Colonial Downs Analysis – September 9th, 2023 – By Michael Domabyl

It’s a little bittersweet as this exciting Virginia Derby Day card also represents the final racing day for the Colonial Downs in 2023. As the curtains fall, I’ll look back fondly on this summer’s racing with the major highlights being the fantastic Arlington Million Day card and just how well the weather cooperated. Only a handful of races were washed off the turf, and nearly every single race was run over fast and firm conditions. There are certainly some areas for improvement for the track as this was just the first season under the ownership of Churchill Downs, Inc. I’m excited to see more race dates come on board in the next few years and hopefully the racing can be positioned in a way where more eyeballs will be drawn to the fantastic product they put out everyday.

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  • Race 1: 6-5-3-4
  • Race 2: 1-6-4-2
  • Race 3: 9-5-6-8
  • Race 4: 1-3-6-8
  • Race 5: 6-9-12-8
  • Race 6: 7-8-3-5-4
  • Race 7: 2-3-11-7
  • Race 8: 11-5-4-3
  • Race 9: 1-4-7-3
  • Race 10: 7-11-9-8
  • Race 11: 7-3-4-10

Colonial Downs Race 5: Ohana Honor (#6)

Justintimeforwine (#9) is by far the horse to beat in this spot as he ships down from Monmouth for the Jorge Delgado barn. This 6YO gelding makes his hay by freewheeling on the front end so it would be a surprise to see anyone else leading the way early on. He’s been able to set fast paces and hold on more than once this year, but there have also been occasions where he’s spit the bit and backed through the field in the lane. I’m looking to take a small shot against him with Ohana Honor (#6) for the red-hot Shug McGaughey barn. This stable has saddled 7 winners this meet already which puts them in the top five in the trainers standings with just 15 starters. For context the other top five trainers have sent forth between 36-66 starters. Ohana Honor broke his maiden over the main track earlier this meet, but has shown to be able to handle the grass as well. I think this guy can get the day started on a positive note for the same jockey/trainer/owner connection that will send out Integration later this afternoon in the Virginia Derby. I’d want to try to link him up in exactas with Bryce Canyon (#8) and Small Field (#12). The former has an effort first off the claim for this barn that would win this race and the latter ran very well two back at this level when very much against the flow of the race.

Colonial Downs Race 7: Randazzo (#2)

This Kitten’s Joy Stakes brings together a fun and competitive group of juveniles from all over the country. I find it interesting that Pletcher and Repole choose to debut Triple Espresso (#3) in this stakes event despite having ample opportunity to run him out of his stall in a lucrative maiden special weight on the NYRA circuit. It wasn’t that long ago that Four Wheel Drive debuted in a stakes race on the Virginia Derby undercard and went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, so maybe that’s what the connections are thinking here. He better be pretty good though cause he’s meeting a solid group. Manabi (#7) got the job done on debut for the Arnaud Delacour barn who has been spectacular with his juveniles at the Colonial Downs meet. Most of them have been able to take a step forward in their second starts and if this colt can do that, he’s a major player to win right back. Because the Night (#11) is another interesting runner as this one gets to the turf for the first time. He was entered for the grass on debut, but went on to win anyway in a off-the-turf event. This colt is bred to run all day as his dam is a half to G1W Princess of Sylmar and with Uncle Mo as the sire, this Brad Cox trainee should have no problem transitioning to the lawn. Speaking of Princess of Sylmar, the dam of my top pick finished 3rd to her in the 2013 Alabama. By being out of Carnival Court, that also makes Randazzo (#2) a half brother to Carnival Colors who won the 2019 Virginia Oaks over this course. I like what I saw from this colt in his debut as he was able to wear down another rival to get the money going long on the dirt at Delaware. Those two pulled 11L clear of the rest of the field which is a positive sign.

Colonial Downs Race 8: Air Recruit (#11)

This is a fantastic edition of the Rosie’s Stakes in part due to the presence of likely favorite No Nay Mets (Ire) (#5). Aside from the failed attempt at Royal Ascot, this colt has been lights out to start his career. He was super impressive winning a stakes at first asking down at Gulfstream and was arguably even better in his stateside return when dominating the Tyro Stakes at Monmouth. The second-place finisher from that race came right back to win the off-the-turf Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga which only flattered the form of the favorite. My concern with leaning too heavily on him is that he’s won all his races on the front end and this field has some absolute speed balls. King Kontie (#10) was ultra-impressive in his debut blitzing a field of VA-Restricted maidens clearing off to a large lead and holding that advantage throughout. It’s interesting that the connections skipped the statebred restricted version of this race last week in favor of this much tougher spot. Toupie (#3) is another one who has an abundance of early foot and should have no problem switching to turf out of a mare who was GSP on turf, but I can’t see either of those two outmaneuvering No Nay Mets at his own game.  My top pick is a horse that’s proven he can pass runners and is coming off a win in what’s proving to be a live event. Air Recruit (#11) was a facile winner of his debut back on August 5th defeating Shards and Cigale who came right back to notch maiden special weight victories at Colonial and Saratoga respectively. As mentioned previously, Arnaud Delacour has fantastic numbers with juvenile second-time starters and this colt could improve those stats. I’ll throw in a mention for Woodcourt (#4) just because I found it interesting that this colt has been working in company with Mise En Scene who contested the G1-Beverly D. for these same connections earlier in the meet.

Colonial Downs Race 9: Root Cause (#1)

The morning line is billing this race as a two-horse affair with Mission of Joy (#7) and Alpha Bella (#8) as the principals, but I’m not so sure it’s that simple. Of the two I much prefer Mission of Joy for whom I think the slight cutback in distance will really work in her favor. She ran really well in each of her first four starts of the year which were all between a flat mile and the nine furlongs she meets this afternoon. I’ve never really been an Alpha Bella fan and think that her 22 1/4 length win in an off-the-turf match race at Saratoga might cause her to take some unwarranted casual money. She had some decent efforts in Florida during the winter and early spring, but hasn’t seemed to progress from there. I think this is a rare case where you can get a decent price on some Chad Brown runners and I’ll be using both of them prominently in my plays. The more fancied of which is likely to be Idea Generation (Ire) (#4) who is second off the bench and top rider Flavien Prat takes the call. This well-bred Irish filly did some good things as a 2YO and wasn’t disgraced in her return losing to her stablemate Chili Flag who backed up that effort with a good second in an allowance at Saratoga. However, I’m looking for Chad Brown’s other runner to take this one down at an even bigger price. Root Cause (#1) might get overlooked with the curious rider assignment of Feargal Lynch, but I think that will just help our price. Chad was on record for being high on this horse before her allowance try at Belmont last time based on a conversation with Jonathan Kinchen that he may or may not have known was being broadcast as part of Horseplayer Happy Hour. These two Brown trained fillies have been working heads up in company recently and I’m more than happy to elevate the one that will be the bigger price.

Colonial Downs Race 10: Activist Investing (GB) (#7)

The list of past Virginia Derby winners includes a who’s who of turf superstars from the early 2000’s with Kitten’s Joy, English Channel, and Gio Ponti the most notable victors. While it remains to be seen if there are any runners of that quality, it is a fun and competitive group nonetheless. Program Trading (GB) (#11) is likely to be bet down off that 7-2 morning line (I’d reckon around 3-2) and deservedly so. This undefeated Chad Brown trainee notched a G1 win in the Saratoga Derby last time out defeating Webslinger and Far Bridge to vault to the top of the 3YO turf division. In theory, this represents a drop in class as just a G3 event, and while he’s the most likely winner, I don’t think he’ll offer fair value at what I perceive his off odds to end up being. Part of the reason from my tempered enthusiasm is that I think this pace could really heat up and Program Trading likes to be quite forward in his races. While likely not good enough to challenge for top honors, horses like Laurel Valley (#8) and Ari Gold (#10) have produced there best efforts when on the lead, so it’d be a surprise to see them take back. Even Salute the Stars (#4) could be a part of the pace as this notoriously headstrong colt returns to turf for the first time as a 3YO. Ultimately, I wanted to find a horse who can close from off the pace and once again landed on the “other Chad” making Activist Investing (GB) (#7) my top pick. It’s not an easy task to win off a 300+ day layoff, but this barn makes it look routine. Activist Investing did just that last time out at Saratoga and once Chad Brown horses show they are in form off the bench, they usually hold that form. Integration (#9) was ultra impressive breaking his maiden on debut on the Million Day undercard. The second-place finisher came back to run well at Kentucky Downs last week further validating that performance. This is a massive step up in class for this regally-bred West Point colt and you rarely see ambitious placements like this from the McGaughey barn. Ultimately, I relegated him to a backup because I think this might be too much too soon (like it was for Northern Invader), but don’t be surprised if he turns out to be the best of this bunch long-term.

Colonial Downs Race 11: Dynadrive (#7)

If all those stakes races weren’t enough we close out the card and the meet with a solid renewal of the Colonial Turf Cup. When I think of long distance turf races the first trainer that comes to mind is Mike Maker and he’s got three runners in this spot. The most fancied of which is likely to be Temple (#6) who placed in a few graded stakes in 2022 including a win in the G2-Mac Diarmida. However, he has some questions to answer off the bench and I’m hesitant to take a short price on the notion this 7YO gelding is still in form. I view Sy Dog (#10) as the most likely winner albeit a tepid one. He proved that the marathon distances suit him finishing a clear second in the John’s Call seventeen days ago and has Flavien Prat named to ride. Though, in an evenly matched race such as this I’m looking for a bit of a price and actually prefer the chances of the other two Mike Maker runners. Starting Over (#3) might not be good enough based on the bare form, but this race has a murky pace scenario to say the least and he could be one that employs enterprising tactics. He’s never gone this far in his career, but there’s no trainer I trust more stretching horses out on the grass than Maker. My top pick is Dynadrive (#7) who returns to the Mike Maker barn off the claim following a successful year in the Tom Morley barn. After losing this gelding to the claim box back at the end of 2021 for $62.5k, I find it interesting that Maker dips back in to grab him at age six for the same price tag. He obviously knows this guy from his prior stint in his barn and must have had this spot picked out for him when he placed the claim. He’s got plenty of back races that would make him a major player and would be a solid bet at even a third of his 30-1 morning line. If those two “other Maker” runners get overbet I could also look at McLovin (#4). I’ve always thought the longer the better for this Team Valor charge and find it interesting that Leparoux came in specifically to ride this horse as his lone stakes mount.



Meet Statistics

Top Pick: 239-64-51-40 (27%, $1.50); Featured Horses: 97-16-20-16 (16%, $0.91)
Percent of Races Won By: A’s: 49%; B’s: 25%; C’s: 19%; X’s: 6%

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