West Northwest Looks to Defend Hardacre Crown

The Hardacre Mile Handicap (Grade 2)- $300.000 Purse
GP- For Four Year Olds and Upward
One Mile on the Dirt
March 31, 2018

Last year, West Northwest scored a one-length victory here in the Hardacre Mile Handicap for his trainer, Grimley. It was a good race for the trainer, as he had the first and third place runners. The race itself was also great for Grimley, as he won it in three of the last four years. However, while West Northwest may be back, things are a little different this time as he will be looking to repeat under the guidance of Blushing Meadows. The Hardacre, known as the GP Handicap last year and run in February, was the last race that West Northwest would run for Grimley. He’s continued to have success, and should be a solid contender in this field, but his opposition is formidable. In this handicap, weight ranges between 118 and 121 pounds, with most at 119, so while its always a factor, it might not be a big one in this race. Let’s take a look at our competitors!

#1- Apocazeus (Nakamura Stables, ridden by F Prat)- This will be the first race of the year for this six year old horse, as well as his first race for trainer Nakamura Stables, who acquired him at the end of last year for $40.000 in private sales. It followed one of his more disappointing races of 2017, the Grade 1 Cigar Handicap which was quite a task given the stakes. Nakamura has been patient with him since the sale, and this will be just the second time he runs a mile (or more), with the Cigar being the first. We’ll see here if he’s back to that Bold Ruler form, but I’ll be looking elsewhere.

#2- Nice Distorted Laff (Night Rider Stables, ridden by R Maragh)- The trainer gets his favorite jockey on this one in what will be Nice Distorted Laff’s first graded stake opportunity. He has certainly earned this opportunity with two strong showings in state bred stakes at AQU. The most recent effort was a win in the $100.000 Haynesfield in the middle of February. While running at least a mile, he has never failed to be in the money. Most likely, we will see him near the front, but not setting the pace early on. He’s intriguing to pick in here, and might be worth a play just in case if the odds climb.

#3- Awesome Indeed (TwinTowersRacing, ridden by J R Velazquez)- This colt was very successful on the turf last year, winning three out of nine races, plus a second place outing in the $100.000 California Flag Handicap. That would be the last time he ran on the grass though, as his last three races have been on the main track. It started promising, with a win in the $75.000 Thanksgiving Handicap, a six furlong sprint that actually included Water Mummy and Dogs Got Wings. He has not been able to follow that up, though, as his two races afterwards, both graded stakes, saw him finish up the track. In his three starts at a mile or more, he has never been in the money.

#4- Out On A Limb (Smokey Stover, ridden by R Bejarano)- His 20th start will be something new to him, as he races as a gelding for the first time. Earlier this week, the trainer decided to give him the snip at this point in his career. He’s won five of 19, and has been part of the exacta ten times, with one of the second place finishes being in the BC Dirt Mile last November. You may also remember him from the TC series last year, as he ran in both the KYD and the PRK, with middle of the pack finishes. He doesn’t have that one win which I would consider a “signature win”, but has many good runs. Perhaps that is the reason for the geld.

#5- West Northwest (Blushing Meadows, ridden by J L Ortiz)- The winner of this race last year, as the GP Handicap, looks to defend his title. Perhaps this race represents him going full circle since his sale from Grimley to Blushing Meadows, since the GP Handicap was his last race for Grimley. He’s continued to run well for his new trainer, with three wins in eight starts. With a little more luck in the stretch, it’s conceivable to think that he wins his last two races as well, which were similar races, Grade 3’s at a mile at GP. The Hals Hope saw him run third to the likes of superstar Edwin Drood, as well as Caught Stealing. He sees Caught Stealing again here, but you’ll have to look far to the outside of the starting gate to find him, and that may be all it takes for West Northwest.

#6- Copper Opus (Big Guns Stables, ridden by J J Castellano)- The five year old makes the 28th start of his career, and should be poised for a good run. He is best known for his three year old season, running in the KYD, and placing third in the Grade 1 Haskell, and while he is not among the elite in this age group anymore, he has stabilized into being a solid performer in races such as this one. After closing out 2017 with two ON-bred stake wins, he has been solid in two starts this year, including a runner up at the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap.

#7- Grounded In Reality (Mb Stables, ridden by R J Albarado)- This is one of the races that Mb Stables can not say that he has won yet, thanks in large part to the dominance in the stake by Grimley. Grounded In Reality can definitely change that and comes into the race off a win in an optional claimer last month. That was a dip in the level of competition he faced late as a three year old when he ran in the Grade 1 Awesome Again, and the Grade 1 Woodward, but was off the board in both. If he needed a confidence booster, he got it, and with triple digit SRF’s in three of his last four races, he will be a factor.

#8- Well Proven (Mb Stables, ridden by I Ortiz Jr)- In ten starts, Well Proven has been consistent in landing 3 wins, 3 places, and 3 shows, but he has looking to prove himself still at the graded level, after success in lesser races. He’s attempted just the one graded stake, his last start where he ran third in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap, one spot behind Copper Opus. He seems due to me, and also seems to be one that can be counted on to be near the front, and could potentially win this race if the trip lines up for him. Not the favorite, but not a bad choice.

#9- True Code (D J C Racing Stables, ridden by A A Gallardo)- This veteran four year old will make the 18th start of his career, and he has been successful running in allowances. When the trainer has tried to advance his career a little further, he has come up a little short, although I must mention he did take a $50.000 statebred stake. Graded events showed a flash of glory in a second place run at the Grade 2 Amsterdam last summer, but otherwise he has been off the board. He’s mixed up his distances, and I must say I am having a hard time getting a handle on him here in predicting how he may fare.

#10- Heez On Fire (Aml Racing, ridden by L H Colon)- He has been on fire in the past, but he has cooled off as of late. In late September, he picked up a huge win in the Grade 1 Awesome Again, which was somewhat of a surprise, as he was a 10/1 longshot that day. Second in that race was a horse named Winter Is Coming, and it seemed to douse the flames of Heez On Fire. He did run in the BC Classic thanks to the Awesome Again win, but only defeated one horse. Since then, his two races have seen him finish off the board. Fortunately, Winter is over now, and based on some sharp work times, I expect him to heat up again. This is tough post to do it from, though.

#11- Caught Stealing (Sir Daniel Martin, ridden by C J Lanerie)- This is one of the top horses in the field, so his race here will be a good example to see how much of an influence and a factor starting on the outside can be. If not for the starting post, there is every reason to love Caught Stealing especially at this distance. He’s won five of 20, but still searches for his first graded win after several attempts. Despite the lack of a win in such a race, he is competitive, and just missed winning the Hals Hope here last month.


— NS

Categories: Grade II, STAKES ARTICLES

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