Royal Son Takes The Battaglia Memorial Gate To Wire

Royal Son Takes The Battaglia Memorial Gate To Wire

This is an all too familiar narrative for Todd Pletcher. He has won another three year stakes race and this time it was well off the beaten path. His three year old son of Tiznow, Royal Son, led throughout the race on his way to a smashing 5 and a quarter lengths victory in the ungraded John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park.

This race may not be a traditional Kentucky Derby prep race, it is the primer for Turfway’s signature early season event for three year olds, the Spiral Stakes. The Spiral Stakes will take place on Saturday, March 21.

Despite a Pletcher trainee going off at 9-1, the bigger surprise was The Great War finishing last in the field of 10 as the 1 to 5 favorite. The Equibase chart reported that he bled during the race, which may be why he faded so badly at the top of the stretch.

Royal Son went straight for the lead upon the break from the starting gate with The Great War close in tow. Candy Charger was third, Midnight Trace was fourth, Milwaukee Mist was fifth, and Firespike was sixth within three lengths of the lead. Further back it was Pepper Roani in seventh, Task Force Glory in eight, Ekati Told Me in ninth, and Mini Cosmo was the trailer in tenth.

There was little change in the running position of the horses throughout the first six furlongs. In addition, the fractions were not stressful with Royal Son leading the field through an opening quarter in 24.80, the half mile in 49.58, and the first six furlongs in 1:13.79 on polytrack.

On the far turn it was clear that The Great War was not right as he started to tire badly while Royal Son opened up 3 lengths in the stretch. Pepper Roani made a solid run into second while Milwaukee Mist and Midnight Trace were one paced in the stretch to finish third and fourth respectively. Pepper Roani was second by 5 1/4 lengths, but it was another 12 3/4 lengths back to third.

The remaining order of finish was Firespike, Task Force Glory, Candy Charger, Mini Cosmo, Ekati Told Me, and The Great War.

Royal Son is trained by Todd Pletcher and was ridden by Rodney Prescott. He is a three year old son of Tiznow out of the A.P. Indy mare Mama Nadine. He paid $20.60, $9.40, and $8.60 as the third betting choice. Royal Son had the blinkers put on for the first time and it is easy to see the positive effect it had on his performance.

 

It would be a big shock if Royal Son was not pointed towards the Spiral Stakes on March 21 for his next race since he was dominant in the John Battaglia on Saturday night.

There are three races next weekend on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, the Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita, and the Grade Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs will be run with 50 points to the winner. Second, third, and fourth place finishers in each of those races will receive 20, 10, and 5 points respectively.

Check back later this week to see previews for each of those races and recaps on Saturday night.

 

2015 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes Preview

The Great War is the heavy favorite for the John Battaglia Stakes (Coady Photography/Turfway Park)
The Great War is the heavy favorite for the John Battaglia Stakes (Coady Photography/Turfway Park)

2015 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes Preview

There may not be any Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races this weekend, but there is one stakes race that could have an impact on the Derby prep races. That is the listed John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park. This is the final local prep before the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes on Saturday, March 21.

The John Battaglia Memorial will feature a field of 10 three-year-olds going one mile and one sixteenth over the polytrack. The purse is $125,000 and is not part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races.

Post time for the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes is scheduled for 8:40 PM Eastern Time and is carded as the sixth race. Free past performances can be found here.

1. Mini Cosmo (15-1 Morning Line) – He debuted late in his 2 year old season at Laurel Park when he won by 2 1/4 lengths. After his debut win he went into a restricted race at Parx finishing fourth by a length and a half and then stretched out to a mile while winning an allowance race. His last two races have been in open stakes competition, but he has failed to make an impression with fifth and sixth place finishes. He will need to run much better than his previous two races to have a chance of even hitting the board.

2. Candy Charger (30-1 ML) – He broke his maiden in his fourth start at Indiana Downs going a mile in the slop. He was shipped to Churchill Downs to face an allowance field where he was crushed by Dortmund, who has since become a top Kentucky Derby contender on the West Coast. His last effort was in the 96 Rock Stakes here at Turfway Park, but he was sixth beaten 15 lengths. He will like the stretch out back to two turns, but he will need to step up to contend here.

3. Royal Son (5-1 ML) – He started his career at Saratoga last summer and ran back-to-back second place finishes. After getting a four month break he showed up at Gulfstream Park where he won via disqualification to break his maiden. His last race was on January 31 at Tampa Bay Downs in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes where he failed to do much running finishing 7th by 11 lengths. His last race is hard to decipher; was it the quirky Tampa Bay Downs main track or was it indicative of his ability in stakes competition? Tough read on him here…

4. Task Force Glory (8-1 ML) – He has been run exclusively on turf in his first six starts. He broke his maiden in his fifth start after three second place finishes in the four previous starts. Last time out at Gulfstream Park on January 15, he was placed second via disqualification. There is little concern of him stepping on the polytrack for the first time give his ability to run on turf. The main concern is his string of 4 second place finishes in 6 starts.

5. Ekati Told Me (50-1 ML) – He has two starts to his credit with one coming at Turfway Park last race. His debut was at Thistledown when he won by 2 1/4 lengths before facing stakes foes last time out. That was in the 96 Rock where he was crushed by The Great War while finishing 15 lengths back in fourth. He was sent off at 92-1 that day and he outran his odds. This will be his first start around 2 turns and could sneak into fourth place with some help. Pass on his chances to win the race.

6. Pepper Roani (12-1 ML) – This cleverly named son of Broken Vow was a maiden until his last start here at Turfway Park. He began on turf at Kentucky Downs (10th by 14 lengths) before transitioning to the main track at Churchill Downs (8th by 11 lengths). His third start was at Turfway where he began to improve going from fourth, to second, to third, to a win in the next four starts. There are concerns about his class, but the blinkers on last time really helped. Interesting horse at a price in this spot.

7. Milwaukee Mist (30-1 ML) – He broke his maiden going two turns here at Turfway Park in his debut. He beat the horse to his inside that day before cutting back in distance in the 96 Rock Stakes. Like every horse in that race, he was crushed by The Great War. He probably prefers a route of ground, but even that may not help him that much in this race.

8. Bordini (No ML) – Scratched from the field.

9. Firespike (4-1 ML) – He also began his career on turf with a second place finish at Ellis Park in July. He was then shipped to Saratoga where he finished third before breaking his maiden by a neck in his third career race. The Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on dirt ended with a 7th place finish (by 14 lengths) and he subsequently returned to the turf. There he won his second race, a Florida bred stakes race before finishing 6th in open stakes competition. He recently won the OBS Championship at the Ocala Training Center over the synthetic surface. He rates a threat to the favorite, but will need to be on his A game to get in the victory photo.

10. Midnight Trace (8-1 ML) – Much like the horse to his inside, he began his career on turf. On December 27 he broke his maiden in his debut race at Tampa Bay by a length and a quarter. The next race was also on turf with a third place finish in a $75,000 optional claimer. There is not much worry about transitioning to the synthetic surface here and he should have a great trip off the leaders.

11. The Great War (1-1 ML) – We now reach the overwhelming favorite for this race. Like others in this race, he started his career on turf, but did so in Ireland. He won his first two career races before taking on Group 2 foes in the Norfolk Stakes at Ascot where he was fifth. His next four races were also in stakes competition, but he failed to win a race with his best placing in second. His final start in Europe resulted in his third victory before coming to the US for the Grade 1 Breeders Cup Juvenile on dirt. He finished 4th beaten 8 1/4 lengths before a freshening of 3 months. He returned to win the 96 Rock Stakes here at Turfway by 7 1/4 lengths. He can go gate-to-wire or rate right off the speed if necessary. He is squarely the one to beat here.

 

Selections

This race runs through #11 The Great War and hit is hard to see him losing. With such a heavy favorite expected, the tendency is to look for value. #10 Midnight Trace could offer some value if the favorite falters at 8-1 on the morning line. The Graham Motion trainee should be in a great spot throughout the running. #9 Firespike offers little value, but has a big chance to hit the board as does #4 Task Force Glory. It is tough to completely ignore horses who consistently hit the board. #6 Pepper Roani is an interesting 12-1 shot that clearly improved last time out with blinkers on for the first time. For the biggest value #5 Ekati Told Me and #7 Milwaukee Mist could be used to add needed value to the ticket if The Great War does win.

1. The Great War

2. Midnight Trace.

3. Firespike

4. Pepper Roani

 

Remember to come back on Saturday night to see the recap of the 2015 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes.

House Of Cards Season 3 Predictions

Frank Underwood at the end of season 2 behind the President's desk (Netflix/House of Cards)
Frank Underwood at the end of season 2 behind the President’s desk (Netflix/House of Cards)

House Of Cards Season 3 Predictions

Before we get anywhere near the predictions, this post will be filled with spoilers. If you have not seen the first two seasons or do not want to know about the first two seasons, do not go any further. There are quite a few spoilers involved below.

* * * * * * Spoiler Alert * * * * * *

House of Cards has been an excellent show in its first two season with various twists, turns, and other activities (Frank Underwood, Claire Underwood, and Robert Meechum in “Chapter 24”) embedded throughout. Now, the attention turns to Frank Underwood after his ascent to become the President of the United States.

Frank has been manipulative throughout the first two seasons, but never more so than in season two when he shifted whoever he wanted as a pawn to get to his ultimate goal including former President Garrett Walker. We are left to wonder what else Frank is planning now that he is the President.

Below is a list of predictions for season 3, which may turn out be brilliantly correct or horribly inaccurate. Enjoy and feel free to comment below whether you agree or not!

1. Frank Underwood kills Rachel Posner

What is a season of House of Cards without Frank personally putting the finishing touches on someone’s life?

We certainly know that Frank does not mind getting his hands dirty as he has been personally responsible for two murders already (Congressman Peter Russo in “Chapter 11” and Zoe Barnes in “Chapter 14”). When we last saw Rachel Posner, she was being driven to a safe location by Doug Stamper, but she was worried she was going to be killed and ran into the woods. After Stamper went looking for her, she came out from behind a tree and hit Stamper with a rock repeatedly.

Frank was close with Stamper as his Chief of Staff so there is little doubt that he will want revenge for his death. She is the one link left to all the madness Frank has caused and if she tells the truth, it could spell trouble for the Underwoods. Frank will not let that happen.

2. House Majority Whip Jackie Sharp and Representative Donald Blythe form a Partnership Against Frank

Donald Blythe was nominated to be Vice President by Frank Underwood, which is a curious move considering how at odds the two were throughout the first two seasons (see “Chapter 17” for a great example when the two were quarantined). This could be Frank “keeping his enemies close” and that would make sense.

However, this prediction comes from a conversation that Jackie Sharp and Donald Blythe had in “Chapter 17” when Jackie says, “I’m not Frank Underwood.” Later, when Sharp and Blythe are talking about the devastation of Walker’s impeachment to the Democratic Party (“Chapter 26”), Blythe is clearly on Jackie’s side since he is not a fan of Frank Underwood.

It would not be House of Cards if Frank did not have someone to squash and it usually comes in the form of people in his own party.

3. Seth Grayson Becomes Frank’s Chief Of Staff….Gavin Orsay joins the Team

Alright, the first part is a gimme due to Doug Stamper’s untimely death at the end of season 2 (“Chapter 26”). It only makes sense that Seth moves up to fill the void created by Doug given the amount of promise and loyalty he showed in the second season.

The other part is a true prediction with no certainty of happening. The line of thinking here is that Gavin Orsay feels ignored by Doug after their meeting late in season 2 (“Chapter 26”). Gavin, unaware of Doug’s death, will push for a meeting with the President or unleash what information he has.

Remember, Gavin is aware of Doug’s relationship with Rachel (“Chapter 23”) but does not know the extent of how deep the conspiracy goes. Gavin could be a wonderful source of technological know-how for Frank, which makes him a natural fit to be included in his team… until he becomes a liability.

4. Remy Denton Continues to play both sides of the fence

Of all the characters in House of Cards, Remy Denton represents the one that is hardest to grasp for this author. Even though we are aware he used to work with Frank Underwood, their time together is still shrouded in mystery. Clouding any predictions about Remy is the fact he played both Raymond Tusk and Frank Underwood in season 2 as “insurance.”

Remy is a slippery person in House of Cards, but perhaps he is truly great at keeping his options open. His options here are going to be with whichever team wins and given his relationship with Jackie, it may just end up hurting him.

5. President Underwood and Ayla Sayyad get personal

For those who do not recognize the name Ayla Sayyad, she is a reporter at Wall Street Telegraph. When Frank was at the Civil War reenactment in Virginia (“Chapter 18”), Claire’s former Communications Director Connor Ellis fed her information about Xander Feng and Raymond Tusk.

Ayla later meets with Frank at his home (“Chapter 25”) to discuss the possibility of President Walker being impeached. Frank vehemently defends Walker, though we know this is just a ploy to get Walker back on his side and not on Tusk’s.

We know that Frank likes to have someone in the media to give information too, but that was when he had dirt to give to Zoe and wanted to further his plan. As President will he continue to use the media to his advantage?

Yes and he will have his own puppet in media once again, this time it will be Ayla Sayyad to report what he wants to further his agenda. If this happens, the only question remaining is will she end up like Zoe Barnes?

6. Frank Aligns Himself With Terry Womack and Catherine Durant

We know how Frank loves to play the quid pro quo card with his fellow party members and this will be no different. In season 1, Frank needed the Black Caucus, led by Terry Womack, to get his education bill through Congress. He eventually did and Womack was later made House Majority Leader as Frank positioned his pawns as needed throughout the first two season.

Catherine Durant was made the Secretary of State after Frank torpedoed President Walker’s original nominee Michael Kern. Durant was key in the fall of Xander Feng and Raymond Tusk as she went along with Frank and his plans to anger China.

While both are loyal to Frank, it is time they return their favors in season three for all that Frank has given them. While Womack can give Frank the legislative boost he needs, Durant provides international flavor to Frank’s arsenal. Do not be surprised if Frank starts using overseas actions to get what he wants stateside as we saw with Feng and the Chinese.

7. Garrett Walker, Linda Vasquez, and Raymond Tusk try to bring Frank down

Frank has this talent for irritating members of his party, though he is only doing so out of revenge. We learned in season 1 that Walker’s reason for reneging on his promise to make Frank Secretary of State was done at the behest of Raymond Tusk. Tusk wanted Frank to stay in the House to whip votes (“Chapter 12”), which obviously did not sit well with Frank. In turn, Frank destroyed them both, but now the tables have turned.

It is clear why these three would want to take Frank down. Garrett Walker lost the Presidency, Linda Vasquez was marginalized by Frank (“Chapter 21”), and Tusk is on the doorstep of prison if Frank does not give him the full pardon he promised.

With Frank as President, it would make sense of him to use his new found powers to keep tabs on these three. Frank would not be so ignorant to forget all the people he used and crushed on his path to the Presidency, would he?

Of course not, but that does not mean these three will not try and grind their respective axes with Frank. They will be valiant in their efforts, but ultimately will not succeed.

8. Claire Finally Cracks

As manipulative and domineering as Frank has been, Claire can also act the same way when she wants to be. Case in point was in season 2 (“Chapter 14”) when Claire told former employee Gillian Cole, “I am willing to let your child wither and die inside you, if that’s what’s required.”

At the end of season 2 (“Chapter 26”) we saw Claire breakdown over what has transpired in order for Frank to become President. This came on the heels of lying to Tricia Walker and seeing Megan Hennessey after she attempted suicide. Earlier in season 2 (“Chapter 22”) Claire’s former lover Adam Galloway was brought to Frank’s house to end the controversy over photos of Claire. At this point, it was clear Claire and Adam would not be seeing each other again.

If the road to get to this point has rattled Claire, Frank’s Presidency will only get to her further. It is difficult to say how Claire will crack, but it will be something drastic (not like a several day getaway to see Adam).

 

House of Cards Season 3 will be coming out Friday, February 27 on Netflix. Release time is at 12 AM Pacific time. Be sure to check back to see if these predictions were correct (or terribly wrong) and feel free to comment below with your predictions as well!

2015 European Football End Of Season Primer

Branislav Ivanovic celebrates his goal against PSG in the UEFA Champions League. Will he and Chelsea be celebrating a Premier League title by season's end? (AFP / Getty Images)
Branislav Ivanovic celebrates his goal against PSG in the UEFA Champions League. Will he and Chelsea be celebrating a Premier League title by season’s end? (AFP / Getty Images)

2015 European Football End Of Season Primer

As the calendar nears March, there are plenty of viewing options for American sports fanatics. March Madness will get underway on March 19 along with baseball spring training and the final push of the NBA and NHL regular seasons.

If you are like this author, you were consumed by college football and professional football from September through early February. Unfortunately, football season is over in the American sense, but there are still football options. To be clear, we are talking soccer.

Major League Soccer will also begin on March 6 in the United States, but we are going to focus on something the MLS will not give us: promotion and relegation battles. This is not the place to debate whether there is a place for promotion and relegation in the United States, but instead on what is happening over in Europe.

There will be a focus on the contenders, European playoff spots, as well as the relegation battle in each country. The countries looked at will be England, Spain, Germany, France, Netherlands, and Portugal. Two other leagues, while not in the top 10 of the UEFA Coefficients, but entertaining to this author will be Denmark and Switzerland.

* * * Note: All of the information below is as of Monday, February 23.

England – English Premier League

Contenders: The Premier League appears to be coming down to a battle between Chelsea and Manchester City. Chelsea sits on 60 points while Manchester City is at 55 points. Both teams have 12 games left to play to decide the winner.

European Prospects: Behind the top duo is a logjam of 5 teams within 4 points of each other. Arsenal (48 points), Manchester United (47), Southampton (46), Liverpool (45), and Tottenham (44) are gunning to be in one of the two final Champions League slots. Southampton has been a great story and it would be awesome to see a new team finish in the top four.

Relegation: Leicester City sits bottom of the table with 18 points, Aston Villa is 19th with 22 points, and Burnley is 18th with 22 points as well. Queens Park Rangers (22 points), Sunderland (25), Hull City (26), West Bromwich Albion (27), Crystal Palace (27), and Everton (28) could all fall into the relegation zone with a bad run of form.

Predictions: Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal will be the top three. The fourth team will be Manchester United while Southampton manage to finish fifth and get a Europa League spot.

In the relegation zone, Leicester City, Burnley, and QPR will drop to the Championship. Speaking of the Championship, the three teams promoted at the end of the season will be Derby County, Ipswich Town, and Norwich City. Millwall, Wigan Athletic, and Blackpool will be relegated to League One.

Spain – La Liga

Contenders: Real Madrid lead La Liga with 60 points, Barcelona is second with 56 points, Atletico Madrid is third with 53 points, and Valencia sit fourth on 50 points. This race will come down to the top two and that favors Real Madrid to come away with another Spanish title.

European Prospects: Atletico Madrid are third currently and that does not figure to change by the end of the season. Valencia’s 50 points make them 5 clear of fifth place Sevilla and 6 clear of Villarreal. Malaga are seventh with 38 points, but will need one of the two teams ahead of them to slip up to make the Europa League for next season.

Relegation: It is a tight race for the bottom, but three teams have dug themselves in a small hole. Levante is 18th with 22 points, Granada is 19th with 19 points, and Cordoba is 20th with 18 points. Almeria and Elche are both one point clear of the relegation zone while 15th place Deportivo La Coruna has 24 points.

Predictions: The top four will remain the same as they currently are: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Valencia. Villarreal will finish fifth with Sevilla in sixth and Malaga in seventh.

The relegation battle will be tight, but the three teams going down will be Elche, Granada, and Cordoba. The three teams coming up from the Segunda Division will be Sporting de Gijon, Las Palmas, and Valladolid.

Germany – Bundesliga

Contenders: Bayern Munich is in complete control of the Bundesliga at 55 points, 8 more than Wolfsburg in second. Bayern has scored 59 goals while only giving up 9 thus far in the Bundesliga.

European Prospects: The top two are firmly secure for Champions League action next season, but the other spots are still up for grabs. Borussia Monchengladbach is third with 37 points, Schalke is fourth with 35 points, FC Augsburg is fifth with 35 points, and Bayer Leverkusen is sixth with 33 points. Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen sit with 30 points while Eintracht Frankfurt is 9th with 28 points. The battle for European football in Germany will be hotly contested and entertaining.

Relegation: Stuttgart is last in the Bundesliga with 18 points, Hertha is 17th with 21 points, and Freiburg is 16th with 22 points. There is not much room for the six teams in front of the relegation zone as that extends only to 26 points.

Predictions: Bayern Munich will win the Bundesliga again, but it is a matter of which match day they will do so on while Wolfsburg is locked into second at worst. Schalke will grab third and Borussia Monchengladbach will finish in fourth. Bayer Leverkusen will finish fifth with Werder Bremen securing a wild sixth place finish.

The relegation battle will see Hertha, Paderborn, and Hamburger fall to the next division (assuming Hamburger loses in the Relegation Playoffs). 2. Bundesliga will automatically promote Ingolstadt and Kaiserslautern to the Bundesliga while Karlsruher will beat Hamburger in the Promotion playoffs.

Italy – Serie A

Contenders: Juventus have lost only once in Serie A this year and have 57 points compared to 48 for Roma. It is Juve’s title to lose at this point.

European Prospects: While the top two look good, there is a battle for the third Italian Champions League slot. Napoli sits on 45 points, Lazio has 40 points, and Fiorentina has 39 points. Unless InternazionaleGenoa, and/or Sampdoria make an improbable run into third place (all on 35 points), one of the first three teams will be in the Champions League next year.

Relegation: One relegation spot is all but assured for Parma given their financial difficulties. There is even a chance Parma will not finish the season. Cesena  is currently 19th with 16 points while Cagliari is 18th with 20 points. Sitting in 17th is Atalanta with 23 points, Chievo is 16th with 24 points, and Verona is 15th with 25 points.

Predictions: Juventus and Roma will finish one-two as expected. Third place will go to Napoli, Lazio will finish fourth, and Sampdoria grab fifth spot (and a Europa League place).

The relegation battle will be lost by Parma, Cesena, and Atalanta. Coming up from Serie B at the end of the season will be Carpi, Bologna, and Vicenza.

France – Ligue 1

Contenders: Lyon leads a tight race at the top with 54 points. PSG is second with 52 points and Marseille is third 50 points. The eventual winner of Ligue 1 will come from this trio of teams.

European Prospects: Outside the top three, four teams will be in contention for the single remaining Europa League spot. Monaco is fourth with 43 points, Saint-Etienne is fifth with 42 points, Bordeaux is sixth with 41 points, and Montpellier is seventh with 39 points. It will surely be a tight finish for the Europa League slot.

Relegation: As of this writing, Lens will be relegated at the end of the season regardless of where they finish due to irregularities when they were promoted from Ligue 2 at the end of the 2013-14 season. They currently sit 19th with 22 points. In 20th is Metz with 22 points and Evian is 18th with 26 points. Just above the drop zone are Lorient and Toulouse both with 28 points. The two teams above them are Caen and Reims on 31 points.

Predictions: In an exciting finish to the Ligue 1 season, Lyon will hang on for the title over PSG with Marseille back in third. Taking fourth place will be Saint-Etienne with Bordeaux fifth and Monaco sixth.

The relegation teams will be unchanged from the current bottom three meaning Evian, Lens, and Metz will spend next season in Ligue 2. Coming up from Ligue 2 will be Troyes, Brest, and Angers.

Netherlands – Eredivisie

Contenders: PSV currently holds a 14 point lead (64-50) over Ajax and are well on their way to reclaiming the Eredivisie title.

European Prospects: Feyenoord is third with 44 points, but right on their heels is AZ Alkmaar with 44 points as well. Zwolle is fifth with 39 points, Heerenveen is sixth with 38 points, Vitesse is seventh with 37 points, and Twente is eighth with 34 points.

Relegation: Dordrecht will need a miracle to stay in the Dutch top flight with only 12 points from 24 games. NAC Breda is 17th with 18 points and Heracles is 16th with 21 points. Just above the relegation zone sits Go Ahead Eagles with 23 points. Excelsior have a bit of breathing room with 26 points, but could afford to turn some of their draws into wins (Excelsior has a league high 11 draws).

Predictions: PSV cruises to the Eredivisie title with Ajax in second place. AZ manages to overtake Feyenoord for third place with Heerenveen in fifth, Zwolle in sixth, and Twente in seventh.

The one team automatically relegated to the Ereste Divisie will be Dordrecht with N.E.C. replacing them. NAC Breda and Go Ahead Eagles will be put into the relegation playoffs at season’s end.

Portugal – Primeira Liga

Contenders: The usual suspects are involved for the league crown once again. Benfica is at 56 points, Porto is at 52 points, and Sporting CP have 47 points. Barring a major collapse by Benfica and the other top two teams, one of these three will win.

European Prospects: Braga (43 points), Vitória de Guimaraes (37), and Belenenses (34) are in the best positions to take the two Europa League spots. Pacos de Ferreira (30), Rio Ave (29), Nacional (28), and Maritimo (27) would need to go on massive win streaks to have a chance to steal one of the Europa League places.

Relegation: There are only two relegation spots in the Portuguese Primeira Liga. Penafiel is last with 16 points while Gil Vicente is 17th with 17 points. The teams above the relegation zone should feel pretty warm given how close they are in points to the bottom two. Academica (18), Vitória de Setubal (19), Arouca (19), and Boavista (21) could easily find themselves in the bottom two by season’s end.

Predictions: Benfica will win the title while Porto holds off Sporting CP for the second place spot. Even with a third place finish, Sporting CP will still be in the Champions League next season. Braga finishes fourth with Vitoria de Guimaraes finishing fifth and Belenenses in sixth.

The relegation battle will see both teams currently in the drop zone escape to be replaced by Vitoria de Setubal and Arouca. Chaves and Tondela will be promoted from the Segunda Liga.

Switzerland – Super League

Contenders: Basel currently holds a 5 point lead (45-40) over Young Boys with 21 match days played out of 36. On February 22, Young Boys beat Basel 4-2 and they have one final game against each other the rest of the season. Zurich is third with 39 points and are not out of the running for the league title yet.

European Prospects: The top two teams will be going into the Champions League next season with the third and fourth place teams going into the Europa League. Thun is fourth with 34 points and St. Gallen is fifth with 30 points. It will come down to these five teams to determine the four European entrants for the 2015-16 season.

Relegation: The relegation battle is very tight with only one team going down to the Swiss Challenge League next season. Sion is last with 16 points, but have played 19 games compared to the three teams ahead of them. In 9th is Aarua with 17 points, Luzern is 8th with 18 points, and Grasshopper is 7th with 19 points. Even Liechtenstein based Vaduz is not out of the woods in 6th place with 22 points.

Predictions: Basel will win the Swiss Super League while Young Boys manages to hold on for second over Zurich. Thun will take fourth place as St. Gallen’s late season rally falls short of European football.

Sion will escape the basement at the expense of Aarau who will spend next season in the Challenge League. Lugano, who is currently third in the Swiss Challenge League by three points, will replace them in 2015-16.

Denmark – Superliga

Contenders: Through 18 of 33 match days, Midtjylland is first with 43 points over Copenhagen (35) and Randers (34). Given the fourth place team, Brondby, has only 27 points, it is safe to assume one of the top three teams will emerge with the title.

European Prospects: As mentioned above, Brondby is in fourth place with 27 points while the Superliga offers only three European spots. AaB (25), Nordsjaelland (25), Esbjerg (23), and SonderjyskE (23) need things to start going their way if they are to play in the Europa League.

Relegation: Two teams will be relegated at the end of the season and one of them is virtually assured to be Silkeborg. They have four points at this point in the season thanks to four draws. They also have the worst offense in the Superliga and are 15 points adrift of safety. In 11th place is Vestsjaelland with 15 points and are 4 points behind 10th place Odense. Hobro has 21 points while SonderjyskE has 23 points along with Esbjerg. It will come down to the trio of Hobro, Odense, and Vestsjaelland for the final relegation spot.

Predictions: Copenhagen will mount their usual late season rally to contend for the title, but Midtjylland will survive as the Champions. Copenhagen will be second with Randers third.

A close relegation battle will see Vestsjaelland drop down to the Danish First Division with Silkeborg for the 2015-16 season. Coming up from the First Division will be Lyngby and Viborg.

Please feel free to comment on what you think of the predictions above. Enjoy the football action from Europe as the season turns into the home stretch!

Far Right Uses Strong Kick To Win Southwest Stakes

Far Right won his second straight stakes race at Oaklawn (Coady Photography)
Far Right won his second straight stakes race at Oaklawn (Coady Photography)

Far Right Uses Strong Kick To Win Southwest Stakes

The sloppy track was not a problem for Far Right as he won his second straight stakes race at Oaklawn Park. Just as he did in the Smarty Jones, Far Right went to the far left on the rail to get up and win by three quarters of a length.

The race started with Mr. Z intent on getting the lead from the far outside post. Pressing him throughout much of the race was Hillbilly Royalty with three lengths back to Kantune, Phenomenal Phoenix, and Bayerd. Behind that trio was Bold Animaux and Private Prospect while the trailing trio was Bold Conquest, Far Right, and Majestico nearly 10 lengths off the lead.

Mr. Z and Hillbilly Royalty continued to duel for the lead through fractions of 23.61 for the opening quarter, 47.90 for the opening half mile, and 1:14.33 for the first six furlongs. The Truth Or Else made a strong, yet wide move on the far turn to get into contention and eventually took the lead by a head at the stretch call.

To his inside were Mr. Z and Hillbilly Royalty, both of whom were still battling on. Not far of the three leaders was Far Right who ducked towards the rail to make his move. Bold Conquest was still in contention while the rest of the field was well out of it and had no chance of making an impact.

It took nearly the length of the stretch, but Far Right was able to close in the slop to win with The Truth Or Else finishing second by a nose over Mr. Z. It was another three lengths to Bold Conquest in fourth and Hillbilly Royalty in fifth. The order of finish for the rest of the field was Majestico, Private Prospect, Bayerd, Phenomenal Phoenix, Kantune, and Bold Animaux.

Far Right is by Notional out of the Vindication mare Zindi. He was ridden by Mike Smith and trained by Ron Moquett. He ran the one mile and one sixteenth in 1:47.50 over a sloppy track. Far Right paid $7.40 to win, $3.40 to place, and $2.80 to show.

Unlike the Risen Star and Fountain Of Youth Stakes on Saturday, the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes distributed points of 10, 4, 2, and 1 to the top four finishers respectively. Far Right now has 22 points, The Truth Or Else has 6 points, Mr. Z now has 14 points, and Bold Conquest has 7 points. The points are used to determined who will make it into the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby has a break next weekend and returns on March 7 with three stakes races. The Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, the San Felipe at Santa Anita, and the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs will all be run on Saturday, March 7. All three of those races will be at one mile and one sixteenth with each offering 50 points to the winner, 20 points to the runner up, 10 points to the third place finisher, and 5 points to the fourth place finisher.

The next Kentucky Derby prep race at Oaklawn Park is the Rebel Stakes on Saturday, March 14. The Rebel will also feature a 50-20-10-5 point distribution and be run at a mile and one sixteenth.

International Star Skims The Rail To Win Risen Star

International Star wins his second straight race at the Fair Grounds (Lou Hodges Photography/Fair Grounds)
International Star wins his second straight race at the Fair Grounds (Lou Hodges Photography/Fair Grounds)

International Star Skims The Rail To Win Risen Star

International Star was taken to the rail by jockey Miguel Mena entering the stretch to save ground and it proved to be difference. In the process of winning the Grade 2 Risen Star, International Star proved he loves the Fair Grounds main track, but more importantly he stamped his ticket to the Kentucky Derby.

The race began with St. Joe Bay going to the lead from his rail position with Hero of Humor pressing the pace as well. Tiznow R J was third by 2 lengths, Big Big Easy was fourth by three, and Bluff was in fifth about four and a half lengths off the lead. International Star was sixth, War Story in seventh, Imperia was in eighth, and Keen Ice was the trailer approximately 10 lengths behind the leader.

The race shape remained unchanged until the far turn when the horses began to make their respective moves. International Star and War Story both began to move on the far turn with both horses first and second by the time they entered the stretch. International Star went up the rail inside of St. Joe Bay to take control.

International Star would hold on to win by a length over War Story. Keen Ice used a strong burst to grab third over St. Joe Bay. The remaining order of finish was Imperia, Bluff, Tiznow R J, Big Big Easy, and Hero of Humor. The running time for the one mile and one sixteenth was 1:43.82.

There was an objection claimed by Kent Desormeaux of War Story regarding the first turn, but it was disallowed by the stewards upon further review.

International Star paid $9.60 to win, $4.60 to place, and $3.40 to show. He was ridden by Miguel Mena and trained by Mike Maker. He also earned 50 points for his victory, which gives him a total of 71 points and on top of the Kentucky Derby Points leaderboard.

War Story earned 20 more points for finishing second, which gives him a total of 24 thus far and places him fifth overall. Keen Ice earned 10 points to give him 12 points total and St. Joe Bay earned 5 points for his fourth place finish to give him 6 points.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues on Sunday at Oaklawn Park with the Southwest Stakes.

Itsaknockout Wins Controversial Fountain Of Youth

Upstart (left) won the Fountain Of Youth but was determined to have impeded Itsaknockout (right) (Lauren King/Gulfstream Park)
Upstart (left) won the Fountain Of Youth but was determined to have impeded Itsaknockout (right) (Lauren King/Gulfstream Park)

Itsaknockout Wins Controversial Fountain Of Youth

The 2015 Fountain Of Youth was expected to be a good race and it certainly was. However, there was some controversy during the stretch run and the subsequent review by the stewards. In the end, the stewards determined Upstart, who finished first, impeded the finishing position of Itsaknockout, who finished second. Itsaknockout was placed first with Upstart being placed second by the stewards.

The race began with Bluegrass Singer going straight to the lead with Frosted right off his flank by a half length. Itsaknockout was third, Juan and Bina was fourth, and Upstart was sixth. The trio at the back of the field were Gorgeous BirdFrammento, and Danny Boy, who were both more than 5 lengths off the lead after a quarter of a mile.

There was little change in the running order on the backstretch, but the race complexion changed on the far turn and in the stretch. On the far turn Frosted took the lead by a length over Bluegrass Singer with Upstart another a length and a half back. Itsaknockout was still 5 lengths back in fourth with Juan and Bina in fifth. Gorgeous Bird, Frammento, and Danny Boy were still the trailing trio.

In the stretch, Frosted was still clinging to a half length lead, but Upstart and Itsaknockout were closing in. Upstart came out in the stretch and ran past Frosted with Itsaknockout right behind him. In deep stretch, Upstart drifted out to his right and took Itsaknockout with him. Frammento came from dead last, more than 15 lengths off the lead to grab third over Frosted.

There was an objection and an inquiry into the stretch run and after several minutes, the stewards disqualified Upstart from first and placed him second behind Itsaknockout. The rest of the field was unaffected.

The final order of finish was Itsaknockout, Upstart, Frammento, Frosted, Gorgeous Bird, Bluegrass Singer, Juan and Bina, and Danny Boy. The running time for the race was 1:46.28.

Itsaknockout paid $12.80 to win, $5.00 to place, and $4.00 to show. He was ridden by Luis Saez and trained by Todd Pletcher. Itsaknockout is by Lemon Drop Kid out of the Cherokee Run mare Stormy B.

For the win, Itsaknockout earned 50 points towards the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, which puts him in second overall. Upstart earned 20 points for second place and now has 36 points total, good enough for third overall. Frammento earned 10 points, his first points in the Kentucky Derby prep races, and Frosted earned 5 points for a total of 13.

The road to the Kentucky Derby continues on Sunday with the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.