The Jury: Bets and fades for Dec. 3
With the major stakes action concentrated at Aqueduct and Del Mar, the TwinSpires Jury of James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson offer thoughts on those races and at other locales as December kicks into gear this weekend.
What is your best bet?
James Scully: #2 Script (8-1) has needed a couple of turf starts to figure things out, waiting until in the clear to offer a formidable turn of foot, and I expect him to step forward in the $400,000 Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar. An eye-catching allowance winner in his turf debut two back, Script waited until the stretch at Keeneland to offer his best, and it was more of the same in the Nov. 11 Let It Ride S. at Del Mar, finishing with a rush to miss by only a nose. Those races provided valuable seasoning, and Graham Motion is an excellent horseman. Script will have more to offer Saturday.
Kellie Reilly: After trying to be a bit too clever (and missing) with price plays for the last couple of weeks, I'll regroup with #3 Celestial City (4-1) in the Hollywood Derby. The Shug McGaughey trainee has put it all together with blinkers, as evidenced by his dynamic victory in the Hill Prince (G2) at this 1 1/8-mile trip. A blueblood as you'd expect for a Stuart Janney homebred, he hails from the immediate family of Grade 1 turf hero Data Link, who also plundered the 2012 Citation H. (G2) in a West Coast foray for McGaughey. Celestial City arguably has the most potential in an otherwise evenly-matched group.
Vance Hanson: #8 Wild Guess (9-2) figures to be lower than his morning line price in the 10th race at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, a one-mile turf maiden for two-year-olds, but the Christophe Clement trainee looks dangerous trying grass for the first time. Beaten a nose for second by a next-out winner in his debut at Presque Isle Downs Oct. 12, Wild Guess is by Justify, who has had 18% turf debut winners from a small sample in his first crop this year. His pedigree is even more outstanding on the maternal side as his dam is a full sister to European classic winners Minding, Empress Josephine, and Tuesday, the latter also victorious in last month's Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1).
Who is the horse to fade?
JS: After winning his first two starts at Parx and Delaware Park by open lengths, #2 Tuskegee Airmen is listed as the 8-5 favorite in Saturday's $250,000 Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct. The late runner has been able to take advantage of lesser competition at shorter distances, and I'm not keen on the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles or his run style. Arctic Arrogance rates as a serious front-end threat, and Dubyuhnell is my choice if the speed falters.
KR: #3 Battle Bling (3-1) is the hottest horse going into Saturday's Go for Wand (G3) at Aqueduct, but my mental reservation is that her stakes wins have all come around two turns. While she's effective around this one-turn mile, at least a couple of others could find this their optimal configuration. Re-opposing Bank Sting edged her the last time Battle Bling raced over this track and trip, in the Mar. 6 Heavenly Prize S.; Dr B is intriguing after rallying seconds in a pair of sprint stakes; and Love in the Air has serious credentials as a 10-1 overlay. Chances are that Battle Bling will run well again, only to find one or two sharper at the distance.
VH: #9 Opus Forty Two (2-1) is the early favorite to break her maiden in Saturday's seventh race at Tampa Bay Downs, and might very well do so if she handles the transition to dirt for trainer Arnaud Delacour, who saddled the filly to consecutive second-place finishes on the turf in Maryland. However, an intriguing first time starter, White Hot Gold, might have something to say in response. The Red Oak homebred by Candy Ride is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Mind Control, who likely makes his final career start in Saturday's Cigar Mile (G1).
What else is worth noting?
JS: Phil D'Amato may not be widely recognized as a turf trainer, but his stable has certainly been geared to the green this season, winning 103 of 454 turf starts (23%) and 13 of 114 dirt starts (13%) in 2022. He won't send any runners to the Hollywood Derby, but I'll mention a couple of horses of interest from undercard turf stakes, Turn on the Jets in the Stormy Liberal S. and Thebestisyettobe in the Jimmy Durante (G3).
KR: Saturday's Remsen and Demoiselle (G2) could end up playing a significant role on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Oaks (G1), respectively. #3 Julia Shining (3-5) is odds-on to emulate full sister Malathaat by winning the Demoiselle for Todd Pletcher. Interestingly, Malathaat had to gut it out at a sloppy Aqueduct back in 2020, and history could repeat with rain in the forecast. Considering how Julia Shining resented the kickback on a fast track at Keeneland before zooming home out wide, she'll prefer to stay clear of the spray here too.
Remsen morning-line favorite Tuskegee Airmen has likewise shown some engine in both starts. After a professional-looking premiere on Pennsylvania Derby Day at Parx, however, he lost focus midway in his two-turn debut in the Rocky Run S. at Delaware Park. The John Servis pupil made a powerful recovery, although he wouldn't want to risk a similar miscue at this level. It's noteworthy that trainer Danny Gargan, who won the Nashua (G3) (the local prep) with Champions Dream, relies instead on #7 Dubyuhnell (5-1). Fourth in the Saratoga maiden won by eventual Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner Instant Coffee, Dubyuhnell closed fast to win here in the slop. Like Tuskegee Airmen, he'd appreciate the fact that this Remsen appears to have more pace on tap. A big effort from Dubyuhnell can boost Good Magic's bid for the freshman sire title.
VH: Aside from the Del Mar Derby (G2), in which he fell farther off the pace than usual and was hung out very wide turning for home, I like the form #1 Cabo Spirit (5-1) brings into the Hollywood Derby. He showed a good turn of foot reaching contention the La Jolla (G3) over the Del Mar turf back in August, and his late kick was better timed and effective when adding the Twilight Derby (G2) at Santa Anita most recently. He'll have to work out a trip, obviously, but the price on Cabo Spirit should be as juicy as it's been for any of his turf appearances this season.