Scheduled post time 5:10pm EDT
[UPDATE: Havana has been scratched. He reportedly has suffered a quarter crack.]
Speaking about Havana, who is making his much-anticipated 2014 debut in the seven furlong Grade 2 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday, trainer Todd Pletcher said: “We’re trying to determine how far he wants to go.” Well, the last time we saw him, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, it looked as if he wanted to go all but about 100 yards of the mile and a sixteenth distance. Here’s the video of that race, for all the good it does considering the unnecessarily esoteric camera angles that networks apparently feel compelled to employ. (There are a lot of things wrong with racing, but the good old-fashioned pan shot is not one of them.)
Prior to the Juvenile was his smashing win in the one-turn, one-mile Champagne, in which he earned a figure of 112, the best number earned by a two-year-old last year. Far be it for us mere mortals to question the motives of the mighty Toddster. But Havana could win this race by the length of the stretch and not answer any questions that we horseplayers may have about how far he wants to go.
Although the 99 TFUS speed figure that Havana earned in finishing second to New Year’s Day (since retired to injury, and standing at stud in Kentucky for $12,500) was a sharp pullback from the Champagne (and from his debut, for that matter), we think that the race was actually a significant step forward in some very important respects. It was his first race outside of New York, and first try around two turns. After breaking sharply, he looked comfortable rating when taken off the red-hot pace by Gary Stevens. He took dirt in the face for the first time. He passed horses for the first time, circling the field while wide on the final turn, and making short work of Strong Mandate shortly after turning for home.
And while he failed to seal the deal, he did lose ground to the winner when drifting a bit wide, and may have been compromised by a track that we rate as favoring closers. (That is denoted by the race rating being shaded in light blue; dark blue means an even stronger bias.)
Now he returns after getting “behind schedule a touch,” according to his trainer, with a “solid work pattern,” most recently a couple of sharp five furlong breezes. He cuts back to one turn, at which he earned his outsized speed figures. Amongst his other stellar trainer ratings, Pletcher has a 96 for horses making their first start off the layoff. And our Pace Projector, without even factoring in a possible speed bias like the one we saw at Gulfstream last Saturday, puts him in front in a race favoring horses on/near the early lead.
Havana is listed as the 9-5 morning line favorite, but we wouldn’t be at all surprised if his post-time odds are half that price. With another excellent weekend card, with many solid betting opportunities to be had, we see no compelling reason to invest our money trying to beat Havana in this spot… …Especially with the second choice in the morning line, No Nay Never (2-1). While this colt is undefeated, with a wonderful pattern of improving speed figures (and remember, our figures for foreign races are on the same scale as the domestic ones), the fact remains that he’s never run on dirt.
Now, yes, he’s been working up a storm on the Gulfstream main track. Yay, he has a fine pedigree rating of 81 for dirt sprints. (He descends from the distaff family of the El Camino Real Derby winner Tamarando.) And always, trainer Wesley Ward does quite well with horses going from turf to dirt, with a rating of 98 for that move. But still, he’s being asked to do something he hasn’t done before. At, or around, his morning line, we would be leaving him off of our tickets. There are two other entrants whom we find interesting as candidates to spice up the exotics (if you can’t resist):
Can’t Stop The Kid (6-1) comes off a triple-digit speed figure himself, a 101 earned in his last effort, a six furlong allowance race. That’s a lifetime best, and his second dirt win in a row since adding blinkers and Lasix. Trainer Donna Green has a rating of 90 with three-year old sprinters, and this colt has an excellent bullet five furlong work for this. Pace Projector places him right behind the two favorites, and we look for a good effort from this son of Montbrook
Prudhoe Bay (5-1) returns to dirt after beating a couple of these on synthetic at Ocala. In his sole defeat, Prudhoe Bay was dueled into defeat at one mile by Chad Brown’s 4-5 favorite Coup de Grace, who actually improved his speed figure next time out despite his disappointing performance as the 3-1 second choice in the Holy Bull. Trainer Edward Plesa, Jr. has been extremely sharp at Gulfstream of late, with three winners and four seconds from his last nine starters going into Friday’s card (one of those winners being Strategic Keeper, the 39-1 shot who was elevated into the win spot in the controversial DQ in the finale last Saturday). Plesa has a trainer rating of 86 in dirt sprints, and 99 in combination with jockey Paco Lopez. The rest of these look outmatched based on their dirt speed figures.
With Havana scratched, attention turns to the widely and wildly-hyped No Nay Never, the accolades for whom continue to pour in. Got a glimpse of him last evening, and he looks rather scary. May be alone on the lead too with Pletcher’s colt out. Still, given his lack of racing experience on dirt – and keeping in mind that his short-term objective is a grass race in England – we’ll try a small exacta box with Can’t Stop The Kid and Prudhoe Bay.