Saturday Stakes Preview, on the KY Derby Trail: Mor Spirit, Exaggerator hook up in San Felipe

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>>Go to the PPs for The San Felipe, Post Time 3:00 PST Saturday

We are back on the Kentucky Derby trail with the Grade 2, $400,00 San Felipe, to be run at a mile and 1/16 on the main track. Seven three-year-olds are entered. The two most accomplished horses in the field are Mor Spirit, who has won a Grade 1, and Exaggerator, who has banked over a million dollars. But this field is full of sharp, promising horses.

According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the early leader will be I Will Score. Next in line are Uncle Lino, Danzing Candy, and Smokey Image.

The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating in the field, a 90, belongs to Mor Spirit.

Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:

Uncle Lino (8-1): He ran a game race in his route debut, which came in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis. Two-wide around the first turn, he settled in the two-hole, engaged I Will Score, and then got the better of him before proving no match for Mor Spirit in deep stretch. He earned a lifetime top figure of 108, continuing his healthy pattern of development: 88 101 104 108. He draws well today and figures for an inside stalking trip. We’ll call him a contender at a decent price, though we strongly suspect he’ll have to go forward again to take this.

Danzing Candy (4-1): Both of his wins have come wire to wire. His speed figure went back two points in his route debut—from a 107 to a 105. He will be facing much tougher than he saw in his bottom-level allowance win. Note that the 6F fraction from his last race is color-coded in blue, signifying that the pace was slow to that call, though Dancing Candy did have to do some work (three-wide, then two-wide) around the first turn before he cleared off on the backstretch. Trainer Cliff Sise has had a strong meet. Talented colt may be forced into a position where he has to learn to come from off the pace, and learn against much better horses than he was beating on the lead.

Mor Spirit (2-1):

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Baffert ridgling keeps grinding along. The only Grade 1 winner in the field, he matched his top speed figure (109) in his first start at three. That is generally auspicious. In the Robert B. Lewis, it looked for a while as if he might end up in quite a fight, but then he powered away late in a manner that erased any doubt about who was best. A $650,000 purchase last year, he is obviously in superb hands, and he has a pleasing stalking style that permits his rider to set up on the outside, monitor events from up close, and then ask his horse when he pleases. A worthy favorite.

Cupid (12-1): Will Scratch.

I Will Score (10-1): Hollendorfer colt rode the rail on the lead in the Robert B. Lewis and fought gamely all the way around the track, though he was no match for the winner late. That was his route debut, and he went back one point from his previous effort. He certainly looks like the quickest horse in here, and Pace Projector has him on the lead, but there are a couple of candidates to make him work harder early than he had to do in the Lewis, in which, as his pace figures show, he ran an evenly paced race. Bejarano takes the mount today. We’ll give him a puncher’s chance on the lead, but since we are having a hard time seeing him reversing the verdict with Mor Spirit, we’ll look elsewhere for our play.

Smokey Image (4-1):

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6 for 6 lifetime, today he gets tested for class, as all of his victories have come against inferior competition in Northern California or against inferior Cal-breds in Southern California. In the California Cup Derby, which he just won in a walk, he was in a field that received a Race Rating of 98. The preliminary Race Rating for today’s race is a 110. In other words, he will be facing horses who look nothing like the ones he just beat. And his earlier races received even lower Race Ratings. On the other hand, his first route race—the aforementioned California Cup Derby—saw him earn a lifetime top speed figure of 113. That puts him in a tie with Exaggerator for fastest horse in the race. And visually, Smokey Image is our favorite horse in the field. Weak competition notwithstanding, he has looked like a sparkling racehorse, and if one is inclined to watch only one of his races on video, we would suggest the Golden State Juvenile from October 30 at Del Mar. Anybody watching that replay will understand how Smokey Image was able to improve his speed figure by 18 points in his next start. We don’t know if Smokey Image can stand the jump in class, but he is the horse we are most interested in watching.

Exaggerator (5-2):

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It is hard to knock this colt. The most experienced horse in the race, he has fired in every start after his debut. Three of his losses came against Nyquist and all four of them came against top horses. He came out as a two-year-old and improved his speed figure three races in a row. Then his numbers flattened out. Then he received a short break. Then he made his three-year-old debut and ran a lifetime top speed figure of 113, which is faster than any number Mor Spirit has ever run. In the 7F, Grade 2 San Vicente almost a month ago, he found a nice outside stalking position, spent some time in the garden spot, then made a three-wide and four-wide run for second, once again showing that he is not quite up to beating Nyquist. He is proven (and then some) at today’s distance. In fact, he ran quite a bit better than it looks in the BC Juvenile. In that race, he was bothered early, somehow managed to find the rail early from a wide post, and wound up receiving a sort of claustrophobic rail trip before getting some space and finishing with something like a burst of energy. Exaggerator is a strong contender today even if he fails to go forward one inch, and he has some license to go forward.

The Play:

We see the two morning line favorites, Mor Spirit and Exaggerator, as the two most likely winners, and we expect that their closing odds will be a reasonably fair representation of their chances of winning. That scarcely constitutes an opinion at all. Looking a bit deeper, we believe that there is a chance that Smokey Image will be playable at his closing odds and we will include him in multi-race wagers.

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