Today in Racing, Feb 3, 2014

Racing at Aqueduct and at Parx is canceled today; the latter I imagine with a particularly heavy heart given the cancellation in New York that would have made it the only east coast track with action today.

Some odds and ends from the weekend:

– Fashion Plate ($11.40) won the one mile Las Virgenes at Santa Anita on Saturday.  No longer, in this age when two-year olds and young three-year olds progress directly from maiden races to stakes, is it so unusual to see a horse win a Grade 1 stakes off its graduation race.  In fact, not a single one of the seven contestants in the Las Virgenes had, on dirt, ever won anything other than a maiden race.  Streaming was made the even money favorite off her Grade 1 win on the late and lamented Cushion surface in the Hollywood Starlet, but was unable to quite reproduce that effort on the real stuff.  She ran well, but was unable to match strides with the wire-to-wire winner, who earned a TFUS speed figure of 94 for the effort, her first try beyond 6 1/2 furlongs.

Fashion Plate is a daughter of Old Fashioned, a son of Unbridled’s Song who won the Remsen and the Southwest in 2008-9, respectively, to become undefeated in four starts before finishing second in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, and then joining the scrapheap of promising three-year olds retired prematurely due to soundness issues. Fashion Plate is from his first crop, and is his second graded stakes winner this year and overall – Sweet Whiskey won the G3 Old Hat at Gulfstream last month.  Despite her modest pedigree, Fashion Plate attracted $340,000 at the Ocala two-year old sale last April after excelling in the under tack show (a furlong in 9.4 seconds).

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After two unsuccessful tries on synth, I imagine we’ll see her stay on dirt for the time being.

– Secret Circle took advantage of a hot pace to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November, but on Sunday, he found the tables turned.  This time, in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes, he found himself involved in a breakneck pace duel, with Moonshine Bay, the longest shot in the field. And while he managed to outlast that rival, he could not hold off the closing Wild Dude ($19.20). For his valiant effort, Secret Circle earned the top TFUS speed figure in the field – a 117 compared to a 115 for the winner – and that’s actually a higher number than he earned when winning the Sprint (114).  Sahara Sky, who closed to win this race last year (as well as the Met Mile last spring), was a big disappointment, running last all the way around.  One might have thought the race was perfectly setup for this closer, who owned by far the best late pace figure in the field at 106.

– Back east, trainer Christophe Clement continues to excel in maiden grass races, sweeping both such races at Gulfstream on Sunday.

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Obviously, as borne out by our trainer ratings, this barn does well in these races….as well as at Gulfstream overall.

Remember also that we include ROI in the trainer ratings, and I have no doubt that this has contributed to his high rating in the maiden turf category, as his horses in these races don’t always get bet down.  On Sunday, Gold Empire ($14.80) won in her 4th turf start….and only her 4th race in 596 days!

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It was an accomplishment just to get this five-year old mare back on the track so quickly after her last race, and a testament to the trainer’s prowess and patience to get this daughter of Empire Maker, out of the G1 winner In The Gold (Golden Missile), into the winner’s circle.  She earned a TFUS speed figure of 91 (though pacesetter Town Tour got the top figure of 95).  In the 9th, Valseuse ($11.40) won in her career debut for the barn, overcoming the outside post under deft handling by Julien Leparoux, and earning a figure of 77.  She’s by Kitten’s Joy out of an unraced Royal Academy mare.

– Quite an eventful day of ups and downs, up and down the East Coast, for the Gary Contessa barn on Sunday.  Up here at the Big A, he took the 4th race with Ausable River ($10.80) (one of two winners on the day for the hot apprentice rider Taylor Rice); and then appeared (to those not watching the head on shot live) to have won a second race with Bellamy in the 7th before that one was justifiably DQ’d for persistently drifting out and bothering Hackleton ($5.40) (Ms. Rice’s other winner, for her aunt Linda).

Meanwhile, down at Gulfstream, Contessa scored in the 7th when Stick to Your Guns ($52.60) got his nose down on the wire to nip Satisfaction and get the win in his first start since Saratoga.  Then, in the 11th, his Giant Shadow was a most unfortunate loser at 6.90-to-1,  just failing to catch favored Patsy’s Holiday ($5), who saved ground and traveled 37 feet less than the runner-up, on the wire.  Contessa, known almost exclusively as a New York guy, has made the most of his excursions to South Florida, as you can see from his ratings.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 11.58.26 AMPatsy’s Holiday is the latest Gulfstream winner for leading trainer Todd Pletcher, his 38th from 123 starters (31%) since November 30.

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