Don’t overlook Presque Isle stakes

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TwinSpires Staff

September 15th, 2016


Breeders’ Cup prep races have been going on for months and while the “Win And You Are In” events are well-publicized, there are others that merit our attention.

This coming Sunday and Monday, Presque Isle Downs will run a pair of stakes races that have yielded many good runners down the road. And whether it’s the Breeders’ Cup or more immediate stakes races on the East Coast, these horses have a habit of running well next time out at deeper odds.

First up on Sunday night will be the $200K Presque Isle Mile Stakes. Thirteen were entered and the also-eligible may draw in since CHOCTAW CHUCK (Bwana Charlie) is cross-entered to the 7th race on the same program.

When you examine the Track Bias Stats in BRIS’s Ultimate Past Performances, it shows that while there is only a 52% speed bias, 28% of the 103 one-mile races run at Presque Isle Downs were won gate to wire and the average beaten lengths of the winner at the first call was only 2.8 lengths and 1.7 lengths at the second call.

But when you look at post position bias, it shows that the one-turn mile races severely favor the inside horses. A full 22% of then have been won by the rail horse and the percentages consistently drop as the post positions go towards the outside.  

Ideally, we would like an inside horse with speed but a quick horse from the outside could overcome the short run into the first turn. What we don’t want is a deep closer and the only circumstance I could envision one winning involves a pace meltdown.

What makes this year’s renewal of the Presque Isle Mile so fascinating is how many serious horse-for-the-course types we have in the field. VIVA LAD (Midnight Lute) is 15-6-3-4, PLEASANT OUTLOOK (Pleasantly Perfect) is 12-4-0-2, GHOST HUNTER (Ghostzapper) is 7-6-0-0, CHOCTAW CHUCK is 15-7-2-2, TALE OF THE NILE (Pioneerof the Nile) is 3-3-0-0 and HEAT ROAD (Bellamy Road) is 3-2-1-0.

So the home team looks especially strong but I am going to go with a shipper making his Tapeta debut. GREAT MINDS (Stroll) had been racing on the turf without much success despite a pedigree tilted towards it. Al Stall Jr. switched him to the dirt and the 5yo gelding reeled off three straight wins, including victories at the one-mile distance in a Delta Downs stakes and the Texas Mile (G3) at Lone Star Park.

Great Minds just missed on a sloppy track as the odds-on favorite in a $100K stakes race at Evangeline Downs and chased the pace in his last outing at Mountaineer Park. He draws well and has enough tactical speed to avoid most of the traffic. And the well-traveled dark bay finishes his races strong. Stall can get horses ready for big race and Great Minds appears to have the right profile to handle his Tapeta debut.

Monday night features the $400k Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes (G2) for fillies and mares going 6 ½ furlongs. The winning profile for 6 ½ furlongs is very similar to the one-turn mile except post position becomes much less important.

LIVING THE LIFE (Footstepsinthesand) has won this race the past two years and defeated males two starts previously in a one-mile Grade 3 at Golden Gate. She is more of a long sprinter but on this surface, the 6yo mare has been able to stalk the pace and take over. The Gary Mandella trainee draws well and gets Flavien Prat – 18% with his sprint mounts.

The other major contender is BIRDATTHEWIRE (Summer Bird), who ran down some solid fillies when capturing the 7-furlong La Brea Stakes (G1) the day after Christmas. The 6 ½-furlong trip may be a bit short for her but from post seven, Corey Lanerie will have her picking up horses around the far turn and Birdatthewire receives an 11-pound weight allowance from the favorite.

The best field assembled in the world so far in 2016 was last Saturday’s Irish Champion Stakes (G1) at Leopardstown. The race attracted a “who’s who” of European stars and their connections should be congratulated for staying in the race once they realized that everyone was going to run.

Aidan O’Brien decided to take his two best fillies and race them against each other. The 4yo FOUND (Galileo) won the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Keeneland last October and has been second in four straight Group 1 stakes this year. Well-respected stablemate MINDING (Galileo), a 3yo filly, has won six Group 1 stakes races already, including the 1,000 Guineas (G1) going a mile and 1 ½ mile Oaks (G1). She could be as good as any female Ballydoyle has ever had.

The field of 12 had pacemakers, entries and a bunch of Group 1 stakes stars. Besides the Irish contingent, the French sent over the last two winners of the French Derby (G1) and in deep stretch, it looked like the 2015 victor, NEW BAY (Dansili), had an excellent chance to post a minor upset. He surged to the front with about 300 meters to go but Frankie Dettori had Found in a furious rally on the grandstand side. Farthest out was this year’s French Derby winner, ALMANZOR (Wootton Bassett), and Christophe Soumillon had the colt in a sensational drive.

Almanzor and Found hooked up in a terrific battle before the former got the upper hand late, with Almanzor scoring by about a length at 7-1 odds. Minding finally got loose on the far side but it was too late to challenge the top 2 as she finished well to edge New Bay for third. MY DREAM BOAT (Lord Shanakill), winner of the Prince of Wales Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot, came next in fifth, with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) hero HIGHLAND REEL (Galileo) seventh and Coral Eclipse Stakes (G1) winner HAWKBILL (Kitten’s Joy) ninth.

Epsom Derby (G1) and Irish Derby (G1) winner HARZAND (Sea the Stars) had nothing left for the latter stages and wound up a disappointing eighth.

Keep in mind when these horses show up again that this year’s Irish Champion Stakes was run over yielding ground, with a 2:08.93 final time for the 1 ¼ miles.