HBO’s Luck: Bad Break, Strong Finish

The best way to describe the new HBO series, Luck, by David Milch (Deadwood) and Michael Mann (Miami Vice), that stars Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte?

Bad break, strong finish.

After watching the series premier this past weekend I’d give it a 3.5 out 5.  Or in horse racing terms, put him in your deep exotics because he shows potential.  Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the hour-long premier and was fully engulfed the entire time.  But for much of that time I was trying to play catch up with everything that was going on.

As the series begins, someone who appears to be a mobster Chester “Ace” Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) leaves prison with what appears to be a bit of an attitude. He’s picked up by his driver/friend, Gus (Dennis Farina), who fronts as the owner of a thoroughbred purchased by Ace.

Luck shows little concern with helping the audience understand what’s going on. Instead, they introduce us to a solid assortment of characters at the racetrack (Santa Anita) as the narrative framework of the story. Continue reading

Oaklawn Report #3

3 Stars of the Week:

-1st star – Riley Tucker (KY) – For back to back weeks now our first star has been an older horse that has ran a courageous race.  Last week Absinthe Minded dug deep to win the Pippin, and this week Riley Tucker ran his heart out to win the King Cotton.  Riley Tucker, now seven years old, was making his 38th start of his career.  His form in recent races had been slipping as he did not win a race in 2011, but Saturday was his day at Oaklawn.  When Hamazing Destiny caught him in the stretch it looked to be over, but Riley Tucker found more, and prevailed  by just over a length at the end.  With this performance, one has to think the Count Fleet sprint later in the meet could be a long term goal.

2nd star – Apprehender (KY) – I was ready to make this colt the first star of the week, but Riley Tucker’s gutty performance  forced me to drop him down to number two.  Making his first career start, Apprehender completely dominated a maiden special weight group, receiving a Beyer rating of 97 for the six furlongs route.  The win put him in the starting gate for the Southwest Stakes, according to trainer Ingrid Mason.  For me, this was the most impressive performance by any three year old so far this season at Oaklawn.  Jockey Inosencio Diego never asked the horse to run a step; he just blew them all away on his own.  Out of all the local Oaklawn colts, Apprehender might just be the one with the best chance to win the Southwest.

-3rd star – Hearts On Fire (KY) – Coming off a layoff and having to tackle Arienza, there were plenty of built in excuses Hearts On Fire could have used before the gates opened in Thursday’s feature race.  Then when the gates opened Hearts On Fire missed the break, giving all of us watching little hope she’d be able to recover to beat a competitive field.  As they turned for home she had put herself in an improved position, but still looked to be a longshot to win.  She kept grinding though, and launched a bid on the insider rail, just putting her nose in front at the wire.  You’d have to think trainer Donnie K Von Hemel will be thinking about a stakes race off this performance; she should only improve off this start. Continue reading

Pletcher Explodes at Gulfstream

Never has there been a day so dominant for Todd Pletcher.  The eyes of the horse racing nation were on three races at Gulfstream Park this Sunday afternoon; races seven, nine, and ten all had major Kentucky Derby and Oaks implications. Race seven was an allowance race for three-year olds going a mile and one-sixteenth.  It was thought before the day that three or four nice Derby prospects were in this race. Race nine was the Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes for three-year old fillies.  The race was headlined by three hot Kentucky Oaks Prospects.  The tenth was the Grade 3 Holy Bull for three-year old colts.  This raced featured two-year old horse of the year Hansen, which most people thought was unbeatable at a mile.  Pletcher had horses in all three races, but only had the favorite in one of them.  What happened in these three races totally changed the landscape of Kentucky Derby and Oaks picture today.  Now Pletcher has a strangle hold on both divisions.

El Padrino was Pletcher’s charge in the seventh.  He was within striking distance of the early leaders early in the race, just waiting to make his move.  Take Charge Indy, making his first start since finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, went out to a commanding lead entering the stretch, and looked to be pulling away.  That’s when El Padrino dug deep, and launched a long sustained drive, flying by Take Charge Indy to win by two lengths.  The victory puts him at the top of the list for Kentucky Derby contenders.  His pedigree screams ten furlongs, so he might actually get better with added distance.  I must say, looking at him and watching him run reminds me a lot of Curlin.

In the Forward Gal Stakes, Plecther had the favorite, Broadway’s Alibi.  This one was simply breath-taking.  She blazed out to an early lead setting a fast pace, and never looked back.  She basically toyed with her competition, winning by an unbelievable 17 lengths.  The performance reminded me of the great Rachel Alexandra; she simply ran them off their feet.  Even though the race was only seven furlongs, Broadway’s Alibi is now the early favorite to win the Kentucky Oaks.  I can’t wait to watch this horse stretch out in distance. Continue reading

Holy Bull Stakes Preview

The Picks:

Best bet to win – #4 Hansen

Best longshot – #1 Silver Max

Top 4 – 4,6,2,1

About the Race:  Florida’s road to the Kentucky Derby starts off with a bang Sunday when recently crowned two year old of the year champion Hansen, squares off in the $400,000 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park against five other rivals.  The Grade 3 Holy Bull serves as the first of three preps for the Kentucky Derby at Gulfstream, along with the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 26 and Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31.  The field is a bit disappointing considering that $400,000 worth of graded earnings are available.  With only six horses running, it might show how much the other trainers think of Hansen.  He’ll be tough to beat at this distance. Continue reading

Big Stars Return to Action This Saturday

The last weekend in January has never been known as a must see weekend for racing, but this year figures to be quite different.  Awesome Feather, Mucho Macho Man, Musical Romance, and Hansen will all be making their season debut’s at Gulfstream Park this weekend.  Here is a look at each one of them as they take their first steps towards greatness in 2012:

 Hansen – The 2-year-old horse of the year returns for his 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park on Sunday.  The Holy Bull is our race of the week, so check back here for a full preview of this race on Thursday night.  While the field has not been set just yet, you’d have to think Hansen is going to be very tough to beat in this spot.  He’s already shown the ability to win against the best at one and one-sixteenth mile, so the one mile distance should suit him just fine.  I expect him to run well, but the big question of how far can he run will still need to be answered as we progress down the road to the Kentucky Derby. Continue reading

Who’s Hot – Who’s Not

Often time horse racing has a lot to do with streaks, whether they are winning or losing.  It’s very common to see trainers or jockeys get on a roll and be very tough to beat, and it’s also common to see guys be down on their luck for long peroids of time.  Here are some jockey’s and trainers that are hot; and one’s that are not.

Who’s Hot:

J. Larry Jones – Even though Larry Jones started off somewhat slow to begin the Fair Grounds meet, there is no one hotter than him at the moment.  He recently won the Silverbulletday Stakes and the LeComte Stakes with Believe You Can and Mr. Bowling, and he also won an allowance race with 3-year-old Mark Valeski, who will run in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in his next start.  Jones is no stranger to the Fair Grounds, but it was still a bold move to go there instead of Oaklawn, where he had been successful over the last few years.  It just shows you that he knows what he’s doing, and you should never doubt a good trainer. Continue reading

Oaklawn Report #2

3 Stars of the Week:

-1st Star – Absinthe Minded (KY) – Has there ever been a horse that deserved a win in The Pippin Stakes as much as Absinthe Minded did?  She was put through an insanely demanding schedule last year by D Wayne Lukas, and honestly I had written her off as a tired and worn out horse.  She showed us Saturday that I was dead wrong.  She took her normal lead and set moderate fractions, giving me some hope she could win.  When they made the turn she was caught and passed by Tiz Miz Sue.  At this point it looked to be over, but Absinthe Minded showed heart and dug back in, slipping past Tiz Miz Sue at the wire for a neck victory.  It was the type of victory that had all the Oaklawn locals smiling.  Absinthe Minded clearly loves the track here in Hot Springs, and I would say she’ll be pointed towards The Bayakoa Stakes for her next start.

-2nd Star – Gleaming (OK) – Many pundits and handicappers from around the country think Oaklawn Park is a speed favoring track, but Gleaming didn’t listen to them on Sunday.  Gleaming took home the American Beauty Stakes, rallying from way off the pace, and easily cruising past Sassy City a few steps before the wire.  The win was probably one of the best races of her career as she looked defeated for much of the race.  Oaklawn hasn’t had a dominate female sprinter on the grounds since Palanka City retired, but Gleaming might be able to fill that void.

-3rd Star – Chief of Affairs (TX) – I tweeted earlier in the week that if I had $35,000 I would have claimed Chief of Affairs on Saturday.  Boy to I wish I had that money!  Coming from way off the pace, which is very uncharacteristic for him, Chief of Affairs got up just in time to win an Allowance event worth $41,000.  Even though he’s now six years old, he showed that he still has plenty left in the tank.  He was claimed by Midwest Thoroughbred (lucky them) and will more than likely stay at Oaklawn for the fall.  Much like Absinthe Minded, Chief of Affairs loves the local oval of Hot Springs.  I would look for him in a Stakes race next time out. Continue reading

Kentucky Derby Prospects

It’s never too early to look ahead to The Derby. Here are ten prospects you need to know about:

1. Hanson – 2-year-old horse of the year will make his first start in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream next Sunday.  I’m not confident he’ll get The Derby distance, but I have to put him at #1 until he proves me wrong.

2. Union Rags – Many felt like he was the most talented 2-year-old, and his pedigree looks to be one that will carry him The Derby distance.  He passes the test in the “looks department” but that only will take you so far.

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LeComte Stakes Preview

The Picks:

Best Bet – #2 and #2B Dan and Sheila and Z Dager

Best Longshot – #3 Ted’s Folly

Top 4 – 2,3,5,4

About the Race:  The Grade 3, $175,000 Lecomte Stakes kicks off the road to the Kentucky Derby, with 13 three-year olds taking a shot at getting some ever important graded earnings.  The race has drawn a wide open field, with many question marks.  This will be used as a stepping stone towards next months $300,000 Risen Star Stakes, and the $1 million Louisiana Derby on April 1.  The Fair Grounds always produces one or two legit Kentucky Derby threats, so this one is definitely one to keep an eye on.

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