Sapphire Kitten looks appealing
With the Kentucky Derby slightly more than three months away, I’m eager to watch the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct and the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday to see how those 3-year-olds stack up. Unfortunately, they aren’t exciting wagering races, with short fields and seemingly a standout runner in each race.
So, I’ll wager on other stakes, first a supporting grass race at Gulfstream, the Sweetest Chant, followed by the Space City Stakes and the Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston on Saturday evening.
Sweetest Chant Stakes
In contrast to the three dirt stakes at Gulfstream, all of which drew short fields, the Sweetest Chant attracted 12 3-year-old fillies, making it one of the better wagering races on the card.
My initial impression was that four or five fillies had about equal chances of victory, but upon closer inspection, I kept finding Sapphire Kitten more attractive. Since winning at first asking in a lucrative maiden race at Kentucky Downs, she has run competitively with the elite in the division, running second to Harmonize in the Grade 3 Jessamine at Keeneland on Oct. 7, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf there three weeks later, and then third in the Wait a While Stakes at Gulfstream Park West on Nov. 28.
Although Sapphire Kitten lost as the favorite in the Wait a While and regressed to a 73 Beyer Speed Figure after earning an 82 in the Breeders’ Cup, she had excuses for doing so. Unlucky to draw post 13 in a 14-horse field, she raced four to five wide throughout and was farther off the pace than normal, running in the rear half of the pack.
Despite this, she managed to close from 10th to miss second in a photo on a turf course that was so dry and chewed up that the leaders seemed to leave a dust cloud in their wake for the late runners to breathe.
Sapphire Kitten is drawn much better in the Sweetest Chant in post 2, from where she should be able to save ground and rate in a stalking position. She’s also reunited with jockey Julien Leparoux, who was up for her maiden win and fine stakes efforts at Keeneland.
Space City Stakes
Turning to Sam Houston, which will be running late into the night Saturday, the first of two plays comes in the seventh race, the Space City, a six-furlong race for 3-yearolds.
I like Mud Light, an always well-regarded colt from the Steve Asmussen stable who finally put things together with a blowout maiden win at Remington Park on Dec. 2 in which he ran an 80 Beyer. And though the figure represented a giant leap forward, he should avoid bouncing after having nearly two months between starts.
He’s 8-1 on the morning line but has no shot of starting at that price. Expect him to go off around 3-1 or 7-2, provided likely favorite Twirling Cinnamon is not scratched after being cross-entered in Sunday’s Keith Gee Memorial at Fair Grounds.
Houston Ladies Classic
Forever Unbridled and Cassatt are the “name” horses in the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic, but I see faults in both, leaving me eager to back Theogony as a valuepriced alternative.
Forever Unbridled won the Grade 3 Comely last year and chased I’m a Chatterbox unsuccessfully a number of times at Fair Grounds in stakes last spring and winter. But the 3-year-old filly dirt crop was below par in 2015, and now she’s running with older mares.
The veteran Cassatt also is expected to take heavy action, having won this race in 2015, one of seven victories from her 12 starts. But I wasn’t particularly impressed by what she did in two starts late last year, even though one resulted in a victory at Remington Park, where she narrowly held off the Oklahoma-bred former claimer Ribbon of Darkness by a neck.
So, I’m taking Theogony, who has successfully transitioned from racing on Polytrack to dirt, running second in her last two starts in stakes company. One of those runner-up finishes came in the Falls City Handicap at Churchill and the other off the bench in the Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn on Jan. 17.