New faces vs old warriors in Whittingham; Isabella Sings back at Monmouth
The Whittingham pits such classy warriors as Bal a Bali (pictured), Finnegans Wake, and Quick Casablanca against a pair of promising newcomers to the division in Patentar and A Red Tie Day.
If “pace makes the race,” A Red Tie Day has a lot to say in this spot. A 6-year-old with 13 starts and several long holidays on his resume, he is just now getting his chance at a higher level. In his second outing for new trainer Richard Baltas, the son of Indygo Shiner wired a March 3 allowance over this course and 1 1/4-mile distance. That earned him a crack at the Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland, and he nearly lasted the whole way. The 12th and final furlong proved a bridge too far, and A Red Tie Day wound up fourth, one spot behind third-placer Royal Albert Hall. Back down in trip here, he could be the controlling speed with Mario Gutierrez.
The one best suited to foil that tactic is Si Sage, who’s flashed speed to his detriment in his last pair. If he goes forward again, he’ll do the others a favor. But if new rider Mike Smith carves out a tracking trip on the flank of A Red Tie Day, Si Sage would be in the ideal spot to capitalize. His career best came in the 2015 Last Tycoon (G3) at this track and trip.
Bal a Bali, the Brazilian Triple Crown winner who overcame laminitis upon his arrival in the U.S., made a big splash in his debut in the 2015 American (G3). But he’s yet to win another stakes since. Judging by his tendency to stay on for minor awards, a step up in distance has been warranted. Hall of Famer Richard Mandella accordingly gives him the opportunity, and jockey Flavien Prat will have him within striking distance early.
Finnegans Wake was in peak form for trainer Peter Miller a while ago, when reeling off a trio of Grade 2 scores capped by the 2015 San Marcos (G2) over course and distance, and adding the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1). Off for eight months, he resurfaced with a closing sixth in the April 9 Thunder Road (G3) going an inadequate mile. He’s sure to move forward, but might the 7-year-old need another race for peak fitness?
Quick Casablanca, third in the 2014 Whittingham, prefers longer distances. The former Chilean Horse of the Year is in grand form at present, however, with strong placings in the San Marcos and San Luis Rey (G2) prior to his emphatic victory in the marathon San Juan Capistrano (G3). The 8-year-old also continues to train sharply for Hall of Famer Ron McAnally.
The ever-dangerous Simon Callaghan sends out Patentar, a $371,217 Tattersalls October yearling who didn’t live up to that price in Great Britain. He sports a nifty formline in having finished fourth to Toormore, The Grey Gatsby, and Postponed in the 2014 Craven (G3), but that isn't as informative as you might think: it was only a six-horse field. Perhaps a better line is given by his drubbing of the smart handicapper Dark Emerald that fall before he lost his way. Coming off a rallying second-level allowance win here February 7, the son of Teofilo is just the type to blossom on this circuit for his trainer.
Rounding out the field are Grade 2 veteran Blingo in a rare turf foray, a welcome one since he’s bred for it top and bottom; Montego Bay from the Neil Drysdale barn; and Play Hard to Get.
Earlier at Monmouth, Isabella Sings brings her front-running game back to the Jersey Shore for the $75,000 Miss Liberty S. The Todd Pletcher filly set a hair-raising pace in the March 12 Hillsborough (G2) two starts back at Tampa, where only the mighty Tepin was able to run her down in course-record time. Isabella Sings couldn’t repeat the feat last time in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) on Derby Day, fading badly to finish last of seven.
Class relief and a change of scenery should help Isabella Sings, who’s a nose away from being unbeaten on the Monmouth lawn. Last summer, the daughter of Eskendereya wired the Little Silver before suffering a tough beat in the Boiling Springs (G3). Paco Lopez regains the mount for the first time since her signature win in the November 14 Mrs. Revere (G2).
Cali Thirty Seven, another Eskendereya filly, also has good early speed, if not quite the zip of Isabella Sings. A perfect 3-for-3 over a grassy mile, she captured an entry-level allowance here in July and exits back-to-back wins at Gulfstream for Joe Orseno. Cali Thirty Seven just scored her first stakes victory in the April 30 Powder Break, safely holding the late rally of runner-up Notte d’Oro, with Speed Seeker back in fourth and Lady Serena in sixth. But as a 124-pound co-highweight, Cali Thirty Seven must spot seven pounds to Isabella Sings and a few others.
Lady Serena, a three-quarter sister to champion Honor Code and a half to Grade 2 turf hero Noble Tune, is eligible to do better in the rematch. Partly that’s because she’s trained by turf wizard Chad Brown, but it’s also because the Powder Break marked her turf debut off an eight-month layoff.
Notte d’Oro likewise warrants respect as a Christophe Clement trainee. Previously a stakes winner at Fair Grounds for Mike Stidham, she sports a 7-2-4-0 record at this trip and figures to be involved at the finish. She’ll be rooting for Cali Thirty Seven to pester Isabella Sings early, though.
Others to note are Means Well, another well-bred type trained by Alan Goldberg for Richard Santulli’s Colts Neck Stables; Ballymacoll homebred Angel Vision, Islington’s daughter who was likely dispatched stateside in search of black-type; My Sweet Girl, a daughter of Barclay Tagg’s past Grade 1 heroine Bit of Whimsy; the consistent allowance/optional claiming campaigner Sawyer; and Candida H., who should like routing on turf as a daughter of Lemon Drop Kid.
Up north at Woodbine, the C$200,000 Nassau (G2) features three Canadian champions, and represents a crossroads for two of them.
Lexie Lou, the 2014 Canadian Horse of the Year, missed nearly all of 2015 and has yet to regain her sparkle so far this season. Barring a form turnaround on Sunday, she might be nearing the end of her career. A happier sort of crossroads greets last year’s Canadian champion 3-year-old filly, Academic, who tries turf for the first time in her career. She renews rivalry with London Tower, who was second in her Woodbine Oaks.
The Sovereign Award winner with the strongest profile is Strut the Course. The champion older female of 2014, she landed last season’s Dance Smartly (G2) and Canadian (G2) and finished an honorable fourth in the E.P. Taylor (G1). Strut the Course warmed up with a Polytrack allowance score over Sam-Son blueblood Moon Rainbow, in which Lexie Lou was a distant third.
Clement invades with French import Stormy Victoria, a determined Belmont allowance winner in her premiere for the barn. Mark Casse has a three-strong posse including Honey Fox (G2) runner-up Mississippi Delta and Uchenna along with Lexie Lou, while dual Hall of Famer Roger Attfield fields recent Keeneland allowance victress Dyna’s Recoleta and German-bred Fuscetta.
Bal a Bali photo courtesy of Benoit.
Isabella Sings photo courtesy of Ryan Denver/Equi-Photo.