Vanderbilt Looks Wide Open

Vanderbilt Handicap (Grade 1)- $350.000 Purse
SAR- For Three Year Olds and Upward
Six Furlongs on the Dirt
July 29, 2017

It’s an exciting weekend for sprinters with both the Vanderbilt here at the Spa and the Crosby running out at DMR. In this preview, we will be taking a look at the Grade 1 Vanderbilt, which runs for the 14th time in its history. The weights for this handicap are relatively close together, ranging between 118 and 121 pounds, and the majority seem to be at 119. While every little bit can determine a race, it does not seem as though that weight will be as big of a player here as it can be in other handicaps. The most prolific past winner of the Vanderbilt was the first ever winner, with Ljosalfar in 2004. This gelding raced 75 times over the course of his great career, with 36 victories, and earnings just a tad under $5,000.000. In 2004, he won both the Vanderbilt and the Crosby, as that year they were 2 ½ weeks apart and Barking Stables went for it. He did get a rest until October after that, though, before going on to win the BC Sprint that season. It doesn’t look like we have any Ljosalfars in this race, at least not at this point in their careers. It’s a field of eight in 2017, let’s meet them now!

#1- Steel Will (Australia Wide, ridden by M E Smith)- The one-time king of the game returns to the Spa with a gelding that will be running at the graded level for the first time in his career. He was picked up in late October in private sales from Eastern Equine for $135.000, and has predominantly raced in high level optional claimers, so he’s always been against good competition. While there was an ungraded stake in the early moments of his career, Australia Wide moved him back into that level, though against CA-breds, last month for the $100.000 Thors Handicap, and would win the race, earning a 98 SRF in the process. Only twice in his career has he failed to hit the board, and he has definitely earned this opportunity and should be a big threat in here.

#2- Moon Landing (Mb Stables, ridden by R J Albarado)- This five year old gelding is the only entry in the field that has earned over $1,000.000 in his career, and much of that was earned last year, including taking the Grade 1 Forego right here at the Spa. He has not won a graded event since then however, though ran competitively in the BC Sprint. In 2017, he started off with a victory against allowance company. After that, there have been four graded attempts in which he has run quite well, with three of them having him be within a length, and two of them earning triple digit speed figures. Perhaps this will be the moment he returns to the winners circle.

#3- Eighth Street (Mb Stables, ridden by R Bejarano)- There is not much separating the two entries from Mb Stables in this race, with the exception of saying that Eighth Street does not quite have the resume due to his stablemate’s 2016 success. That is irrelevant, though, because Eighth Street has been running extremely well this year. Like his stablemate, that success has come without a trip to the winners circle. The highlight of Eighth Street’s 2016 was a win in the $150.000 ungraded Vance Stakes at RP, sandwiched between a couple of optional claimer victories. He looked good in the Grade 3 Mr Prospector later that year, and seemed on the verge of a bigger win, but he is still in that predicament. His best performance this year was a third in the Grade 1 Carter down at the Big A. Eighth Street was earned three consecutive 100 SRF’s, and four of his last five starts have seen triple digit figures. As has been the case before, Eighth Street is on the verge of a big graded win, but will it be here?

#4- Ghost River (D J C Racing Stables, ridden by D Moran)- Purchased by the trainer last year in private sales for $50.000, Ghost River has had some great moments for D J C Racing Stables, but at the same time has probably had some frustrating moments. Ghost River looks to be a little inconsistent, and his last three races really tell this tale. In April out at SA, Ghost River won the Grade 3 LA Handicap, but perhaps the 93 SRF earned there warned of that not being the strongest race. Even if you completely throw out the dud in FG when he tried going longer in the Mineshaft Handicap, his last race in the Grade 2 True North is why there will be inconsistency concerns. Maybe there is another reason, but he was flat. Tough to back him, but if he runs his race, he can be as good as anyone.

#5- Shang Hi Lee (Luz International, ridden by J R Velazquez)- The gelding would make Ljoslafar proud as he gets set to make his 41st career start with no signs of slowing down. He has had a bit of an interesting career, showing plenty of promise early on that led to running some pretty big races, such as the Grade 1 Woodward right here at SAR, where he actually ran third. 2015 saw his career start to slow down, and last year he spent a lot of time in claiming races before Downwind Stables picked him up for an $18.000 claim. With Downwind, he jumped right back up to where he had been before, going 3-for-3, highlighted by winning the ungraded Damascus at SA in November. Downwind would sell him to Luz International for $60.000, where he extended his winning streak to five with open allowance wins. His last start ended that streak, but may have been his best race, running second in the Grade 2 True North in a only-on-HRP, three-way dead heat. Seems promising, but he is the 121-pound highweight here. A bit of a gut feeling pick for me here putting him on top.

#6- Oh My Senor (Ekli Stable, ridden by M Franco)- Last year, the El Gran Senor colt won five of eleven races, highlighted by Grade 3 Jersey Shore at MTH, almost exactly a year prior to the running of this race. Despite the win, his next three runs were in optional claimers albeit in high level races, and much of his 2016 finished at that level. It earned him a couple wins with a running style of getting out on the lead and trying to stay there. This year, the trainer has focused on graded stakes, and a strong second at the Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes at GP shows that he still can get it done.

#7- The Rook (D J C Racing Stables, ridden by J L Ortiz)- In making his 21st career start, The Rook has become a grizzled veteran. Last year, he was competitive in some TC prep races, but was not quite able to make a name for himself there. Afterwards, he still spent most of his career going long and won the Shipman here for NY-breds in September. Some struggles after that had the trainer try him out at shorter distances, and while the first try was not the greatest, he narrowly missed a victory, finishing second, at the Grade 3, $400.000 Fleet Sprint Handicap at OP. Despite that good run, he was back to going long, and would be back to finishing off the board. After a couple of months to rest, he will try sprinting again and he should be promising in this field. With Ortiz aboard, The Rook has run some of the best races of his career.

#8- Fly Millennium (Blushing Meadows, ridden by I Ortiz Jr.)- The gelding returned to this roots recently, being reacquired by Blushing Meadows in private sales from John Henry for $200.000, which is a third of what John Henry paid for him. The recent sale nearly came on the year anniversary as the previous sale, as well. He made some money for John Henry, but given the nomination fees associated with those races, it’s fair to say his 11-race winless period was a disappointment. His first race back with Blushing Meadows was more of the same. He’s been trying to go long recently, but has had success sprinting as well. From my perspective, it looks like the trainer is simply searching for his spot right now.

Prediction: 5-2-1-3

— NS



Categories: Grade I, STAKES ARTICLES

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