Up-and-Coming:
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I have no idea why Empire Spring showed improvement today, but her running style was similar to what her form shows for her other races: she’s always been a closer. In any event, Gomez waited for 6f before asking Empire Spring, and she made a fast and rather wide move to take command coming out of the far turn. The strength of that move is the main reason I think she could have a good future.

Empire Spring did not just draw off for fun after making the lead, but responded nevertheless. She was whipped multiple times in the late stages. I felt at the very end, she started to appear a little tired, but her pursuers weren’t going to catch her even if they’d gone around again. The margin of victory was a length and a half. There was nothing wrong with the time for the final sixteenth of a mile, 6.24. The figure came out in my favorite range again, 1:36 3/5 (1:36.64).

Wandaful Wandaful was 2nd, as she was in her debut, which was on the turf at Gulfstream. In between that race and this, she was beaten 15 lengths in a maiden special weight on the dirt. Presumably, the bad race can be written off because of dirt. She also added blinkers for this race. She’s trained by Ken McPeek. Her 2nd here was a particularly nice effort because she got hung out wide around the first turn. She was close up the whole way and ran evenly. She’s one of 18 foals from grade II winner Hero’s Tribute’s 2007 crop. She’s not entirely off-bred, though, because her 2nd dam is the Claiborne mare Border, out of State, State being the the 3rd dam of Pulpit, etc.

Empire Spring appears to be a homebred. She is by Empire Maker, out of a young Stravinsky mare, Our Rite of Spring, who was an allowance runner. Our Rite of Spring is a half sister to Hard Spun.

Disco Troop: Keeneland, 4/10

I’ve seen a number of races where the only horses to have run before made up the trifecta or superfecta, but in this 6f maiden for 3-year-olds, Disco Troop was the lone first-timer starter and aired at 23-1. He grabbed the lead in the opening yards, appearing extremely quick. He appeared eager in the early going, but Junior Alvarado was able to slow him down, using only as much speed as he needed for the lead. He was in front by a length after a quarter, and a head after a half. He was in hand at the quarter pole. It looked like Galientos, who had been stalking from the start, might make a race of it, but Disco Troop responded under a drive, opening up, and was back to being in hand for the final yards. He seemed to continue on on his own with good vigor, and indeed, the final quarter was run in an amazing 22.74, with the 1/8th between 4f and 5f going in 11.08. The early fractions, particularly the first quarter, are typically slow at Keeneland, but the other 6f races on the day didn’t finish nearly as fast as this one, with final quarters in 23.94 (maiden fillies and mares, 4+up) and 24.67 (nw2l 3 yo alw). Overall, the race was run in 1:09.41, and I got a 1:35 3/5 (1:35.70) equivalency for it. Disco Troop won by 6 ¼ lengths.

Disco Troop is by Songandaprayer, whose average-winning distance is an astoundingly low 6.02 furlongs. I don’t know where that ranks, but you would think even the odd 8f win would pull the average north of that. With his proven ability and better mares from his 5th crop, I’m surprised Songandaprayer only ranked 52nd in 2-year-old earnings last year, but Disco Troop is the 3rd 3-year-old of his I’ve featured in about the last five weeks, following Quiet Invader and Green Monster. So maybe the outlook is positive.

Looking at Disco Troop’s first couple of dams on PedigreeQuery, this family appears weak – I didn’t recognize any names. Oddly, Disco Troop is the second horse out of a Bon Point mare I’ve featured in the last couple of months, the one before being Wild Forest Cat. Bon Point was a turf horse, but Wild Forest Cat runs on dirt, and in fact, failed on synthetic as the 4/5 favorite in yesterday’s Star Shoot. With the Bon Point mare, you’d ordinarily be concerned about whether Disco Troop can run on dirt, or whether he’s just going to be a synthetic/turf horse.

Disco Troop is trained by Eric Reed, who has won 25% of his starts this year, and is tied for 12th in North America with 42 wins. His horses have earned less than $3,000 per start, however, and that kind of a profile can lead to 23-1 odds in a Keeneland maiden special weight. Disco Troop is owned by Marablue Farm.

Zonga Zing: Keeneland, 4/9

Zonga Zing was made the 3/2 favorite in her debut and ran to the odds, wiring a field of 3-year-old fillies by 6 ½ lengths. There’s a lot of sex appeal here; I think I’m more inclined to get excited about a horse with an inscrutable ‘Z’ name than another random name, particularly on the day Zenyatta wins the Apple Blossom. Zonga Zing also brings to mind Zing, dam of Half Ours, but Zonga Zing is no relation of Zing’s.

April 9 was a weird day at Keeneland. It was almost like going back to 2006 over the old, speed favoring track. Of the seven races over the main track, five were won wire to wire, and by 7 ¼, 8 ¼, 6 ½ (this race), 3 ¼, and 8 ¾ lengths. Another race was not won wire to wire, but was won by 7 ½ lengths. This is a synthetic track, where margins are supposed to be compressed. It stands to reason that Zonga Zing may have a difficult time winning as decisively next time.

There were maybe five fillies who battled for the early lead in this 6f race. Strangely, after about a quarter mile, three of them suddenly couldn’t keep up, and Zonga Zing, who was always slightly ahead, and fellow firster Maria Darlin got away from the others. Zonga Zing was under less pressure than Maria Darlin, however. Maria Darlin would fade to 5th, and it was all Zonga Zing in the stretch.

The Polytrack electronic recorder of the numbers made it hard to see, but it appeared that she changed leads effortlessly. She showed no signs of tiring, getting her final 1/8th in 12.16, but didn’t show a burst, either, to my eye. What I wrote down after the race was “very, very solid.” (Solid being a bit of a pointed description, indicating that despite the margin, Zonga Zing didn’t look dominant to me.) In terms of manner of victory, she was ridden out but merely shown the whip. She does not have a long stride.

The figure I got was 1:36 3/5 (1:36.69) -- almost the same as for Thursday’s maiden winner, Belle of the Hall, and again in that cluster where oddly so many good 3-year-old filly maiden winners seem to fall. 1:36 3/5 isn’t a great equivalency, and with the speed bias, might even be looked upon as an indication that Zonga Zing isn’t the monster she appears at first glance. It’s hard to see how Zonga Zing wouldn’t have benefited from the speed bias, if in fact there was one, but another line of thinking would throw out the figures from the day, whether high or low. Clearly, there were a lot of horses who appeared better than they were, and to try to represent that or correct that by degrees is probably a futile effort. It’s not necessarily true that all of the wire to wire winners benefited equally from the bias. Zonga Zing, for instance, was not running on the rail in the stretch, and many times a fast rail is behind a speed bias.

Zonga Zing is by Eurosilver, who has not had a stakes winner from over 80 starters, and has a very low cumulative winning percentage (wins from starts, not starters). I couldn’t have taken 3/2 on a first-time starter by Eurosilver, which made the heavy betting all the more interesting.

Zonga Zing’s speed is less surprising when you acknowledge her dam, Last Oasis, who only ran once, but was a 3 ½ length winner of a maiden special weight at Calder at 2. Last Oasis’s first foal, Midtown Bullet, was also a first-out winner, although for $50,000 maiden claiming at Saratoga. He only made one other start, although I suppose he could still return. The combination of Last Oasis only making one start, and Midtown Bullet two, is a bit troubling for what it may portend for Zonga Zing’s longevity. On the other hand, one and two starts is better than none, and irrationally I probably wouldn’t have paid as much attention to an unraced dam, or an unraced sibling. A big horse in Zonga Zing’s pedigree is Consolidator, who is under her 3rd dam. With Tale of the Cat as Zonga Zing’s broodmare sire, I wouldn’t say she has a distance pedigree.

Considering the track bias, it might be of interest who was 2nd, and that was Grecian Maiden, another of eight first-time starters in the race, and the 2nd choice. She doesn’t get a big figure, and wasn’t that far back early, but was 2 ¼ lengths clear of 3rd. The 3rd-place finisher, firster Karen Ann, did come from behind, as she was recorded as 11th at the first call.

Zonga Zing is owned Four Roses Thoroughbreds and trained by John Terranova. I don’t want to be too hard on her. The bottom line is that she was bet like a good thing and won for fun.

Rahystrada: Keeneland, 4/9

It was the new Rahystrada for the fourth consecutive race, as the 6-year-old gelding captured a 1 1/8 money allowance over five others, all stakes winners in 2009. Rahystrada made just $165,000 over his first 20 starts, and ran in two $50,000 claimers over the summer, before taking a money allowance at Keeneland last fall at 15-1. He followed that up with a 2 ¼ length score at 56-1 in the grade III River City. He was no match for Karelian and Gio Ponti in the Tampa Bay Stakes, but he checked in 3rd, bringing him to Friday’s race.

Not only have the results been good, but he’s been an eyecatching runner. I knew not too many people had absorbed his allowance score that preceded the River City for him to go off at 56-1 (let alone analyzed the pace, which further flattered Rahystrada).

The biggest name in Friday’s race was Telling, the Sword Dancer winner last year at 33-1, and Breeders’ Cup Turf contestant (ran 7th by 10 ¼). Telling will presumably spend his year in 12 furlong races, so this was probably a low-stress prep for Steve Hobby and crew.

The favorite (1.40-1 vs 2.40-1 for Rahystrada) was Yate’s Black Cat, not an entirely dissimilar horse to Rahystrada, in that he’s a veteran horse who surprised by looking very good at Gulfstream, having to take up late in the grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap when he appeared to have a good shot to win. Yate’s Black Cat was 5th in the Mervyn Muniz, however, and was coming back from that in less than two weeks.

Rahystrada broke very well but was very relaxed and settled into 4th early, a good ways off Public Speaker and Yate’s Black Cat. He moved in closer after 5f-6f. Inex Karlsson was riding high with plenty of horse in early stretch, but didn’t have the room to split Public Speaker and Yate’s Black Cat. After about three seconds, Karlsson decided to go around those two. Rahystrada fell off about a half length, and then regained his momentum, picking the leaders up willingly to win by a length. Public Speaker was 2nd, Yate’s Black Cat 3rd, and Telling 4th by 5 ½.

There were two other turf races on the day, both high-class races. The final times worked out neatly, with the Maker’s Mark rating as approximately three-fifths of a second better per 8f than Rahystrada, and Rahystrada showing virtually the same advantage over Elision, a 4-year-old filly winner of a nw3x.

None of the final times was distorted by very slow pace, but if any were hurt, it was probably Rahystrada’s, The first 6f in 1:12.50 en route to 9f in 1:47.93 may not have enabled the optimal time. Rahystrada was close enough to Karelian in the Maker’s Mark that even a small handicap could have made the difference. The pace was slightly acelerating in the Maker’s Mark as well, though, and although I’m not sure how to adjust each time, my guess is that Karelian still remains ahead. It’s also possible that Rahystrada lost a length or two waiting for room, but it’s also possible that he didn’t, if he just came all the more furiously when he had the time to go.

Karelian defeated Rahystrada by 2 ¾ lengths in the Tampa Bay Stakes. I chalked that up to Karelian setting an extremely slow pace, but it is true that Rahystrada didn’t just come up short, he really didn’t gain any ground. Sometimes it seems that the advantage of leading in front through soft fractions isn’t just about having a concrete edge in lengths when the sprint home begins, but psychological and tactical in nature as well. Regardless, it doesn’t seem like Rahystrada will ever have the speed that Karelian does, and my efforts to prove that he can run with him and other grade I horses right now may fall short. I make the effort because I find him impressive, however, and don’t feel like he gets his just due.

Kajiwara: Oaklawn, 4/9

A nice appetizer for the fans at Oaklawn on Apple Blossom day was 3-year-old Kajiwara, who broke his maiden by 11 lengths in his second start. The race was 6f. Asmussen and Jess Jackson had hoped to win another race on the card, but oh well. Asmussen added three more through the course of the day.

Kajiwara hadn’t impressed in his debut, when he was 5th by 6 in a slow race at Fair Grounds in March, and looked helpless against In Jack’s Memory’s sudden move. Friday was a completely different story, however. Kajiwara made the lead without Aaron Gryder looking like he cared if he got it. The pace was slow. Kajiwara was not loose on the lead, as he only led narrowly, but he wasn’t under any duress. He began to get away from Mile Marker in early stretch, and was still just galloping in hand until almost mid-stretch. He was given a light hand ride from there until the finish. He appeared to move well, and while I wasn’t awed, I thought there was some of the command and dominance that was lacking in Zonga Zing’s win.

The equivalency was 1:35 4/5 (1:35.85). I like to see 3-year-old males come in at under 1:36 in their maiden wins, so that’s good.

The good number was earned completely in a 23.74 final quarter. The 46.23 first half stacked up as very ordinary against the many sprints on the day. It’s likely Kajiwara will emerge as a stalker or closer against better horses, and the traditional handicappers will make him prove to them that he can win from off the pace. I didn’t see anything in here to suggest that Kajiwara is a speed horse; he was on the lead because he was superior to mediocre competition. Consistent with that fast final quarter, he stretched his lead out from a half length to 11 lengths in that interval.

Kajiwara sold extremely well as a 2-year-old, bringing $400,000 (not too surprising with Jess Jackson owning him). He is by Grand Slam, out of the broodmare sire of two Derby winners, Dixieland Band. His dam is a half sister to Cosmonaut, a millionaire who made the vast majority of his starts on turf, but who I thought was sometimes impressive in his few starts on dirt.

There’s real similarity between the current profiles of Kajiwara and Majesticperfection. Both came from Fair Grounds to Oaklawn for Asmussen and ran vastly better at Oaklawn. Kajiwara was making his second start, and Majesticperfection his third, and Kajiwara didn’t run nearly as fast as Majesticperfection, so those are a couple of differences. Both horses were expensive 2-year-olds and sold within $30,000 of each other. I suppose these similarities would have been more useful before Friday’s race than afterwards, so oh well again.

The value was particularly present because Kajiwara paid $10.00. For a Steve Asmussen maiden with ability, that’s surprising. I’m sure a lot of it had to do with Aaron Gryder aboard, who isn’t Asmussen’s leading jockey. Kajiwara was 5-1 in his debut with Robby Albarado aboard, and there wasn’t much in that race, if I remember right. So for whatever reason, word hadn’t gotten out about Kajiwara.

Queen of the Creek: Keeneland, 4/8

Queen of the Creek is a ¾ sister to Big Brown’s dam, and seems to have a little Big Brown in her in her ability to run away and hide in two-turn races. She was winning for the second consecutive time Thursday, boasting a 4 ¾-length margin of victory, with another 2 ¼ lengths over the 3rd-place finisher. The race was a first-level allowance and drew a number of good prospects, so the relative blow-out seems more about Queen of the Creek, and less about the opposition. The margins must also be evaluated by the norms of turf racing, where races are usually close.

Sun Pennies (Castellano riding) and Queen of the Creek (Gomez) had one notion of this race, and the other horses and jockeys had another, as they got away from the rest of the field. Sun Pennies was 1st, Queen of the Creek was stalking, and Atrea was 3 lengths behind Queen of the Creek in 3rd in the early going. Queen of the Creek was eager, tossing her head slightly. It was probably good that Sun Pennies was in the race and setting a good pace, otherwise Queen of the Creek might have been harder to handle.

Queen of the Creek was moving well on the far turn. With Sun Pennies destined for 7th, Queen of the Creek had little difficulty taking over. She wasn’t stiff in her lead change, but a bit effortful. She put the rest of the field to shame, continuing on well from her forward position. Gomez whipped her quite a few times coming home, probably because she had been green in her maiden win.

Despite the margin of victory, I’ve seen horses finish better. I felt the finish was solid, not spectacular. My hunch is that Queen of the Creek will go as far as her speed will carry her, and will probably have days when she is brilliant, and days when she is very beatable.

There was only one other turf race on the day, a well-stocked nw2x won by Unbridle’s Dream, with Barbaro’s brother Nicanor 5th beaten a length. That race went faster than Queen of the Creek went, but not by much. I wouldn’t say Queen of the Creek is quite set for a grade I win without further improvement, but she’s probably close to that good. That is, if you go by times, margins, etc., which may not be the whole story with turf horses.

At 2, Queen of the Creek was 4th on Polytrack at Keeneland first out, then broke her maiden on the turf at Churchill about three weeks later. I had notes on that race and went back and watched the stretch run. I found her performance remarkably similar to the race on Thursday. I saw the same ability to take over a race before the stretch. She was less green on Thursday, however, although changing leads was still not second nature. Thursday’s race does seem like it was considerably faster than her maiden win.

Three-quarter sister to the dam of Big Brown might not mean a lot to some of you, and doesn’t reveal Queen of the Creek’s sire, who is Theatrical. When you look at a Theatrical out of a Lear Fan mare, that doesn’t give much hope for dirt.

Queen of the Creek only brought $140,000 as a yearling, selling after Big Brown had won the Derby and Preakness, etc., but her dam’s produce record has not been impressive. Big Brown’s dam was not a stakes winner. Theatrical was also an old sire, and demand for the produce of all but the most elite among old sires is not high. Queen of the Creek was actually the only one of Theatrical’s 14 yearlings that changed hands at public auction in 2008 to bring as much as $100,000.

Queen of the Creek is owned by Patinack Farm and trained by Thomas Proctor.

Smart Seattle was the filly who was easily 2nd in this race. I liked her previous race, which came in an allowance at Santa Anita, and she’s certainly overdue to win this condition. It’s odd, because she hasn’t lived up to the expectations that she created when winning first out at Saratoga, but she’s actually been quite consistent. If there was a definition for quality starts for horses the way there is for baseball pitchers, Smart Seattle would rate as reliable. One of these days she’ll get back to turf sprinting (her win at Saratoga was 5 ½ furlongs), and that will be interesting.

Alcomatch: Keeneland, 4/8

Alcomatch’s first two races didn’t suggest star potential, but his maiden victory on Thursday suggests that he may just be a horse who is figuring things out late. His time was mediocre (1:36 3/5 equivalency), and he enjoyed a perfect trip, but horses who can finish as he did have potential. Running on synthetic for the first time after beginning his career on turf, Alcomatch was last of 12 after a half mile, but only 7 ½ lengths behind. The rate of speed for the final 4 ½ furlongs was somewhat slower than for the first half, so the first half in 48.43 could be considered honest. Garrett Gomez was patient with Alcomatch, keeping him behind and towards the inside on the far turn before looking for room to run. He found it by angling out, and Alcomatch had hardly a straw in his way for the rest of the trip. He was, however, very green, and it took Gomez some time to get him straightened out and on his right lead. When he was there, however, he closed with a rush to secure a half length victory over Juddmonte’s Colonialism. He finished much faster than any of the horses around him.

Alcomatch began his career at Gulfstream, finishing 4th by 5 in his debut behind Lentenor, then running 6th by 3. Both races were at a mile and a sixteenth, as was Thursday’s race.

Captain Canuck was 2nd in the race where Alcomatch was 6th and made a big impression on me with his strong finish, as you may remember. He was the lukewarm 3-1 favorite in this race but ran 8th by 3 ¾. Kurt Becker called him for being shuffled back on the backstretch (this appeared to be minor; just the normal jostling for position that normally occurs) and after that point, he seemed to drop back on his own accord. Obviously, at the end of the day, he wasn’t beaten that far, but he was a disappointment. He never seemed to factor.

Alcomatch is by Smart Strike. The sires of his first three dams are prominent names who raced in Europe: Royal Academy, Blushing Groom, and Vaguely Noble. With that background, it’s not surprising Alcomatch is on the turf/synthetic track, although his dam’s half sisters, C’Est L’ Amour and Passion Flower, were both stakes winners on dirt. Both C’Est L’ Amour and Passion Flower have had major success as broodmares, the former producing group I winner Passion for Gold, and the latter grade II winner Madeo.

Alcomatch was bought back for $125,000 as a yearling. He is owned by Richard Bassett and Longitude Farm and trained by Christophe Clement.

Belle of the Hall: Gulfstream, 4/8

You wouldn’t think Florida-bred maidens would be fertile ground for prospects, but first we had Trappe Shot, and now we have this nice filly, who scored at first asking by 5 lengths Thursday in a 6f race. Belle of the Hall did not show a lot of speed out of the gate, and Elvis Trujillo was in no hurry with her, having her 5th by 2 ½ in an eight-horse field after a quarter mile. After about 3/8ths of a mile, however, she took off, showing very good bounce, and grabbed the lead within about a furlong. She came on the outside, although most of the lost ground didn’t come from circling a wall of horses, but because favorite and leader Truly a Myth took the turn rather wide. Belle of the Hall had Truly a Myth beaten pretty quickly, although the job took some finishing. Trujillo didn’t hit Belle of the Hall and had her under a moderate hand ride to the wire. She never changed leads. She appeared to be sort of loping along with a long stride. I don’t think she could have gone a lot faster, but I’m not sure. Certainly I think she might be able to in her next race.

The time was good, 1:10.04, for a 1:36 3/5 (1:36.62) equivalency, putting her in a cluster with so many recent 3-year-old filly maiden winners. Because this race was for Florida-breds, however, the time was of particular value.

Belle of the Hall’s performance was not a complete surprise, as she was a $340,000 purchase as a 2-year-old. When you see that she is by Graeme Hall, you think maybe she is just a total freak, but actually her female family is very live. Dam Vines of Justice, by Judge T C, was an allowance filly who made $159,000, but she was a half to four other horses who earned over $100,000, most talented of which was perhaps Ketchikan, 2nd in the 2007 Louisiana Derby before he was sidelined for over a year. Second dam Flowers and Vines was unraced but is a full sister to the brilliant Kentucky Oaks winner, Blushing K. D., as well as a half sister to Hong Kong champion Electronic Unicorn, Canadian champion Ambitious Cat, and stakes winner February Storm. I think Graeme Hall is a very capable sire, and with a good mare, I’m not surprised he has delivered.

My instinct is to think a horse by Graeme Hall is going to be a sprinter, but actually Graeme Hall’s average-winning distance data suggest they can surprise going longer (6.98 furlong average-winning distance, compared to 6.81 furlongs for average-distance raced, according to equineline.com). Duke of Mischief just won the 9f Oaklawn Handicap last weekend. Belle of the Hall’s female family also seems to include plenty of routers, and she certainly relaxed and finished in her maiden win.

Belle of the Hall is owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by Tom Albertrani.

Miss Keller: Keeneland, 4/7

In an excellent field of nw2x turf fillies and mares, the race came down to a couple of 4-year-old fillies making their 2010 debuts, Miss Keller and Consequence. Miss Keller got up in just about the last jump under a patient ride from Javier Castellano.

Bluegrass Princess and The Best Day Ever joined Miss Keller and Consequence as graded stakes fillies of 2009 in the race. None was a graded stakes winner, although Bluegrass Princess was disqualified from a division of the grade III Valley View, and Consequence won the $200,000 American 1000 Guineas, which certainly could earn a grade in future years. The lineup was further bolstered by a pair of Gulfstream allowance winners in their last starts, Sweetest Song and Film Charm.

Sweetest Song was the early leader, with Consequence running 2nd in the mile race. Miss Keller was last coming out of the first turn, which did enable her to save ground. Miss Keller soon passed a horse, and did it willingly. A somewhat spread-out field became more compact down the backstretch. Castellano waited until near the end of the far turn to fan out Miss Keller, and when he did so, she was quite wide and had a good deal of work to do. She was coming well but late to change leads. Meanwhile, John Velazquez on Consequence had the measure of Sweetest Song but was saving some horse. When he asked Consequence, who was running in the middle of the track, he got a good response, but Miss Keller had changed leads by this point and was full of run, going on to the victory.

While she certainly didn’t appear remarkable, I liked the way Miss Keller looked, and the final quarter mile bore out what I saw. The final quarter was run in 22.58, and Miss Keller was 3 ½ lengths back at that point, meaning she ran the final quarter in about 22 seconds flat. The Keeneland turf was very fast by its standards, but Keeneland is still not Gulfstream, and a final quarter in 22 seconds certainly means something.

By quarter, the race went in 23.02, 24.75, 24.72, and 22.58. That fast first quarter makes sense, as the field was quite spread out at the end of it. Whether Miss Keller in general overcame the pace, or was in good early position, is a matter of interpretation, as the pace was at first fast, and then became slow.

The race certainly wasn’t dominated by other closers, though. Consequence was 2nd early. Sweetest Song, the early leader, hung on for 3rd. Fourth-place finisher La Mousse was 3rd early, and 5th-place finisher Bluegrass Princess was 4th and 5th early.

The time was slightly slower than a nw1x for 3-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth, but I suspect that can be chalked up to the odd pace. It’s hard to criticize a time too much when the final quarter goes in under 22 3/5. It’s also not unexpected for nw2x fillies and mares to lose out to nw1x 3-year-old colts, although my assumption in citing this race is that it was an unusually good group of nw2x fillies and mares. So if the time were an apples-to-apples comparison, I would like to see the fillies and mares win.

Miss Keller is an Irish-bred and ran in Ireland in 2008 and 2009 before coming to the U.S. Her form there doesn’t stand out to me (two wins in seven starts, no black type), but she was 5/2 in the grade II Lake Placid in her first start in America, finishing 4th by 4. She gave very different accounts of herself in the Valley View and Mrs Revere at Churchill in the fall, running a close 2nd in the first, and finishing 13th in the 2nd. Those were both stakes restricted to 3-year-old fillies. Miss Keller is owned by Three Chimneys Racing LLC and trained by Roger Attfield. I certainly get the sense that she’s meant to be pretty good; she was certainly placed aggressively last year.

Southern Fireball: Santa Anita, 4/4

A triumphant return today for this 3-year-old filly, who held off Elusive Galaxy by a half length in a turf sprint. It was a nw1x. The field consisted of three fillies who had been behind Tanda in this condition on March 5, plus the Smarty Jones filly Sweet Sophia, and Southern Fireball. Those losing performances against Tanda suddenly looked better now that Tanda went on to dominate the Santa Paula a week ago. None of the vanquished had been beaten particularly far by Tanda, either; Ghost Girl had the worst performance, and she was only 2 ¾ lengths behind. Even-money favoritism fell to the best finisher, Elusive Galaxy, who was 3rd in that race. Comparing Southern Fireball to the Tanda beatens was difficult, because Southern Fireball had been a highly-regarded 2-year-old on the synthetic, and had no experience at 3, or on turf.

Southern Fireball was very quick in the opening strides, as Trevor Denman noted, then settled back in 2nd, while Sweet Sophia opened up a lead of a couple of lengths. Elusive Galaxy sat behind Southern Fireball. Southern Fireball and Elusive Galaxy prepared to pounce as the field entered the stretch, with Southern Fireball two deep, and Elusive Galaxy three deep.

Sweet Sophia dropped out, leaving just the other two, and they would distance themselves from Ghost Girl and Sweet Hanni, too. Southern Fireball showed some kick, changed leads well, and geot the jump on Elusive Galaxy. Elusive Galaxy was going better late, but Southern Fireball kept finding more. Still, she appeared tired, and it was a good thing the wire came up when it did.

It was somewhat challenging to evaluate the quality of this race, but I felt from several standpoints it checked out. 1) The 5 ¼ length margin from Elusive Galaxy back to 3rd was impressive. 2) As was the time of the race, to a degree 3) The potential that both of the first two had shown in the past provided some goodwill. There’s no need to discuss point #1, so I’ll start off with the time.

The time was 1:12.92. It was the fastest of the five 6 ½ furlong turf sprints over the weekend, including beating 32-28 older filly and mare claimers on Sunday by 0.49 seconds, nw2x fillies and mares on Saturday by 0.28 seconds, and 40-35 older male claimers on Saturday by 0.91 seconds. The comparisons were a bit weaker versus the non 6 ½ furlong races, but I can understand why someone would see those as of secondary importance.

One interesting comparison, though, was the Providentia, because it’s a grade II for 3-year-old fillies. That came up very fast, and much faster than Southern Fireball’s win. I was a little flummoxed by that, although I think City to City has looked very good in her last couple.

My conclusion is a good time by Southern Fireball, but nothing exciting. Perhaps the 6 ½ furlong times also tend to be a little bit quicker in smaller fields, where the field doesn’t fan as wide, so that was a meaingless advantage in the Southern Fireball race.

To turn to the histories of Southern Fireball and Elusive Galaxy, Southern Fireball broke her maiden at Hollywood last May 14 by 4 ¼ lengths. I’ve disagreed with many of the 2-year-old Beyers in California the last couple of years, but this one was big at 90. That Beyer led to strong favoritism in the Cinderella. Southern Fireball wasn’t bad, but the 2-year-old fillies in California were good last year, and she could only manage 4th by 3. The Sorrento at Del Mar was her last start at 2, and she checked in last. Doug O’Neill trains her.

Elusive Galaxy was also active early in her 2-year-old year, but in Ireland. She won by a head at first asking, then placed in a couple of stakes, before coming to Toronto for the Natalma, and then to America. Elusive Galaxy ran 4th in the Natalma as the clear favorite, then 11th by 8 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She sprinted in Ireland, and her pedigree certainly has a lot of speed in it (Elusive City out of a Lure mare, with the 2nd dam by Bold Ruckus), so maybe those races were too far at one mile. It’s not necessarily easy to judge a race like the Natalma, but she certainly seems to be running better this year, even allowing for the class drop. Ben Cecil trains her.

Well Monied: Santa Anita, 4/4

Well Monied required four starts to break her maiden, but once she did last March, she figured things out, and went on to win her next two starts, the last being the grade II Honeymoon. Although unsuccessful in the grade I American Oaks and Del Mar Oaks, she was equally impressive, and probably should have won at least one of them. In the American Oaks, you never saw a horse go so wide unless it was trying to vacate the course, and in the Del Mar Oaks, she suffered a first 6f run in 1:14 3/5 on a firm course. Yet she placed in both races, and showcased an excellent turn of foot.

She made her return today, about six months later, and won a very open money allowance at a mile on her preferred turf surface. I have to say I was not greatly impressed. I didn’t see the kick I saw last year. Well Monied only won by a half length, too, over a field that didn’t provide the promise that the conditions seemed to allow. And five of the other six fillies finished within 2 ½ lengths of Well Monied. The pace set the race up for her: the first half was run in 46.59, the second half in 48.05. I would have liked to have seen what she would have done in the Del Mar Oaks with that kind of pace.

Well Monied’s close was more steady than strong. She did try hard and seemingly found another gear in the final yards, and she didn’t make things easier on herself by circling the field and losing ground. But overall, she didn’t look in the peak of form to me.

Comparing the time to others on the day, it was about what it should have been for the condition, or a bit behind. But by no means was it really poor. So that’s good. We’ll see where Well Monied goes from here -- if she’s not the same high-class filly she was last year, or if she’s just rounding into form.

Exquisite, the second favorite off four Beyers of 90 or better in her last 10 races, was 2nd, and Chasin Dreams, who won three races in a row at Remington Park last fall, was 3rd. It’s a bit difficult for me to decipher the New Zealand races (where Exquisite began), even with Equibase’s extremely handy Horse Search, but it appears to me Exquisite doesn’t have any black type, even with those sporadic good Beyers she runs. She definitely doesn’t have any black type in America.

Quick Notice: Gulfstream, 4/4

This is definitely a mare I am writing up based on this race and not her undistinguished history. She entered Sunday’s nw2x allowance at 6 ½ furlongs with earnings of just $82,643 in 17 starts and on-the-board finishes in just eight races. Now 5, she has run for as low as $17,500 claiming. She’s not one of those horses who used to have talent, went wrong, and found a trainer or a key that released it: she was dropped into maiden claiming $40,000 in her 3rd start at 2, which she won. Before Sunday, virtually her only bullish moments came when she was with Wayne Catalano for two races a year ago. She won the first by 12 ½ lengths going 6f in a n1x at Hawthorne that had 11 runners, and she was 3rd by 2 ¼ in the grade III Sixty Sails behind Swift Temper and Santa Teresita in the second. She was then off for 10 months, until this Gulfstream meet, where she ran Beyers of 75 and 85 in a couple of sprint nw2xs, doing no better than 3rd. She kept the same ownership when Catalano took her over for a couple of races and got such excellent results; you’d think the owners would have stayed with him, but obviously there’s some explanation for why they haven’t, and Quick Notice is back with David Kassan, who has been her trainer for most of her career.

Enough (for now anyway) of telling you what I don’t like about Quick Temper as a potentially good horse. What I did like was this race. Wait, already back to the bad stuff: she wasn’t facing much of a field. Just six horses, and she was 6/5 odds.

Quick Notice always comes from well back, although she has worn blinkers since one race before the Catalano breakout races, and a closer who wears blinkers is REALLY a closer. She was in last or next to last early in this one, but the field was compact. Under mild urging from E T Baird, Quick Notice began a strong early move, taking control. She was in front shortly before the field hit the quarter pole. Baird was riding her less at this point than he had when he began the move; he was just about motionless on her until inside the 1/8th pole. It was an eye-catching move, and she continued very strongly under no urging. She was so sharp she made the virtually on her own. When Baird did go to a drive, she didn’t seem to give anything extra, and in fact, stopped drawing out, but did maintain her lead. The margin of victory was 2 ¼ lengths over Golden Mystery, with the remainder of the field somewhat compressed behind Golden Mystery. My equivalency came out to 1:36 (1:36.05); good enough for a mare to rightfully run in graded stakes, but probably not good enough to win.

I’m curious now about that 12 ½ length win Quick Notice had last March 15. It was also accomplished from behind. You don’t see too many big wins like that when a horse comes from behind sprinting. I bet it looked a lot like this race.

Quick Notice’s pedigree to me is that of a 6f horse, and all five of her wins have come at 6f or 6 ½ furlongs. She’s by More Than Ready, out of a Dehere mare, with her 3rd dam Silver Deputy’s 2nd. Silver Deputy’s female family includes a lot of good sprinters. In fact, the Dehere mare (Here to Win) is certainly bred a lot like Silver Deputy, being by a son of Deputy Minister (Silver Deputy’s sire), out of a mare by Northern Prospect (a son of Mr. Prospector, who is Silver Deputy’s broodmare sire), with of course a common tail-line female relative. Quick Notice did tie for her best-ever Beyer in the Sixty Sails at a mile and an eighth, but the bulk of the evidence is that she’s better sprinting.

Unlike most More Than Readys, she’s shown no fondness for the turf, never hitting the board there in five starts. Her dirt form is also much stronger than her synthetic form. With that pattern, the connections may have a quandry, because Quick Notice has been based in Chicago before, and Arlington and its synthetic surface are the home of Chicago racing starting April 29. Quick Notice has run some bad races on dirt before, too, and perhaps Catalano or some other change explained the big Hawthorne races, and not dirt.

Some Stakes Figures

Custom for Carlos, Count Fleet, 1:34 2/5 (1:34.59)
Line of David, Arkansas Derby, 1:34 4/5 (1:34.85)
Stately Victor, Blue Grass, 1:35 (1:35.01)
Dr. Zic, Vinery Madison, 1:35 (1:35.02)
Total Bull, Fifth Season, 1:35 2/5 (1:35.52)
Franny Freud, Beaumont, 1:35 2/5 (1:35.54)
Zenyatta, Apple Blossom, 1:35 3/5 (1:35.60)
Payton d'Oro, Bayakoa, 1:35 3/5 (1:35.67)
Together Indy, Commonwealth, 1:35 4/5 (1:35.98)
Warren's Pepe, Santana Mile, 1:36 1/5 (1:36.36)
Decelerator, Instant Racing, 1:36 3/5 (1:36.72)
Touching Beauty, Comely, 1:37 4/5 (1:37.85), split variant and made worse

Some Notes About My Speed Figures

 
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