Before getting into the new “Horses to Watch” this week I just wanted to make quick mention of last Saturday’s Withers Stakes (G3). I’m sure you all can assume that I was understandably heartbroken when Escapefromreality got nailed on the wire by Revolutionary. Yet even though I didn’t win much money on the race, it was one of my proudest moments of the new year since it renewed my faith in the concept for this site. I made Escapefromreality a “Horse to Watch” based on his huge effort in an optional claiming race that featured a blazing early pace. He survived the duel and battled back gamely when challenged in the stretch to just lose by a short head. I know that Revolutionary on paper had a huge speed figure edge on the field in the Withers, but I was knew that Escapefromreality had run a lot better than this Beyer speed figure suggested in his prior start. He was a massive overlay at 16-1 and ran a gallant race.
Revolutionary could play out to be a major factor in this year’s Triple Crown races and Escapefromreality nearly held him off. I think Revolutionary actually surprised the runner-up and his jockey, Jose Ortiz, with his late blitz to the front. If you watch the head on replay, Escapefromreality actually picks up speed after the wire and battles back to be head and head with Revolutionary by the time they hit the clubhouse turn. Revolutionary from there continued to hug the rail and gallop out strongly as all of Pletcher’s youngsters are trained to do, but Escapefromreality is obviously a gutsy horses that did not want to lose.
Pletcher has talked about sending Overanalyze up from Florida as his representative for the Gotham Stakes (G3) next month, and while it’s early to discuss that race, I wouldn’t count out Dominick Schettino’s New York-bred in any of the future Derby preps in New York.
Now, let’s run through this week’s additions to the “Horses to Watch” list:
Gee Linz (January 31, Race 6)
This filly has been remarkably consistent since getting claimed by Randi Persaud and probably was going to run another good one in here, but her trip prevented it. Watching the race back, I believe she would have won if her jockey had not been quite so concerned with saving ground at all costs. The pace was very fast for this group and Keiber Coa did the right thing by getting Gee Linz (#5) out of the gate aggressively and then harnessing her back to race in a stalking position. She was perfectly perched just off the lead in between horses heading into the turn, but Coa decided that he wanted to secure the rail. He dragged Gee Linz back a few places and guided her down to the inside. There was a moment at the top of the stretch when he should have swung her out into a clear path, but he chose to stick with his rail run. The rest of the replay speaks for itself. Gee Linz was full of run but she’s forced to run right into the back of a wall of tiring horses and she finished sixth as probably the best horse. This filly hails from an outfit that doesn’t usually take a lot of money so I’m hoping she’s a nice price next time after this deceptive performance.
Rich Hero (February 1, Race 2)
I don’t like to single out a jockey to be a punching bag, but Keiber Coa is the culprit here as well. He’s an apprentice with a lot of promise and has on occasion put the journeymen to shame, but he still has some lessons to learn. Hopefully he learns from the couple of rides I’m highlighting this week. Rich Hero was taking a major class drop in this race and appeared to be fast enough to win if he could remember how to be competitive at a realistic level. Coa again initially placed him in perfect position a few lengths off the pace on the rail. As the field was coming towards the top of the stretch, however, the leaders were obviously beginning to tire and Coa should have had the foresight to steer Rich Hero off the rail to make his run. Instead, he hugs the rail for a bit too long and allows eventual winner Overextended to run up on his outside. He’s then caught in a tight spot with nowhere to go in behind horses. Coa had to hit the breaks and steer him to the far outside, but he had already lost valuable momentum and could only finish fourth. He could have won this race or least been around at the finish with a different ride. He’s now run quite a few races in a row where he’s seemingly not been a factor, but I believe he can be a major player at this claiming level next time.
Kara’s Match Point (February 1, Race 3)
This trip was no one’s fault–Kara’s Match Point (#1A) was just not quite ready for her debut and her jockey merely tried to take care of her and not abuse her going a distance that is probably too short. She broke outwardly and was very slow into stride. David Cohen did the right thing by not rushing her and allowed her to settle into a rhythm before asking her to go up into the race. Entering the far turn, she started to advance a bit, but Cohen elected to keep her well out into the track seemingly as to avoid getting dirt in the filly’s face. She continued five to six paths off the rail for the entire run around the turn. In the stretch, it was clear that she wasn’t going to factor in the finish so Cohen just wrapped up on her. This filly is by Curlin out of a daughter of Jewel Princess, the 1996 Eclipse Award Champion Older Female. If there’s one thing the Curlins have displayed so far, it’s that they really need two turns to show their best and I’m expecting Linda Rice to stretch this filly out next time. She was not asked for anything close to her best in this debut effort and may be an overlay when she stretches out to the route of ground she should prefer.
Little Dale (February 1, Race 7)
This race was won by a long shot that was hard to see on paper, but who had some back class–albeit on turf. Pierre Tomas–who I touted previously in this forum–rode the winner perfectly and I doubt anyone was going to beat him this day, but Little Dale certainly would have been around at the finish with a cleaner trip. He came away from the gate in good order and was placed just in behind the leaders on the fence. His troubles started midway around the far turn when the leaders began to back up and he could not get off the rail. Little Dale checked hard for about a sixteenth of a mile and found himself shuffled to the back of the pack by the top of the stretch. He was then swung widest of all for the stretch drive and actually put in a nice late run to get up for third. He had never really been ridden as a closer before and responded well despite the less than ideal circumstances. It appears that he’s in form now and would be very dangerous at this level next time.
Mine Over Matter (February 2, Race 8)
Mine Over Matter (#5) had been compromised by a slow pace in his previous start and figured to be a major factor in this race as a slight overlay. Things just didn’t work out after he was left about four to five lengths behind the field at the start. He made an early, wide run up into contention on the far turn, but never had any realistic chance of recovering from his start with that sort of trip. He’s a horse with quite a bit of ability whose last couple of races will appear to be a lot worse on paper than they actually were.
Medea (February 3, Gulfstream Race 8)
A fellow handicapper who keeps a close eye on Gulfstream suggested this trip to me. Medea (#7) was making her first start in the United States for trainer Francis Abbott after three solid placings in England. She was well bet in this race and ran to that backing despite an eventful trip. After getting away from the gate slowly Joe Bravo allowed her to settle near the back of the pack for the run into the clubhouse turn. Down the backstretch she gradually began to advance up the rail but began to run into some trouble as the field made the bend into the far turn. With horses tiring in front of her, Bravo was forced to slam on the breaks and wait for some running room. He switched her off the rail and found a seem between horses, which she quickly darted through while angling outside for the stretch drive. As some others were drifting outward at the same time, she was forced to make a four-wide run into the stretch and appeared hopelessly beaten at the three-sixteenths pole. Yet once this filly got into the clear she really leveled off and came with a strong late rally. The winner was long gone, but Medea came bounding home outside and actually made quite a dent in the winner’s margin of victory between the eighth pole and the wire. It appears that she has some real ability and shouldn’t be a maiden for much longer. There could eventually be stakes in this one’s future since her dam is a three-quarter sister to millionaire and three-time Grade I winner High Yield. She doesn’t hail from a well-known barn, so hopefully we’ll catch a decent price next time.