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Post Time: Big Cap steals limelight for a weekend

By Gene Kershner 

It's not too often that the handicap division steals the spotlight from the 3-year-olds on the Derby trail at this time of the year. On Saturday afternoon the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita will do just that when three of the biggest names in racing will go head to head.

Willis Horton, owner of Will Take Charge (2-1), told the national racing media on Tuesday afternoon that "it could be the race of a lifetime to see." Last year's three-year-old Eclipse winner will get a rematch on national television Saturday evening with Breeders' Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man (9-5), in the race known as the Big Cap on Fox Sports 1 at 7 p.m. ET.

Not part of the original schedule of "The Jockey Club Tour on Fox," the Big Cap became a must-see once the two top finishers in last year's $5 million Classic decided to head west for round two. Adding to the drama will be hometown hero Game On Dude (5-2), who will be seeking a record third Big Cap win after winning the 2011 and 2013 editions.

Dude's trainer Bob Baffert is as excited as most racing fans for Saturday's Big Cap. "When you win a big race on a big day like that when the stands are pretty full and a lot of cheering and it’s loud, really it’s a good feeling.  That, to me, that’s the good feeling story, when you see a lot of people out and they’re cheering for home and you can hear the roar of the crowd, there’s nothing better feeling than that.  Winning—when you win one of those—under those circumstances, that’s what makes racing so exciting," he told the national racing media earlier in the week.

"It’s like a heavy weight title fight. Before, if it’s the same horses in California running it probably doesn’t get that much attention, but anytime you have a horse that ships in like Mucho Macho Man with the best handicap horses in the same race, that’s what brings the attention because you’ve got your Breeders’ Cup winner, you’ve got the champion three-year-old, it’s a no brainer," said Baffert.

The Southern California-based trainer is hoping for a pace scenario that will fit Game On Dude.
"We have to give him a chance and, you know, it’s got to be a reasonable pace.  It can’t be a ridiculous pace but, I mean, those races are always fast anyway, so I’m sure he’ll be going pretty fast there.  But, you know, it has to unfold the right way for him and if it does, then he’s very effective," he said.

The Derby trail will feature big races on both coasts with 50 points at stake for the winners. The Tampa Bay Derby, run at 1 1/16 miles, will feature several Ontario-bred horses including Coltimus Prime, trained by Justin Nixon, the Mark Casse-trained Matador and Asserting Bear conditioned by Reade Baker. We could be seeing a Queen's Plate horse emerge from Tampa Bay Downs this weekend. All three of the Ontario-bred entrants are Canadian Triple Crown nominees, although Casse admits Matador runs his best on dirt.

"Our feeling is that Matador is superior on the dirt.  We feel like he trains much better on the dirt than he ever did the synthetic and that was our reason for taking him to the Sam Davis, because if you look at his previous form, you could hardly believe that he deserved to go to the Sam Davis.  We need him to step up and continue to run better on the dirt for him to be considered a good horse.  The question is, are we going to go back to the Queen’s Plate? We’ll have to see.  He’ll have to show me more on the synthetic," Casse explained to the national racing media. 

The horse to beat in Tampa, however, is also trained by Casse, winning trainer of the last two Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, and that colt is Conquest Titan. Casse moved him from Gulfstream Park to Tampa due to the colt's late running style that would not fair well on the speed-favoring drag strip at Gulfstream. A style that Casse changed to after his disappointing finish in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"We went back to Churchill Downs after the Breeders’ Cup and said, look, we’ve got to do something different, and so we started taking him back and then relaxing him in his works and, you know, it shows in his chart there at Churchill that he broke slow, but that was my plan and we told [jockey] Shaun [Bridgmohan], 'Just take him back, get him to relax and try to come with one big run,' and it worked.  It doesn’t happen very often, but it worked that time," said Casse.

On the Big Cap undercard is the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, also at 1 1/16 miles, that will showcase the first race in a Derby point race for the impressive Bayern, trained by Baffert. The lightly raced son of Offlee Wild has only two career starts, both wins at Santa Anita, the latter an allowance win by 15 lengths over highly-regarded Tap It Rich.

Not surprisingly, Baffert has the second best horse in the race on paper, Midnight Hawk, who currently sits in 13th on the Derby points list with 12. He finished a well beaten third to Candy Boy in the Robert B. Lewis last week after winning the Sham Stakes in January.

Jockey Gary Stevens may have a tough decision before Derby day if Bayern continues to show his talents on the track. He also rode Candy Boy in the Robert B. Lewis, another talented colt who should have enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. "He’s actually shown me more in his last two workouts after that race than he did in that actual race.  He showed me some versatility and the thing about Bayern, he’s got a great mind and he’s going in the right direction, and we’ll see what happens on the weekend, but I expect a big performance from him.  I don’t see any reason he won’t with what I’ve seen in the mornings the last two times I’ve been on him," said the Hall of Fame jockey.

[UPDATE 4:00 p.m. Friday: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert announced on his Twitter account that 3-year-old colt Bayern is scratched from Saturday's San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita with an injury.]

It's as big a weekend in horse racing as you'll find during the month of March.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

 

Running notebook: A winning effort

Newspaper types are known for their sense of humor, particularly with old friends. So when I saw Tom Burns right after the Shamrock Run, I asked him if he had won - since it would have made for a great follow-up column. Remember, Tom had suffered a heart attack after finishing the race last year. Tom said he was well back in the pack but felt fine and was happy to finish.

Actually, Tom deserves plenty of credit for finishing the race and for his fundraising efforts. He raised almost $5,000 in donations for the American Heart Association. Tom was getting donations less than 15 minutes from the start of the race.

More money will be raised this weekend in easier ways. Here's the calendar, courtesy of buffalorunners.com:

* Fight for Air Stairs Clumb, 38 flights, One HSBC Center, 10 a.m. Saturday, (585) 666-1402. I've heard there's little harder in running than going up flights of stairs if you aren't used to it, so the people participating are in for a good challenge. Proceeds to the American Lung Association.

* Dyslexia Dash, 5K, 2491 Emery Road in South Wales, 12 noon Sunday, 687-2017. Most races bill a fast and flat course, no matter what the topography looks like. This races says it has a "challenging course." I've heard there's a hill that would feel right at home in the Rockies. We'll see. Don't forget Daylight Savings Time starts the night before.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner

The blog is back this weekend after taking a one-week hiatus due to the focus on last week's print article as we kicked off the Derby trail on TBN. I was keen on both General a Rod (second in Fountain of Youth) and Intense Holiday (Risen Star winner), but disappointed in Hoppertunity's performance in the Risen Star.  Looks like its back to the drawing board for trainer Bob Baffert.

This weekend the Derby trail finds it way back to New York and Aqueduct Racetrack for the Gotham Stakes, a Grade 3 race over 1 1/6 miles on the Big A's inner dirt track.

Some noteworthy goings on over the thoroughbred racing landscape…

- The Gotham features a Withers rematch between 1A-Samraat (5/2), who is running in a coupled entry, and 4-Uncle Sigh (3-1). Both horses are trained by NY-based trainers, Samraat by Richard Violette, Jr. and Uncle Sigh by Gary Contessa. It would be nice to see one of those fine trainers have a horse in the gate on the First Saturday in May.

- I'm leaning towards 8-Extrasexyhipzster (4-1), trained by Michael Trombetta. He's coming off two non-graded stakes wins, one an impressive win on the inner in December in the $100K Don Rickles. I think he handles the additional distance and storms onto the Derby scene.

- Hard to believe a Pletcher-trained horse on the Derby trail has a morning line of 10-1, but 10-Harpoon, who was supposedly being pointed at the Tampa Bay Derby, was shipped back north to run in this spot. Maybe it's the outside post that had morning line maker Eric Donovan assigning a higher number. His nose loss to Vinceremos in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis in Tampa earlier in the month at the same distance warrants him a closer look.

- Good news that Fox Sports 1 has added the Santa Anita Handicap (aka the Big Cap) to its lineup and will televise the big race next weekend. The Big Cap will feature a Breeders' Cup Classic rematch between Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge, not to mention Game On Dude, who will be looking to avenge his disappointing loss last November. The $750,000 Grade 1 race that was first run in 1935 should set the stage for an exciting year in the handicap division.

- Speaking of television, Horseplayers, the reality show on the Esquire Network, is moving from Tuesdays to Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET starting on Mar. 5. It's one you won't want to miss as the tournament scene shifts to Upstate New York and the Saratoga Race Course.

- Volume II of the Wireplayers.com website's Derby Dozen was released on Wednesday and Top Billing has just that in this week's list. Each panelist's picks can be found at this link, including mine and another Western New York handicapper who goes by the moniker, The Turk.

- Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager is open and runs through Saturday at 6 p.m.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Running notebook: Luck of the Irish

About a week ago, organizers must have looked at the long-term forecast for their Shamrock Run and shivered. The early indications were that the traditional start to the racing season would be held in temperatures somewhere around eight degrees.

The numbers before and after Saturday have held up. But recently, the forecast for Saturday's temperature jumped in terms of temperature. We might see something around 35 degrees by racetime, which would be more than welcome after the last few days.

I heard some comments about the race officials running out of sizes of their premiums pretty quickly, but new shipments showed up later in the week. I'd call it more of a long-sleeve tech shirt than a jacket, but it worked out well on the treadmill today.

Yes, the Shamrock is the start of the Runner of the Year series. The full schedule will be released on Sunday in the newspaper. Here's the weekend rundown from buffalorunners.com:

* Shamrock Run, 8K, 62 Republic in Buffalo, 12 noon on Saturday, 856-8613 x108.

* Slush Rush, 5K, Dods Hall at SUNY Fredonia, 9 a.m. on Sunday, 673-3471.

--- Budd Bailey

Video: Bucky & Sully on WBBZ, by segment

News Sports Columnists Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan have a live show that airs on WBBZ-TV twice weekly, at 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.

Find out where to find WBBZ here.

Here are segments from tonight's show:

Video: Bucky & Sully on WBBZ, by segment

News Sports Columnists Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan have a live show that airs on WBBZ-TV twice weekly, at 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.

Find out where to find WBBZ here.

Here are segments from tonight's show:

Running notebook: Catching on

I hope you saw the article last Sunday on Tom Burns, as he attempts to raise money for the Heart Association while running the Shamrock Run. It's been picked up by a couple of television stations, and his donations have gone well past $3,000.

If you are looking to help out the cause, click here to go to his website for fundraising.

Hope you managed to squeeze in an outdoor run this week when the temperature went above freezing. And let's hope the cellars are runners everywhere stay dry.

It's a short calendar for running this weekend, as usual. Buffalorunners.com has the information:

* Polar Bear 5K, 1691 Lockport-Olcott Road in Olcott, 10 a.m. on Sunday, 434-8887. The usual rules - beat the bear, get a special shirt. But the bear is always pretty fast, at least by bear standards. And losing to the bear can be, um, grizzly.

* Canisius Chilly Challege, 1180 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, 12 noon on Sunday, 882-0466 x262. This is the 35th running of this race, which makes it one of the oldest races in area and worth a big plug here. It's always been well run, and they have a number of categories including teams and family combinations. Even St. Joe's graduates have been known to enjoy the race, even if they don't admit it readily.

By the way, the pickup of jackets for the Shamrock Run starts this weekend. Go to the website for details about the procedure.

--- Budd Bailey

Video: Bucky & Sully on WBBZ, by segment

News Sports Columnists Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan have a live show that airs on WBBZ-TV twice weekly, at 7 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.

Find out where to find WBBZ here.

Here are segments from tonight's show:

Bandits Live: Pregame info at 7 p.m.; Wings-Bandits updates at 7:30 p.m.

Video: Bucky & Sully on WBBZ, by segment

News Sports Columnists Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan have a live show that airs on WBBZ-TV twice weekly, at 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.

Find out where to find WBBZ here.

Here are segments from tonight's show:

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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