Valley Sprint twice. The race has been run just four times, but he won the inaugural edition in 2015 with flashy Illinois-bred Lewys Vaporizer. Jeffrey Radosevich, trainer of DARE DAY, has also won the race before; with the disqualification of Awesome Banner, his Mo Don’t No was placed first in 2016.
Monday, November 25 – Mahoning Valley Race Course
Race 7: Steel Valley Sprint Stakes, three-year-olds, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 3:33pm EST
As so often happens with races in Chicago, so it happens in Youngstown now: you have to wonder which Rivelli (or Rivellis) are going to stay in, since all three of the horses he entered are best on or very close to the lead. BIG DRINK OF WATER seems the most likely to scratch; Rivelli has been riding jockey Erik Barbaran a bit in recent times, but not regularly like Jose Valdivia or Jareth Loveberry, and BIG DRINK OF WATER is not proven on the dirt like GET HAMMERED and DUGOUT are. At least the best situated of the Rivelli runners is DUGOUT: he is the speed of the speed, and outside speed has been good at Mahoning. The biggest question with DUGOUT is how much that effort took out of him. He was all heart digging in after setting a sharp pace and rebuffing that bid from W W Cookie Monster at Hawthorne last out, but he will have to run a similarly good race.
DUGOUT will also have to handle a contested pace: if GET HAMMERED stays in that he’ll be pressing in close range, and DARE DAY and CALL PAUL are almost certain to be gunning it from relatively inside gates, as well. DARE DAY, coming in off of a second-place finish in an Ohio-bred stakes over this course and distance versus older company, is pure, one-way speed. CALL PAUL can be a little more tractable, as he proved when winning the Swale (G3) earlier this year. He’ll need to show that dimension in this race, with so much other speed drawn in. But, CALL PAUL has been holding his own against older restricted-stakes horses in his last few, he has back class against his own age group, and he reunites with rider Irad Ortiz, already a winner of this race with Lewys Vaporizer in 2015. This looks like a good next step in CALL PAUL’s cautious and measured fall campaign.
Another who deserves a long look is PREAMBLE. He has been on the shelf since a disappointing outing in the Chick Lang (G3) at Pimlico back in May, but has been drilling regularly toward his return. He is tactical enough to work a trip from the outside draw, and to be able to stay off of (but not too far off of!) the likely contested pace. PREAMBLE has a good rapport with rider Florent Geroux, who has been riding hot in recent weeks, and his debut win shows he can run well fresh. PREAMBLE is lightly raced and reasonably spotted to pick up where he left off.
Worth a brief mention is BOURBON CALLING. He will likely be one of the shorter prices in the field: he won his last two starts, and looks a better and more seasoned horse than he was the last time he tried stakes company, in the Amsterdam (G2) in July. The worry with BOURBON CALLING is his running style: he is a deep closer. And, though he should be making a smart late run, Mahoning isn’t the best place for that running style, even with a decent amount of speed signed on. He is a must-use underneath, though others appeal more on top.
#2 CALL PAUL (5/2)
#12 PREAMBLE (5/1)
#11 DUGOUT (6/1)
Longshot: #5 MANNY WAH (8/1) looked like a speed horse his two-year-old year, though this year, he has actually cultivated a more stalking to midpack running style. It has worked out well for him, and he put it all together in September when he ran down DUGOUT in a $100K/N2X optional claimer at Churchill in September. As many different distances as he has tried, both of MANNY WAH’s six-furlong efforts have been good ones: whether you go by the Beyers or the Brisnets, his top two speed figures have come in his two six-furlong dirt races. All in all, this looks like the logical next step for MANNY WAH, and he has the makings of a legitimate contender at a square price.
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