Jake Pearson looks at the big races in America this evening with Elysea’s World fancied to land the Buena Vista Stakes at Santa Anita.
With all the focus on the Kentucky Derby trail recently you would be forgiven for forgetting that horses do in fact race after the age of three. This weekend we take a break from prep races for Churchill Downs' big May meeting and focus on some previous Triple Crown contenders as well as some battle hardened, war horses as we preview two graded races from Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park.
Buena Vista Stakes (G2) – Santa Anita – 23/02/2019
The Buena Vista is a stakes race run over a mile and is open to fillies and mares aged four and upwards. This year’s renewal revolves around the Jerry Hollendorfer horse Vasilika who is something of a minor miracle as far as owner Nick Gatto is concerned.
Bought for just $40,000 almost exactly one year ago, the daughter of Skipshot then went on to win nine of her next 11 races, racking up $623,328 in prize money. Those races weren’t just run of the mill allowance events either, they included two grade two races, a grade one event and most recently the grade three Megahertz Stakes.
Prior to that race her run of eight consecutive victories was ended in the grade one Matriarch Stakes as she finished in fourth place. She bounced back from that minor setback with aplomb last month in the aforementioned Megahertz Stakes and connections will be hoping that that is the beginning of another outrageous run of victories.
In her last race she finished ahead of both Ms Bad Behaviour and Zaffinah, both of whom line up against her once more on Saturday. The former finished runner up last month and has some steady previous form to her name.
She finished runner-up in all of her last four starts including two grade three races and two black type events. She has not done an awful lot wrong but it does look as though she has found her level and it is difficult to make a case for her capturing a grade two competition any time soon.
Zaffinah on the other hand looks to have a bit more room for improvement in her. Although she finished a head behind Ms Bad Behaviour last time out she was finishing much the better of the two. Unfortunately it was the winner’s quick turn of foot that put the race to bed and it is hard to see a different outcome this time out.
The truth is the victor just looked to be the classier horse and while this Jack Carava trained mare certainly has ability, she may just be running into the wrong horse at the wrong time for the second consecutive race.
Fahan Mura is another entry that has had the misfortune of running into the formidable Vasilika on more than one occasion and although she has always come off second best, it is quite possible that this mare has finally come of age and is now ready to exact her revenge on her long-time rival.
The reason for this maturity comes from her performance in the grade three Robert J Frankel Stakes where she led from gate to wire and dug in well to hold off a number of late challenges.
That run gave connections the confidence to run her in the prestigious Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in January where she finished a disappointing 10th. It was overly ambitious to think she could compete on that stage but maybe she could on this one.
Just about the only entry in this field that hasn’t yet run into the mighty Vasilika is Richard Baltas’ ELYSEA'S WORLD. Originally bred to campaign in France, this Champs Elysees mare was sent to Chad Brown after just one run at Chantilly – which she won.
She was then shipped to America where she won her US debut at Belmont Park. Skip forward three years and this now six-year-old has six victories to her name including three grade three events. She has also placed in a further eight graded races and has only finished outside of the top four on four occasions during her career.
Last time out she finished down the field in the grade one E. P. Taylor Stakes after making the trip over to Canada. That was a disappointment, there’s no getting away from it, but her two previous runs saw her finish top of the pile in the grade three Violet Stakes and Matchmaker Stakes.
This is her first run this year after a four month layoff which should benefit her as she has previously finished second and first on her first start after a break.
VERDICT: If Vasilika comes out firing on all cylinders than this would seem a formality. On previous form she has the beating of Ms Bad Behaviour, Zaffinah and Fahan Mura and it is difficult to say with any conviction that either of those has a serious claim to reverse the form. ELYSEA'S WORLD has never faced the 14-time winner and has claims here at a potentially bigger price. She will have the experienced Joel Rosario on board and just maybe he can plot his way to victory with this Irish bred mare.
Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3) – Gulfstream – 23/02/2019
This year’s Hal’s Hope Stakes is the venue for the seasonal debut of one of last year’s early Triple Crown contenders. Quip was highly rated as a youngster as he won his first two races in impressive style for the WinStar Farm stud and he looked to be in with a serious chance of winning the Derby.
He faltered in his next race however, the grade two Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes before bouncing back to win the Tampa Bay Derby. Connections decided to bypass the Derby as they had another colt by the name of Justify who was to take aim at the Triple Crown.
This meant Quip ran in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park where he finished runner-up before a disappointing eighth place finish in the Preakness a month later. He ran such a bad race and recorded such a poor Equibase Speed Figure on that day that it is feasible to buy the excuse that he was tired from a long season of classic prepping.
This is his seasonal bow and it comes in a race without any particularly outstanding horses. If trainer Rodolphe Brisset could handpick an ideal field for his four-year-old’s return to action he probably couldn’t do much better than this.
That is not to say that this is a formality for the son of Distorted Humor. We are still unsure as to exactly how good this colt is. Twice he has flopped on the big occasion and only once has he posted an ESF of higher than 100.
Should Quip not turn out to be the four-year-old that WinStar are hoping he is then the betting would suggest that this is Breaking Lucky’s race to lose. The now seven-year-old has accumulated over $1m in prize money over his long career and is looking to add to his ever growing total at Gulfstream on Saturday.
The George Weaver (no relation) trained horse has had the benefit of a run already this year. He finished second in the Fred W Hooper Handicap over this course and distance. That was a good run and should stand him in good stead for this weekend but he has been largely inconsistent in his career, following up progressive performances with disappointing failures.
Admittedly he has run in some top quality races and faced some of the best opposition going with names such as Arrogate, Gun Runner and Mind Your Biscuits all on his beaten by list. However, being in the company of greatness does not inflict greatness and that is the worry with Breaking Lucky. He has had a good career and will continue to compete in these events but he is far too short a price for this race based on previous shortcomings.
Looking down the betting it is difficult to make a case for anything between the price of 5/1 and 12/1. Tale Of Silence is coming off a nine month lay-off and has never won first time out; Copper Town has won well in allowance races but the only times he has stepped up to graded stakes he has finished eighth and seventh; Wild Shot’s best finish in a graded race came in 2017 when he won a grade three event at Churchill Downs, since then he has finished seventh, sixth, ninth and seventh; Prince Lucky has twice run in grade three events and recorded placings of seventh and ninth, his other races have been at a lower level and this is his first assignment since June of last year, and, despite being a Gulfstream specialist, Mr Jordan looks to be out of his depth here after a poor start to the season, finishing seventh in a black type event last month.
That leaves the two outsiders who currently represent the only obvious value in the race. If Breaking Lucky is at the top of the market then it is something of a puzzle as to why FELLOWSHIP is so far at the bottom of it. Last time out the Kenneth Decker trained six-year-old outran his odds of 50/1 to push Aztec Sense all the way in the Fred W Hooper Stakes and was only caught on the line by Breaking Lucky who came with a charge. The disparity in price raises an eyebrow and puts Fellowship well and truly in the value category.
Joining Fellowship at the bottom end of the book is the four-year-old Sir Anthony. Named after his trainer Anthony Mitchell, this colt is looking to build on his dethroning of the mighty Audible last time out and make this his fifth consecutive win.
The son of Mineshaft started life slowly with just one win in his first ten races but since his victory in the Bruce D Memorial Stakes he has transformed himself into something of a winning machine. Admittedly the two races following the Bruce D were only allowance events but his Harlan’s Holiday Stakes form speaks for itself. Defeating grade one winner Audible while recording an Equibase Speed Figure of 107 certainly puts him in the mix despite his comparative lack of experience.
VERDICT: Current favourite Breaking Lucky looks a little vulnerable here with just one win in his last 13 runs. Preference would be to take him on with FELLOWSHIP who finished just a head behind him after a brave run over course and distance last month.
Also representing value is the lightly raced Sir Anthony who looks to have scope for further improvement. A double-figure price for a horse looking to make it five wins on the bounce looks a little generous.
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