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It’s that time of the year again. March Madness tips off in a few minutes and I’m in Las Vegas to enjoy 48 games over the next four days. So in order to indulge my passion for college basketball, the daily Blog postings will take a break this week.

I might pop in for an occasional update (or for a basketball selection) and I will continue to post Free Samples of each day’s Premium Play selections but, other than that, it’s hoop mania.

Condolences to the Jones family on the loss of Farrell, 84, an eight-time leading trainer at Santa Anita and considered to be one of California’s all-time greats. I didn’t know him except by reputation (known as the Wild Horse, Farrell was around Seabiscuit in his youth and supposedly was one tough boss as a head trainer) but he obviously passed down the training gene to his son Gary and grandson Marty.

Bruce Headley reportedly turned down a million dollar offer for super-impressive debut winner MAGNIFICIENCE. No truth to the rumor that Jess Jackson was the suitor.

To view a Free Sample of yesterday’s Premium Plays, click on the link below: Premium Plays for Mar. 14

The cream rises to the top. Class tells. Cliches, yes, but also truisms this weekend in big races from around the country.

On Sunday, RAGS TO RICHES dominated her overmatched opponents in winning the Santa Anita Oaks for owners Smith/Tabor and trainer Todd Pletcher. After watching her win the Las Virgenes after an impossibly wide trip in only her third start, we all knew ‘RICHES had the look of something special. Yesterday she just toyed with the field, winning easily in a solid time of 1:42.4. Her connections intimated that she may get a shot at the boys before moving back to her own division in the Kentucky Oaks.

MAGNIFICIENCE lived up to her name when breaking her maiden in the first race of the day. Awesome, scintillating, superb. Pick any adjective that you’d like to describe her victory. After breaking very slowly and throwing her head around for the first 1/4-mile of the race, the daughter of Stormy Atlantic took off on the turn while making a huge wide run, then kept right on going to draw off in the lane. Owned (at least on paper–reportedly there were a host of Asian suits in the walking ring before the race) and trained by Bruce Headley, this 3-year-old filly has “star” written all over her. Some cynical press box wags suggested that maybe Headley could just hand the filly over to Jess Jackson in lieu of that $900,000 settlement check he has to write.

On the human front, again the cream rose. Trainer Doug O’Neill won three (including the co-feature Santana Mile with RAISE THE BLUFF, who dug in gamely to defeat C’MON TIGER ) and Garrett Gomez won four on the card. Perhaps even more significant than winning the feature aboard ‘RICHES, Gomez was able to get a win for trainer Laura de Seroux (WORLD ASUNDER in 10th race). De Seroux, whose husband is one of the people implicated in the Jackson lawsuit (for bloodstock improprieties, etc.), had been three-for-74 (4%) into the day. AZERI, upon further reflection and subsequent training success (or lack thereof) by her former conditioner, might have been the greatest filly to ever live.

SMOKEY STOVER outclassed his field up north and looks ready to tackle the real biggies of the sprint division.

On Saturday, BALANCE overcame a tough trip to win the Santa Margarita, her third Grade I victory (all at Santa Anita). She was hemmed in along the rail, had to wait while ERMINE made what looked like the winning move at the top of stretch, but angled out and ran down that one near the wire. Both fillies ran super but BALANCE is definitely back on top of her game for David Hofmans, who also took the Baldwin with DESERT CODE (2nd race). Two riding wins for David Flores, who teamed up with Bobby Frankel aboard IN THE WOODS and BRILLIANT CUT in back-to-back races. Frankel overtook the legendary Charlie Whittingham to become the all-time winningest trainer (870 victories) at Santa Anita when ‘WOODS impressively broke her maiden (3rd race).

As great as Frankel’s achievement is, let’s take a moment to look back at what Whittingham accomplished at Santa Anita during his illustrious career: From 1956-57 (when top-five trainer standings began being listed in the media guide), Whittingham finished in the top five 21 times (the last time in 1988-89), while being leading trainer four times. Through four decades of unparalleled excellence, Whittingham won the San Juan Capistrano 14 times (Frankel’s won it twice), took the Santa Anita Handicap nine times (Frankel twice) and won the SA Oaks four times (Frankel once). 204 total stakes wins for Whittingham, which still remains nearly double Frankel’s total. As we wrote earlier, Frankel is only 65 and still has many productive years ahead of him, but there will always be just one Charlie Whittingham.

From around the country: At Fair Grounds, CIRCULAR QUAY was impressive in his off-the-pace win in the Louisiana Derby. He’s legit, no knocks, other than his late-running style can be problematic in large fields. SoCal shipper LIQUIDITY disappointed when running fifth and seems like the weakest link in Paul Reddam’s sophomore trio. MASTER COMMAND easily won the New Orleans Handicap; EINSTEIN overcame a brutal trip to win the Mervin Muniz (he had to steady hard and go around injured KING’S DRAMA, who is not in a life-threatening situation); and MISTICAL PLAN (Reddam and O’Neill) went wire-to-wire to hold off OCTAVE in the Fair Grounds Oaks.

At Aqueduct, COWTOWN CAT (another Pletcher) took the Gotham in handy fashion while making his first start around two turns. He beat a modest field off a slow pace but might be a Derby sleeper horse. Up north, BWANA BULL won the El Camino Real Derby but he didn’t beat much and seems a cut below the serious Derby contenders.

To view Free Samples of Saturday and Sunday Premium Plays, click on the links below: Premium Plays for Mar. 10           Premium Plays for Mar. 11

The “All Burger”. That’s a name someone in the press box came up with years ago to describe having the only winning Pick Six ticket. It happened today to the tune of $118,338 and the ticket was bought on-track. Someone in the crowd of 4,913 left with a six-figure score and they deserved it, considering the last five winners in the Pick Six paid double digits, concluding with longshot UNUSUAL MEN ($30.40 after being listed at 4/1 on the morning line).

Eight different winning jockeys and trainers today. The most impressive horse on the card was comebacker MR TEX, who romped home in the 6th race while winning in 1:09.1 for Bob Baffert and Victor Espinoza. He was well regarded last summer but didn’t run well in his only start…obviously something went amiss that day at Del Mar.

Jockey Jorge Chavez was off again today after suffering a knee injury during training hours on Thursday morning. He is listed as “day to day”.

BALANCE and ERMINE square off in tomorrow’s Grade I Santa Margarita locally but the best action of the day is the great card from Fair Grounds. Garrett Gomez, Corey Nakatani and Alex Solis will be in Louisiana, and Jose Valdivia will ride COURT THE KING in the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows.

Happy Birthday to the venerable JOHN HENRY, who turned 32 today. Residing at the Kentucky Horse Park, he’s apparently still as ornery as ever.

Don’t forget about the huge carryover in the Magna Five, which begins with Laurel’s 9th race at 1:40 p.m.

To view a Free Sample of today’s Premium Plays, click on the link below: Premium Plays for Mar. 9

Three winners today for Victor Espinoza, who brought his winning mounts home in almost identical, off-the-pace style. FEEL RIDGE ($26.60) rallied wide from last to narrowly take the 5th race, GHURRA ($6.40) was well rated before angling out wide at the top of the stretch to get up late in the 7th and THE CAT DID IT ($6.00) rallied from off the pace to finally break her maiden in the finale.

As well as Espinzoa rode, he only picked up one winner on leading man Garrett Gomez, who rode back-to-back winners in the 3rd and 4th races. Eight different trainers won on today’s card…three odds-on winners from the first four races, which made for a very chalky $27.60 payoff in the early Pick 4.

However, things got more fun later in the card, with double digit winners in the 5th and 6th races, which keyed a fat $1,338 late Pick 4 payoff.

Since it’s my Blog, I get to toot my own horn and brag a little since I gave out five top choice winners and nailed the late Pick 4 on my Premium Play selections for a suggested $72 investment. I used four runners in the first leg and got FEEL RIDGE, three in the next leg and got home top choice WATCH ME WIN ($13.40), “singled” and gave out GHURRA as my Free Pick of the Day, then had the last race spread out six deep before getting home favorite THAT CAT DID IT. Not to complain (that’s what we horseplayers do), but I would love to one time get that bomber home to close out a huge score when all the ducks are in line. I had chances for $8,077 and $6,123, along with other $2,000-3,000 potential payoffs but got the shortest one.

Trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Gomez lead their respective categories in national purse earnings–O’Neill at $2.7 million and Gomez at $3.7 million. Not a bad two and a half months.

To view a Free Sample of today’s Premium Plays, click on the link below: Premium Plays for Mar. 8

Yesterday marked two major milestones: Bobby Frankel tying the legendary Charlie Whittingham for career wins at Santa Anita and Aaron Gryder hitting the 3,000 victory mark. Both are major, particularly Frankel’s achievement. He tied the mark with promising LES GRANDS TROIS in the 7th race, giving him 869 victories at the Great Race Place. The 65-year-old conditioner obviously has many good years left, so he might be able to put this record out of sight.

Gryder won the finale with PRESSTHEPACE to hit the 3,000 mark. Although what little on-track crowd there was (4,298 to be exact) had already dispersed, two jockeys stayed behind after unsaddling to shake Gryder’s hand and participate in picture-taking ceremonies. Richard Migliore and Jon Court. Not surprising, these are two the classiest guys on the circuit. By the way, Migliore has commited to stay through Del Mar, which is great news for horseplayers.

Another milestone, of a more dubious nature: Take away win machine BETTERSWEETMOMENT and Steve Knapp had saddled 62 straight losers…just awful. Statistics provided, as usual, by Brad Free of DRF.

Hot trainer Jorge Periban scored another victory when UDRIGA took the the downhill 6th race in wire-to-wire fashion. He recently took over her training from Ruben Cardenas, who has been ill with stomach problems.

HRTV and Churchill Downs are joining forces as the exclusivity contracts between Churchill-owned tracks and TVG run out. More on this later but it should make for interesting times in the broadcast and account wagering arenas.

My six-day trifecta streak (on Premium Play sheet) ended yesterday. Time to start another one today.

To view a Free Sample of yesterday’s Premium Plays, click on the link below: Premium Plays for Mar. 7

First, I need to eat crow regarding STORMELLO and his effort in the Fountain of Youth. I wrote earlier that I would be VERY surprised if he ran well, shipping cross country to run against NOBIZ LIKE SHOWBIZ. Well, despite a 14-hour journey (described by trainer Bill Currin as “a trip from hell”), he ran super, getting nailed right on the wire by SCAT DADDY in a brutal beat. Currin may be quirky and unorthodox, but you’ve got to give him credit for being sporting. In an era when most everyone wants to run against the softest competition for the most money while shipping the shortest distance, Currin took the exact opposite approach and nearly pulled it off.

LA CHOLA freaked in the 2nd race with a fast, front-running romp. Ironically, she was the only one of the five starters who did not get claimed out of the race…excellent ride by Danny Sorenson aboard TUMBAGA in the 3rd. He saved ground into the stretch, split horses at the 1/16-pole, then proved best late along the inside…CURIOUSLY SWEET was crying to stretch out and rallied from off the pace to take the 4th despite racing wide on both turns. She is moving forward for John Sadler…MISS NORMAN finished well coming down the hill in the 6th while making her first start for Patrick Biancone. Coming off an eight-month layoff, this was an excellent prep race.

The Doug O’Neill expess train continues to roll. After winning four on Saturday, including the Big Cap and Robert B. Lewis, he took Sunday’s La Habra with SUPER FREAKY. She seems to have found a home on turf…Brice Blanc got DQ’d from second-place in another stakes, this time aboard MACADAMIA. After coming out in mid-stretch and causing a chain reaction, the longshot was moved back to sixth. Look for Blanc to get days again like he did for his foul aboard ONE OFF in the San Luis Rey last weekend…the race was marred by the breakdown of VOULEZ VOUS (cost $775,000 as a 2-year-old in training last year), who had to be put down on the track. The Biancone-trained filly had broken through the gate before start (reminiscent of Barbaro in the Preakness), then showed huge speed to open a big lead, hit the brakes at top of stretch, then appeared to break down after being eased up. If I’m correct about this, her injury occurred while moving at a very slow rate of speed.

AIR COMMANDER looked more professional in winning the 9th for Bob Baffert…Barry Abrams celebrated a birthday by taking the finale with Cal-bred BALLISTIC HEAT, who beat open company to break his maiden in the 10th.

I continued red hot on my Premium Plays, hitting the 4th race trifecta for $148 on a $54 investment. I’ve now hit at least one trifecta (only three Best Play races given out each day) for six consecutive days.

To view a Free Sample of Sunday’s Premium Plays, click on the link below: Premium Plays for Mar. 4

It’s Doug O’Neill’s world, we’re just taking up space and using his oxygen.

First, GREAT HUNTER made a successful return to the races, making a powerful move on the far turn to carry him to victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. He is one of three Derby-quality 3-year-olds owned by Paul Reddam, the other two being NOTIONAL and LIQUIDITY. Knock on wood, but you would have to think at least one of these three will make it to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Then, O’Neill-trained LAVA MAN takes his second straight Big Cap (only third horse in history to win it twice) and ninth straight win in California with a victory in a pedestrian 2:02.11. He stalked the slow pace, challenged 3-wide on the far turn, hit the front, then comfortably held off MOLENGAO. In all honesty, I thought the win was very workmanlike, with a moderate :25.2 final quarter. He got the job done but he doesn’t seem quite as sharp as last year’s version. I still think he might be a better horse on turf, so let’s see if his connections follow up on their plan to ship to Dubai for the big grass race there.

Just for good measure O’Neill racked up two more wins on the card to extend his lead in the trainer’s race.

Two more wins for Bobby Frankel, who is now just one away from tying the legendary Charlie Whittingham’s Santa Anita mark.

Nice day for Corey Nakatani, who was aboard both GREAT HUNTER and LAVA MAN. He remains one of the best big-race riders in the country.

Tough photo for third place in the Big Cap as Mike Willman’s MCCANN’S MOJAVE got nipped by BOBOMAN for the show spot. Not that Willman has any room to complain after his recent run of good fortune, but that was a $60,000 nose. Ouch.

In Florida, early Derby favorite NOBIZ LIKE SHOWBIZ was defeated at odds-on while he continued his lugging in routine through the lane. I wrote about my concern over this “habit” in a previous posting, but it has to be more than just a concern at this point. The horse has raced enough times that he can’t be considered green anymore. I believe there is something physically bothering him.

KIP DEVILLE was game in winning the Kilroe Mile over fast closing BAYEUX, who has lost tough photo finishes in his last two starts.

For the first time since its inception, the Magna 5 carried over. After a couple boxcars winners, there will be $377,000 in the kitty next Saturday.

Just another Sensory Overload Saturday.

To view a Free Sample of today’s Premium Plays, click on the link below: Premium Plays for Mar. 3

I flew to Vegas after the races for Saturday’s Horseplayers Expo at the Wynn. It’s my first time being invited, so I’m not too sure what to expect. All I know is the panel I’m participating on (“Interpreting Workouts”) runs from 1:30-2:30, right in the heart of the Big Cap card.

Sensory Overload Saturday with an 11-race card from Santa Anita, including major stakes races like the Robert B. Lewis and Kilroe Mile to go along with the Big Cap. And 11 from Gulfstream, including the Hutcheson and Fountain of Youth for 3-year-olds. Throw in the Magna 5 and there’s something for everyone.

Two winners each for Victor Espinoza (just nine behind Gomez) and Brice Blanc, including the pick up mount on 8th race winner PAPAGO ROAD. Aaron Gryder is one win away from the 3,000 plateau.

Bob Baffert nailed down the late double, giving him 22 winners for the meet, just three behind Doug O’Neill.

MR. SEKIGUCHI, Baffert’s $8 million dollar horse, got his second career victory today. He won gamely but still has a long way to go to earn back that purchase price.

I hit two more trifectas today (it’s been some streak going back to Sunday…see for yourself by checking out the Free Samples at bottom of each day’s Blog posting). Had 5th race tri three times (due to dead-heat for third), returning $508 on a $54 investment, and came back with 7th race tri for $158Â ($60 play).

Early first post of 12 noon…here’s to a profitable Big Cap Day.

To view a Free Sample of today’s Premium Plays, click on the link below: Premium Plays for Mar. 2

I love horses like BETTERSWEETMOMENT. Professional win machines that go out and give their best every time out. BETTERSWEETMOMENT started her career running in a $12,500 maiden claimer at Golden Gate. She won her first four starts (Golden Gate, Hollywood Park, Santa Anita), the first two times for Steve Miyadi and the next two for Art Sherman. He lost her to John Sadler, who won a race with her. And now Steve Knapp has rattled off three straight with her at this meet, accounting for one third of his training victories. I put the knock on Knapp yesterday but he’s done a great job with this filly, who is now eight for 11 lifetime and racked up nearly $200,000 in earnings.

It was also a good gambling race for me. On my Premium Play selections I suggested a Win Bet on ‘MOMENT ($15.60) as well as keying her on two $24 trifecta tickets. Bingo. The tri came back $918, and that was after hitting the 4th race tri for $191 on a $28 investment (after scratch of Clan Chief). Four top choice winners, returning $33.60 in mutuels…all in all a very good day.

Two winners for Aaron Gryder (fourth in the jockey standings with 25) and two for Victor Espinoza (47), who trails leading man Garrett Gomez by 11.

PHAR TO WIN rebounded with an easy front-running victory in the 3rd race. He is one tough customer when he can dictate the pace.

Six-way shake for DEL MAR CAT, who won on the drop and was taken by Jenine Sahadi. My guess is that she was claimed as a broodmare. Knapp reached in for suspicous dropper NATIONAL HONOR in the 4th…can’t like this claim a little bit.

The Pick Six pool swelled to over $900,000 ($796,798 bet chasing the $115,000 carryover) and there were 34 winning tickets worth nearly $15,000. My two suggested P6 “singles” finished second (GOLDEN WAGER in 4th and TWO DIMENSIONAL in 8th). They both ran well but were second best.

The Orange County Register will become the latest major Southern California paper to due away with racing selections we learned today. Jerry Antonucci’s graded handicap, and the consensus box featuring myself, Jeff Siegel and Larry Weinbaum will discontinue after Sunday. Sports editors continue to slash racing coverage despite horse racing being a $15 billion a year gambling industry. No interest? You’ve got to be kidding me. Yes, the ontrack crowds are small, but handle has never been higher due to phone and computer betting accounts. If you live in the Orange Country area, please make your voice heard by calling sports editor Greg Gibson (714) 796-7000 (switchboard)Â or emailing him at ggibson@ocregister.com. Tell your friends that they can continue to get my handicap online at an extremely reasonable price.

This is precisely the reason I started this website…I didn’t want my income to be dependent on a dying newspaper industry, which can’t seem to get out of its own way. I have my opinions on why the papers are losing readership (liberal bias, agenda-driven, etc.) but we’ll save that for another day.

Nine races tomorrow with a regular 1:00 post. Eleven races on Big Cap Day (noon post) with huge fields and great gambling opportunities.

To view a Free Sample of today’s Premium Plays, click on the link below: Premium Plays for Mar. 1

With four double-digit winners in the Pick Six, it’s no surprise that we have a carryover of more than $115,000 into Thursday’s card. RAZI’S STAR ($58.80) pulled off the biggest upset of the day for the Rosales-Portillo team, giving both trainer and jockey their first wins of the session.

There were four horses covered into the last race but when first-time starter C’S SMOKIN ($39.00) got the victory, there were no winning P6 tickets. It seems like trainer Mark Tsagalakis pulls off at least one major upset a year with a first-time starter and he struck today despite ‘SMOKIN’s very average work tab.

A back-to-back riding double for Richard Migliore (ONE DIXIE and EASY OBSESSION) and two training wins for Jeff Mullins, who is rounding back up to his normal high percentage. Mullins again showed that he is one of the best first-off-the-claim trainers when NORWAY HOUSE edged DOVER DERE. And congratulations to Nick “Sarge” Hines on getting another victory with EASY OBSESSION, who is clearly a much better horse on the main track.

Does any trainer send out more last-place horses than Steve Knapp? Every time I look up one of his steeds is staggering home lengths behind the field. How this 9% trainer won the title at the ’05 Oak Tree meet remains one of the greatest mysteries in my 20 years on the circuit.

They drew for the Big Cap today and Lava Man (post 7) has been installed as the 4/5 morning line favorite. This is one of the weakest fields in Big Cap history. He has these over a barrel if he brings anything close to his A-game.

Can anyone explain to me why trainer Bill Currin is so anxious to ship STORMELLO cross country to run against the No.1 ranked 3-year-old in the country? I will be VERY surprised if he runs well against Nobiz Like Showbiz and company in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Good luck on tomorrow’s carryover.

To view a Free Sample of today’s Premium Plays, click on the link below: Premium Plays for Feb. 28

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