US Stakes Racing Review

Last Saturday provided us with some fantastic quality racing with its fair share of shocks, none more so than in the Big Cap, the Santa Anita Handicap worth a mouthwatering $1m. The market spoke for Effinex, who went off the 7/5 favorite but the stats said no as no horse has won this race first time out in the year in the last 20 attempts. Sadly for favorite backers the stats were right and Effinex trailed in a well beaten third. Whether the horse was beaten through being ring-rusty, the late hives scare or just wasn’t good enough, only time will tell.

The shock winner was Melatonin, who went off at 16/1. In truth, it was difficult to spot his credentials for this race based on form study as he had been running almost exclusively over sprint trips, had never gone 1 ¼ miles before and his graded stakes form was minimal on turf and non-existent on dirt. However, his last run was impressive and he was unbeaten at the course and without the likes of California Chrome and Hoppertunity in the race, connections took their chance and won in spades. Melatonin led from the start and wound it up leaving the second turn and drew away to win by over 4 lengths. Now that connections have found the key to this horse, it will be interesting to see where they go next.

The other Grade 1 on the card, The Frank E Kilroe Turf Mile saw another favourite beaten when 6/1 shot, What A View ran away with the race, winning by 3 ¾ lengths. No-one really wanted to make the pace so jockey Kent Desormeaux was able to dictate the race from the front on the rain-softened ground and never looked in danger. Favorite Bolo made ground from 6th to snatch second on the line but had no chance with the impressive winner, who seems to be improving with age.

The San Felipe Stakes gave the three year olds a chance to strut their stuff and earn 50 Kentucky Derby points. Once again, another short price favorite (Mor Spirit) was beaten, this time by the stakes debutant, Danzing Candy. Although Mor Spirit had to be angled during the race, there was no fluke about Danzing Candy’s win and he could be open to improvement.

Freed from having to watch the rear of Nyquist, Exaggerator was expected to put up a bold show in this race. However, he didn’t get the best of starts or trip and, although he loomed with menace in midstretch, he had cried enough by the finish and was passed for second by Mor Spirit.

On to Tampa Bay and the feature race was the Tampa Bay Derby and, guess what, the favorite was beaten. The culprit here was Brody’s Cause, who went off 2.3/1 fav on the back of a fine run in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. He took a bump at the start and was never in the hunt and was beaten over 12 lengths. Maybe lack of match fitness told or perhaps he has already peaked at two years old; we will have to wait on that one.

Destin continued his upward curve by taking the race in a course record time of 1 minute 42.82 seconds. This time is more meritorious as the horse had to come wide on both turns and the course was not “super-quick”. This son of Giant’s Causeway is going places and finished with plenty of run, which bodes well for any further step up in trip. It is also worth noting that there was a considerable gap of 7 lengths between second and third, which adds gravitas to the performance.

The Florida Oaks, a grade 3 event for the fillies over a mile and a sixteenth on turf went to the ex-Italian trained horse, Baciami Piccola. The horse was having its first run in the USA having been placed in a couple of Listed sprints in mainland Europe as a two year old. She obviously appreciated the extra distance of the race; held up early on, she was pulled wide in the straight and closed willingly to prevail by ½ length over Enjoy Yourself. Both the first and second were bred in the UK.

Interestingly, Enjoy Yourself had been beaten by the favorite, Ava’s Kitten in the Listed Chelsea Flowers Stakes at Belmont in October. It would, therefore, appear that Enjoy Yourself is on an upward curve. However, Ava’s Kitten was bumped at the start, was short of room at a key stage in the stretch and was beaten under a length so there is no guarantee that the form will be upheld next time they meet.

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