Vanderbilt Handicap Preview: Sprinters Ready to Step Up

Delta Bluesman the Smile Sprint - Gulfstream Park
Gulfstream Park

Trainer Jorge Navarro will be represented by a trio of runners in a competitive edition of the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt for seasoned sprinters at six furlongs Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, led by Grade 2 Smile Sprint winner Delta Bluesman.

A $30,000 pickup at the claims box in October 2014, Monster Racing Stable’s Delta Bluesman has amassed seven of his nine career wins and more than $370,000 in earnings in the 21 months since he joined Navarro’s barn.

While nearly all of his wins have come in his typical front-running fashion, Navarro was pleased to see a new dimension from the Florida-bred in the Smile Sprint as Delta Bluesman gamely overcame an early speed duel in his graded stakes debut to prevail by 3 ¾ lengths and secure his berth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint this fall.

“Since I claimed him two years ago, this horse has always shown me he has the potential,” said Navarro. “I think maybe I wasn’t patient enough when I first got him. Every time a race would come up on the turf I would run him, but he’s been a different horse on the dirt. He’s always showed a lot a talent in the morning.”

The 6-year-old Wagon Limit gelding has crossed the wire first in each of his last four starts and, despite being disqualified and placed fifth for interference in the Decathlon in May, has earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures for his last three efforts, all against open company at six furlongs.

“I know it’s a lot to ask,” Navarro continued. “He’s coming out of a big race four weeks ago. I was going to give him 40 to 50 days but he came out of the race super – the best I’ve ever seen him come out of a race actually. So why not? We’ll just take a chance. It’s a Grade 1, a short field, the money’s great and, the main thing, the horse came out great. There isn’t another option until next month, so we’ll take the chance. We’ve got nothing to lose.”

Emisael Jaramillo, who rode Delta Bluesman to his Smile Sprint victory, will have the return call. The pair will depart from post 3.

Delta Bluesman will be joined in the Vanderbilt by stablemates Chublicious, the New Jersey-bred winner of the Mr. Prospector on June 26 at Monmouth Park, and Catalina Red.

Owned by Anthony Lenci, Catalina Red was transferred from Florida-based trainer Chad Stewart shortly before the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard, a race the 4-year-old Florida-bred by Munnings won by a length over graded stakes winner Calculator at odds of 14-1. Catalina Red returned in the Grade 2 True North at Belmont Park in June pressed the early pace before fading to fourth.

“I blame myself for the race at Belmont Park, I don’t blame the horse,” said Navarro. “Private Zone was scratched from the race and there was no speed in the race, so I got in his way. I told [Javier] Castellano to get away from the pony, warm him up good and keep him close to the pace. But he doesn’t want any part of that. Catalina Red is a horse that wants to take back and make one run, so that was my fault. The horse is ready; he’s been doing really good.”

Catalina Red will leave from post 2 with jockey Luis Saez aboard for the first time, while Chublicious will be ridden by Antonio Gallardo from post 6.

Alto Racing’s Anchor Down will shorten back up to six furlongs for trainer Todd Pletcher following a pair of one-mile graded stakes efforts at Belmont, including a 6 ¾-length romp in the Grade 3 Westchester on May 7 and a game second-place finish behind Frosted in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on June 11.

“We considered the distance [of the Vanderbilt] a little bit but we’re going to give it a try,” said Pletcher. “I thought his most impressive race was the Westchester and, although well beaten by Frosted, he did show some courage to run on to be second in the Met. Up here [at Saratoga], you get limited options. You either go six, seven [furlongs] or a mile and an eighth and I don’t think any of those are perfect for him, so we decided that the Vanderbilt is a Grade 1 so we’d take a shot.”

Anchor Down, a 5-year-old son of Tapit, will break from the rail with Jose Ortiz aboard.

Also on tap for the Vanderbilt are Grade 3 Belmont Sprint winner A. P. Indian for trainer Arnaud Delacour; Steve Asmussen trainee Holy Boss, who capped a four-race win streak last year with a 2 ¼-length victory in the Grade 2 Amsterdam; Requite, winner of the Parrot Key in June at Gulfstream for George Weaver; and Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap runner-up All Star Red for the barn of Rudy Rodriguez.

Likely Winners

#3 Delta Bluesman – We’ve seen this song and dance before…Navarro can get these sprinters running better than you could ever imagine.  This speedy six year old was my pick last time in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint at Gulfstream Park simply because I thought he could get an easy lead and wire the field.  He ended up getting in a pretty wicked pace duel, but STILL romped by over three lengths.  He’s running at a different level this year and is starting to remind me of horses like Private Zone and X Y Jet.  Obviously he has to keep building his resume to get to their level, but I think he will start to build it today against this tough group.

#1 Anchor Down – I made a note to bet this horse back off that Met Mile effort because he was able to get second and lets face it nobody in the world was beating Frosted that day.  However, I didn’t think they’d run him at six furlongs…it might be a little sharp for him.  I have ultimate respect for his talent and form so I can’t leave him off, but I think it’s going to take a crafty ride from Jose Ortiz to get the win here.  I’m afraid the field could get away from him early.  Still one you must respect.

#2 Catalina Red – Trainer Jorge Navarro admitted in his quotes above that he made a tactical error with Catalina Red last time out, and also mentioned how well he was doing coming into this race.  That was enough for me as this trainer definitely knows how to win big sprint races all around the country.  The bottom line is his win in the Churchill Downs Stakes was incredibly strong so if he can get back to that effort he’s going to be really tough to beat.  It’ll take a leap of faith to wheel him back after a dismal effort last time, but I think it’s worth a shot.

Exotic Plays

#4 A. P. Indian – If was extremely hard not to put him a little higher up the list in this race, but I just had too much respect for the Navarro and Pletcher runners.  Also even though he is three for five at six furlongs I have to wonder if seven furlongs might not be his best distance.  He can definitely win at six furlongs, but can he beat top flight competition at the distance?  The last time he faced Delta Bluesman at six furlongs he finished second to him, however was moved up to first because of a disqualification.  Thinking Delta Bluesman could get revenge today.

#5 Holy Boss – Coming off his strong effort in the Breeders Cup Sprint I thought Holy Boss may be a big star in the sprint division this year, but it just hasn’t materialized as of yet.  In fact he’s finished no better than third in three races so far in 2016.  Also needs pointing out that Holy Boss hasn’t actually won a race since the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga one year ago.  Now obviously getting back to the track he won at last year is a major positive, but I’d like to see him in a little better form before I put him on top in a race of this caliber.

Party Crashers

#7 Requite – He’s two for two at the distance and has Javier Castellano on his back…things could be worse for this horse.  Also throw in the fact that he won at Gulfstream Park last time out coming off a considerable layoff and you’ve got yourself a very dangerous horse.  Today will be tougher than that small Gulfstream Park stakes, but notice that he faired pretty well at Saratoga last year in the Grade 2 Amsterdam as he finished second to Holy Boss.  Hard to throw out a horse that has this much going for him.

#6 Chublicious – Anytime Jorge Navarro enters a sprint stakes you better have respect for the horse.  He has three entered here and I did not want to put them all in the “likely winners” category so Chublicious was the odd man out.  That doesn’t mean he’s not coming into this race loaded though.  His last two efforts at Monmouth Park have been pretty strong, and that type of race can be competitive with these today.  However, the class jump today is a big one.  Maybe he’s not quite ready for prime time, but if you can get him at a price he’s worth a small shot.

Throw Outs

#8 All Star Red – You know it’s a tough race when I was only able to logically toss one horse.  He’s not all that bad, but numbers wise he just doesn’t match up to this field today.


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