Napa and Sonoma Wine Tasting Recap

Posted August 17, 2017 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Vino

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I made my annual pilgrimage to California Wine Country in July, and went all in this time, spending ten days between San Jose, Napa and Sonoma. For the first time, I was accompanied by a Sidekick. Together we visited 25 wineries and tasted over 125 different wines, taking accurate and precise notes on each together as a team. Once in proper wine country, the four wineries per day plan I had scheduled proved a bit taxing and aggressive for my Sidekick, but she bravely endured it successfully. Here is a rundown of the best wines we sampled, organized by varietal. When scores were the same, the tie was broken by price point, because, duh.  (Above: me, amazed by the expansive 1800 acre behemoth that is the Kunde Estate).

CABERNET SAUVIGNON AND BLENDS

Tasting Cabernet in Napa has become quite the expensive ordeal, and wine enthusiasts had better plan carefully and know what they are getting themselves into, or they might find their wallet about $100 lighter after spending an hour tasting mediocre wines. I can remember coming here ten years ago and popping into Silver Oak to taste wines for $10 and getting a free glass to boot. This is no longer the case, but there are still great experiences to be had that are well worth the cost. Shafer (below) excels on all levels, pouring large tastes of its five offerings, including the highly sought after Hillside Select Cabernet, for a $75 per person fee that is worth every penny. Recent Wine Spectator Wine of the Year recipient Lewis Cellars is one of the best bargains around, as they still pour flights for $45 per person in an intimate setting accompanied by fantastic commentary and information. However, there are plenty of $50-100 per person experiences that won’t be nearly as exemplary as these and could leave visitors disappointed, so do your homework. Meyer Cellars, which pours wine out of a quaint tasting room on the main Yountville stretch shared with Hestan, made a Cabernet for the ages with their 2014 at a price point rarely seen in these parts for this tier of quality.

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1) Meyer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2014, 96, $70- Intense and chocolatey, with black currant fruit, black licorice, dark chocolate, wet rocks and rich spice flavors that lend towards mocha. This is insanely concentrated and densely structured, layered elegantly through the long, persistent finish. Rich, detailed and pure. A nearly perfect Napa Cabernet at a compelling price point.

2) Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select Stags Leap District 2012, 96, $275- Light oak, cedar and chocolate aromas above black currant fruits. Ultra smooth on the palate, exerts elegance, with powdery mocha above the perfumed blackberry, plum and licorice notes. Refined and graceful. Finish lingers for minutes with silky tannins. An essay in elegance, with dark chocolatey spice lingering long beyond the dark fruit and subtle cedar.

3) Lewis Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley 2014, 95, $175-Powerful black currant nose, showing oaky spice and dry cedar. Pure and concentrated, with a perfumey essence of crushed blackberry and dark plum gliding over a plush, seamless texture. Complex undertones of wet cedar, black olive and mocha spice add complexity. Length lingers long with silky tannins adding backbone. Textbook Cabernet, finishing with powdery chocolate and oak.

4) Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Stag’s Leap District 2013, 92, $125- A big, powerful wine full of blackberry, steeped plum, cassis and powdery cocoa flavors. Deep, rich and intense, with cedary spice lingering with vanilla bean, brown sugar and cocoa through the long finish.

5) Chalk Hill W.P. Foley II Chalk Hill 2013, 92, $160- Powdery cocoa and cedar aromas above black currants on the nose. Deep, dark and chocolatey, with intense mocha and espresso above creamy blackberry and black cherry fruit that lingers long and effortlessly. Silky tannins hold together the complex structure.

6) Pride Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain Napa-Sonoma Counties 2014, 91, $70- Deep perfume, cassis and chocolate aromas. Velvety and silky texture, balanced with well-water mineral above blackberry, plum and powdery mocha. Firm tannins linger, cutting off the fruit a bit. This needs time but is very elegant.

7) Lancaster Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2014, 91, $75- Deep black plum, blackberry and licorice flavors, showing dark godiva chocolate undertones. A powerful style, with beefy game notes adding complexity as it lingers long with velvety tannins.

8) Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2014, 91, $85- Heavily perfumed with cassis, minty cedar and tobacco leaf. Silky body of blackberry and dark raspberry above creamy vanilla bean and light chocolate notes. Long elegant finish.

9) Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains 2014, 91, $185- Very old-world in style and structure, with cool climate aromas of wet mineral and loamy earth above the dark red and black currant flavors that linger behind. Restrained and elegant, with cedary herbs and cocoa/ milk chocolate flavors above sandalwood. Rustic, with minerality lingering with dusty tannins.

10) Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Santa Cruz Mountains 2014, 90, $60- Dark berry fruit, dark chocolate aromas show a hint of black olive. Velvety and elegant, with polished blackberry and black cherry above pepper and loamy earth nuances. Smooth oak and chocolate linger long and deeply. Tighly packed, needs time.

CHARDONNAY

I tasted and scored highly more Chardonnays on this trip than ever before. The star of the show was Sterling (below), which is a highly accessible and slightly touristy stop that is a great first time recommendation. I hadn’t visited here since my very first trip back in 2005, but the views from the gondola ride and once on top of the winery are second to none. It’s important to remember what you are here for though, and it isn’t the tour, as efficient and entertaining as it may be. It’s the Reserve Chardonnay, which they won’t be pouring, so you will have to strong arm your way into an invite to the Members’ Only room like we did. (It isn’t as hard as it sounds, in most all of wine country, showing specific interest in a winery offering will get their attention and they will be happy to pour it for you, especially when you are marching around with a clipboard taking notes and your friend is telling everyone who asks that you have 3 million twitter followers).

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1) Sterling Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve 2012, 93, $55- Honey and floral citrus combine on the nose. Super viscous and waxy texture, with intense golden delcious apple and pear fruit above complex mineral, petrol, balanced hazelnut and almondy spice, and a cream soda note. Long length, very balance and Burgundian in style as it lingers long with a light hint of smoke. An amazing Chardonnay.

2) Lewis Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve 2015, 93, $75- Floral aromas show pear and smoky oak. Creamy body is focused and expressive, showcasing juicy pear and cinnamon apple flavors above toasty crème brulee spice and hazelnut cream that lingers long with vanilla bean nuances. Lovely balance and layering between fruit and oak influences, finishing like a cinnamon dolce latte.

3) Shafer Chardonnay Napa Valley Red Shoulder Ranch, 92, $52- Tropical fruit aromas of melon, tangerine. Crisp and clean, showing intense orange citrus notes along with tropical pineapple and honey dew melon. High acidity keeps pumping through the long finish, which picks up light toasty spice nuances as it lingers. Waxy texture.

4) Sterling Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve 2014, 92, $60- Strong buttery oak and stone fruit aromas. Elegant and creamy texture full of poached pear, golden apple and peach flavors, finishing with a blast of crème brulee and toffee spice. Balanced acidity and super creamy, with toasty spice influences lingering. Long, mouth-coating finish.

5) Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Carneros Hyde Vineyard, 92, $68- Floral citrus and smoky earth aromas. Juicy and fruit-driven, with intense lemon curd and green apple flavors that show racy acidity and tartnes. Very subtle oak nuances linger over the long finish.

6) Chalk Hill Chardonnay Chalk Hill Wright Creek, 92, $75- Burgundian in style, with floral lemon zest and understated stone fruit flavors up front before evolving into layers of toasty vanilla bean. Delicate and graceful as it lingers with subtle minerality and clovey spice. Long finish, lively acidity.

7) Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Carneros, 91, $36- Lots of butterscotch and caramel on the nose, showing honey with golden declious apple notes. Clean and pure fruit flavors of lemon and apple show comp,ex earth and mineral notes underneath, lingering long with toasty spice.

8) Chalk Hill Chardonnay Estate Chalk Hill 2014, 91, $42- Rich, butterscotchy aromas show honey and caramel notes. Creamy body of golden apple, pear and lemon show Werther’s toffee and almondy spices that linger long underneath. Picks up a floral edge as it linfers with toasty oak spices.

9) MacRostie Chardonnay Russian River Valley Bacigalupi 2015, 91, $46- Floral and perfumed aromas. Balanced and elegant on the palate, with golden apple between the dominant tropical fruit notes of melon. Understated but well-intertwined oak nuances. Incredibly well-balanced through the long finish.

10) Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Sonoma Country Reserve, 91, $50- Refreshing, balanced and juicy, showing rich and full-bodied golden apple, pear and lemon flavors above layers of toasty oak and butterscotch underneath. Finishes long with vanilla bean spices lingering.

Failla Chardonnay Napa Valley Hudson Vineyard, 91, $50- Golden body, aromas of toasty oak, mineral and stone fruit. Clean, crisp and flinty, showing a lovely juxtaposition beween its rocky minerality and toasty oak components, showing poached pear and golden apple flavors underneath. Lingers with toasty spice, balanced and elegant.

SYRAH

Syrah is my favorite varietal of all, but I require it in a certain style. I’m not much for the elegant, feminine style of this grape and prefer big, beefy, muscular, leathery and peppery wines. I’ve always been of the opinion that someday this grape will be the king of the Napa region instead of Cabernet. That hasn’t happened yet, but the choices remain spectacular from top producers and for half the price, so who’s complaining? I’d tasted and scored the excellent Lewis Alec’s Blend 2014 a year ago and was lucky enough to taste it again and confirm my notes, which did not change the score and rendered this offering best of all. But for pure experience, it was hard to beat the Michelin Star lunch we had on the 4th of July at Auberge de Soleil (below), which offers the perennially awesome Plumpjack Napa Valley Syrah for $107, which is not even double the retail markup from the winery that lies just south on the Silverado trail below. Still a bit of a splurge, this was well worth it, paired with an expertly prepared Kurobata Pork Chop to complement a meal that was second to none on our trip.

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1) Lewis Alec’s Blend Napa Valley 2014, 95, $70- Explosive aromas of black and purple fruit, toffee and mocha. Complex as can be, with perfumey elegance in its blackberry, licorice and plum flavors above black cherry cola notes. Creamy toffee and mocha flavors combine with smoked meat, leather, minty cedar, clove and earthy hints of tar underneath that add nuance through the seemingly endless finish. Clove and pepper linger long. Remarkably focused and elegant in the feminine style, with silky tannins behind it all.

2) Plumpjack Syrah Napa Valley 2013, 94, $56- Big aromas of purple fruit and smoked meat. Velvety and deep, with bacon fat, smoked game and beef notes alongside leather nuances that hover above dark plum, black licorice and blackberry. Finish lingers long with black pepper spice and mocha.

3) Robert Biale Like Father Like Son Napa Valley 2013, 93, $48- Deep and complex, with blackberry paste, licorice and black plum flavors above intense cracked pepper and allspice nuances. Long finish as spices linger long behind silky tannins. Elegant for its overall power.

4) Shafer Relentless Napa Valley 2013, 93, $90- Perfumey black and blue fruits, lightly smoky and peppery on the nose. Velvety and seamless mouthfeel shows great concentration and balance, with blackberry, blueberry and licorice flavors above complex but understated smoked meat, cracked pepper, espresso, leather and cigar box. This lends more towards finesse than power in this vintage, a rarity for this bottling.

5) Lewis Syrah Napa Valley Ethan’s 2014, 92, $45- Perfumed and smoky on the nose. Chewy body of crushed blackberry, black plum and black licorice. Intense tannins coat the mouth through the finish, which gains traction and complexity from its black pepper and dark chocolate notes.

6) Limerick Lane Hail Mary Russian River Valley 2015, 92, $48- Deep leather and smoke above black currant aromas. Thick, powerful and plummy, with dark plum and blackberry above dark chocolate, smoked meat and black pepper. This is exactly what a Syrah should taste like, lingering long with wet leather hints. Big and monsterous yet maintain smoothness and polish.

7) J. Lohr GSM Gesture Paso Robles 2015, 90, $30- Ripe plum and dark berry aromas with a hint of smoky bacon fat. Elegant body combines floral violet notes above layered, juicy plum, wild berry and cherry notes, giving way to creamy caramel, charred meat and black pepper spice underneath. Complex, long finish held together by firm tannins. Needs time.

8) Pride Syrah Sonoma County 2015, 90, $60- Well-water mineral and purple fruit combine on the nose. Velvety texture, with subtle leather and smoke notes above the licorice, black plum, blueberry and cherry flavors. This finishes with black pepper and cocoa bean notes, silky and smooth.

9) Failla Syrah Fort Ross-Seaview 2014, 89, $58- Combines briary herbs and cracked black pepper with perfumey black fruit and caramel. Wet mineral, hot brick and heavy herbal notes of oregao, sage and rosemary dominate the perfumey blackberry underneath. A streak of cracked pepper runs through and lingers through the dry, medium length.

10) Miner Syrah Napa Valley Stagecoach 2011, 88, $50- Aromas is defined by herbaciousness, with green olive and green pepper notes above hints of smoke and game. Cracked pepper, green herbs and smoke on the palate above medium-bodied licorice and plum but the fruit is very understated. Finishes on a dry tannic note.

ZINFANDEL

I think that wine clubs, for the most part, are a scam, but I do belong to just one, and it is one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Seghesio makes Zinfandel at a price point that continues to astonish me, and some of their most coveted offerings are allocated specifically to wine club members at a discount to those price points. You can simply visit the tasting room for the low fee of $15 without appointment too, or just buy a bottle to take to the bocce ball court. When it comes to Zinfandel, there is Seghesio, and there is everyone else, although several in the general vicinity produce spectacular options as well. Zinfandel is unique in America in that it is the only varietal name that you will see printed on a bottle here but nowhere else. While genetically equivalent to Italy’s Primitivo, you won’t see the word “Zinfandel” anywhere else in the world. For that reason, I’ve made it a tradition to enjoy a bottle every year on the 4th of July to honor America, and you should as well. The common misconception with this grape comes from your grandmother’s “White Zinfandels” of the 80s. That is not what we are talking about here. The red Zinfandel grape when properly cultivated in these regions delivers a wine that is ripe, rich and zesty, showing briary earth, cracked pepper and high alcohol. This combination of flavors is perfect for anything off of the grill and is therefore a perfect pairing on the 4th of July.

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1) Seghesio Zinfandel Cortina Dry Creek Valley 2014, 94, $40- Deep purple fruit aromas above hints of chocolate and briar. Elegant body shows dark fruit flavors of plum, blackberry and licorice with underbrush and briary herbs adding complexity. This lingers long with cracked pepper nuances adding distinction and place. This offering may have passed Home Ranch.

2) Seghesio Zinfandel Home Ranch Alexander Valley 2014, 93, $58- Thick, purple, perfumey fruit showing cocoa and spice on the nose. Super polished and silky on the palate, a classic Zin, with explosive blackberry, black cherry and plum notes that lead into black pepper and briar. Long finish, layered and complex.

3) Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2014, 92, $42- Big, bold and ripe on the nose, showing red currant fruit and baking spice notes. A strong cracked pepper note permeates all the way through this offering. Fleshy and intense on the palate, with dark raspberry, blueberry and plum flavors above finely integrated cinnamon and briary spice notes. Long finish that shows serious character.

4) Martinelli Zinfandel Giuseppe & Luisa Russian River Valley 2015, 92, $58- Thick, juicy and ripe purple fruit flavors of black plum, blueberry and licoice, carrying undertones of briary spice and cracked peper. This is rich, intense and powerful, with long finish that pumps with peppery spices.

5) Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Heritage Vines Sonoma County 2015, 91, $22- Huge, intense and crackling, with tons of briary spice above its dark raspberry, blackberry and licorice flavors. Long, spicy finish with vanilla and mocha oak influences lingering in the background. Might be the best deal in town, an astounding value.

6) Girard Zinfandel Old Vine Napa Valley 2014, 91, $25- Juicy and generous, packed with intense blackberry, black cherry and plum paste flavors. Black pepper spice and briar add complexity as this lingers long, gaining a licorice hint through the finish that the carries the body and pulls it all together.

7) Seghesio Zinfandel Todd Brothers Alexander Valley 2015, 91, $48- A distinctive mix of ripe black fruit and woody characteristics, with crushed blackberry jam and dark fruit flavors that mingle with crackling briar, cedar and black pepper spice. This finishes on a powdery chocolate note as spice lingers long. Fantastic offering in its first vintage.

8) Limerick Lane Zinfandel Rocky Knoll Russian River Valley 2014, 91, $58- Dark berry fruit is ripe and roughly hewn on the nose, showing rocky minerality and peppery spice. Thick, muscular and ripe, with blackberry fruit behind a distinct black pepper note and wet slate undertones. Crushed grape skin adds dryness through the long but tannic finish.

9) Ridge Zinfandel East Bench Dry Creek Valley 2015, 90, $32- Plump and plummy, with notes of cinnamon on the nose. Medium-bodied and spicy, with red plum, cherry and raspberry pie flavors running over white pepper spice notes. Medium length, dry tannins add grip.

10) Kunde Zinfandel Old Vines Century Reserve Sonoma Valley 2014, 90, $50- Smells like Christmas, with evergreen, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove spices streaking through a medium body of dried berry and cherry fruit. Medium length, with exotic Asian spices lingering.

PINOT NOIR

The rise of the quality of wines at Arista in recent years has been nothing short of transcendent, and they now have a top notch arsenal of offerings to accompany their gorgeous views and picnic grounds (below). No longer open without appointment but by no means pretentious, their rise can be attributed to the acquisition of winemaker Matt Courtney, which just so happens to also be the first name of your author and his Sidekick, so that’s pretty neat, to say the least of being easy to remember. The cost to taste here has risen but so has the quality of the wines and the service, and that’s what it is all about. For an off-the-beaten path experience in Napa to switch the palate away from the Cabernet for a bit, I can’t recommend Failla highly enough, as the seated tasting takes place on a rustic living room couch, and the delicious wines keep coming.

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1) Arista Pinot Noir Monomi Vineyard Russian River Valley 2015, 93, $75- Complex aromas of floral rose, smoked cured meats and crushed wild berry fruit. Velvety and intense, showing richness from its perfumed fruit notes and nuance from its milk chocolate and smoke undertones. Chewy tannins add grip. Impeccably balanced.

2) Arista Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2014, 92, $54- Toasty oak, blackberry and lifted potpourri on the nose. Silky texture shows complex layers of perfumey blackberry, plum, blueberry and licorice above creamy oak and exotic baking spice. This is complex and structured, with vibrant acidity keeping the fruit pumping, lingering with wet tobacco spice. Finish is pulled together by with refined but powerful tannins.

3) Failla Pinot Noir Singler Vineyard Russian River Valley 2014, 92, $58- Baked plum and cherry pie aromas. Velvety and polished, with plum and licorice nuances above intense cinnamon, nutmeg and clove spice. This is balanced, elegant and focused, showing layered and concentrated flavors as it lingers with a long, silky finish.

4) Failla Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley 2015, 91, $45- Dark hued ruby body with bright red currant fruits on the nose. Soft and silky, with dark raspberry and black cherry flavors above floral rose and white pepper spice notes. A hint of white chocolate creeps in as the finish lingers long and seamlessly. Exotic spices linger as well.

5) Martinelli Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2014, 91, $45- Huge, juicy flavors of wild raspberry and black cherry combine with floral watermelon accents and a huge streak of white pepper spice that mingle together through the long, zesty finish.

6) Arista Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2015, 91, $54- Aromas of dark berry fruit, raisin, plum and white chocolate. Bright and expressive cherry and dark raspberry above a backbone of grilled herbs that adds complexiy through the long finish. Fine-grained tannins add structure and balance.

7) Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast 2013, 91, $70- Big aromas of strawberry and raspberry. Plush mouthfeel of intense red berry fruit flavors, leading into plum pie and blackberry above subtle tobacco spice notes. Perfumed and ripe, juicy fruit is the story here through the long finish.

8) Failla Pinot Noir Lola Sonoma Coast 2014, 90, $48- Ultra ripe and juicy on the nose, showing floral aromas of violet and lilac. Juicy body of crushed red berry fruit- strawberry, wild berry, cranebrry- is backed by smoky tobacco and allspice notes. Picks up a red licorice nuance through the medium length.

9) MacRostie Pinot Noir Wildcat Mountain Sonoma Coast 2014, 90, $56- Elegant black cherry, crushed red berry and cracked pepper/ mushroom aromas. Silky body of peppery crushed berry and cherry fruit are all in balance as brambly spice lingers. Cracked pepper notes are very distinct.

10) MacRostie Pinot Noir Manzana Vineyard Russian River Valley 2015, 89, $56- Rich and perfumey aromas of black fruit, subtle brown sugar and olive. Red plum and black cherry flavors expand into caramel and brown sugar. Slight hint of cardboard adds a flabby edge but exotic spices keep pumping and recover.

MERLOT

Blame it on Sideways talking shit about this varietal over a decade ago if you want, but for some reason, they just don’t pour Merlot very much in NoCal wine country these days. The small sample size makes it hard to give a full report, but the best offerings still forgo the ripe, jammy fruit for deeper, earth driven flavors of cedar and mocha that mingle with darker currant and berry fruit. Ridge was the top performer here in somewhat of a surprise. But at the top of Spring Mountain Road, the cave tour and tasting at Pride (below) is still one of my highest recommendations, and the unique terroir that the appellation delivers consistently is still the best in America short of Washington State. The tour and tasting at Pride is also one of the best deals in the area at $20, and offers picnic grounds overlooking the mountains as well.

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1) Ridge Merlot Santa Cruz Mountains 2014, 91, $50- Perfumey cassis and chocolate on the nose with hints of cedar and oak. Complex and Bordeaux-like, with balanced earth and fruit flavors of dark plum and blackberry above wet limestone, musky cedar and cocoa powder. Velvety tannins carry through the finish, a cool climate style reminiscent of a St. Emilion.

2) Pride Merlot Napa-Sonoma Counties 2014, 91, $60- Dusty berry aromas, notes of brown sugar spice, cedar and forest floor. Juicy plum and blackberry fruit show a creamy cassis nuance that gives way to dark chocolate and forest floor/ wet cedar notes. A touch of loamy earth lingers on the long finish, a distinctive Spring Mountain offering.

3) Lewis Merlot Napa Valley 2014, 91, $80- Cedary and perfumey on the nose, showing hints of mocha and oak. Juicy and ripe fruit body of black cherry, dark plum and pomegranate glides over a fleshy texture, showing spicy cedar and creamy mocha bean notes underneath. Firm tannic grip.

4) Sterling Merlot Napa Valley 2014, 89, $28- Perfumey aromas of cassis and powdery cocoa. Rich body of blackberry and plum fruit, gaining complexity underneath from its caramel and cocoa nuances. Finish lingers long with a hint of herbal spice. Dry tannins add grip.

5) Shafer Merlot Napa Valley 2014, 87, $55- Black currant and vanilla on the nose. Medium-bodied, with dried berry flavors above sage and cedar herbs, gaining toast and mocha notes. Very tannic, dry and earthy through the medium length.

SAUVIGNON BLANC

The great thing about going to this part of the world in July is that you know what you are going to get. The bad part about that is that without fail, you will get days in the high 90s on the regular, but what is a better wine for that kind of weather than Sauvignon Blanc? It seems nearly every winery in Napa or Sonoma makes one now and usually leads its tasting flight with this wine. The best examples show less grass and grapefruit these days, instead exhibiting more juicy tropical fruit and melon flavors that aren’t cloying or sour. Quivira (below) is just over the Lambert Bridge on West Dry Creek Road and makes the best one of these we tasted this trip as well as the best Rose in the area year after year, so this is the perfect stop for a hot day. It’s family friendly, offering picnic tables and even a petting zoo for the kids.

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1) Quivira Sauvignon Blanc Fig Tree Dry Creek Valley 2015, 90, $24- Very refined and polished, with citrusy lemon drop, pineapple and honey dew flavors. Impressively floral and minerally with a fig note running throughout. Little to no tartness as the finish lingers softly and effortlessly.

2) Lewis Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2016, 90, $38- Lifted floral aromas show tropical fruit and melon on the nose. Fruit-driven, with mango, canteloupe and honey dew flavors above lime and lemon accents, lingering with a hint of toasty spice. Creamy and persistent.

3) Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc Chalk Hill 2015, 88, $22- Tropical fruit aromas of grapefruit and guava. Crisp and refreshing, toasty spice nuances running through the juicy melon and stone fruit flavors, lingering with a bit of well-water mineral. Medium length.

4) Sterling Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2016, 87, $16- Tropical grapefruit fruit aromas, grassy on the nose. Vivid fruit flavors balanced between tropical melon and acidic grapefruit/ kiwi. Hints of lemon creep in late with white chocolate undertones. This is very soft and smooth.

5) Lancaster Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley Samantha’s 2015, 87, $30- Spicy and intense on the nose, with toasty vanilla and citrusy tropical honey dew and peach flavors. Balanced acidity through the medium length. Refreshing with subtle minerality lingering.

Until next year my friends!!!

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Arlington Million Day Stakes Picks and Analysis

Posted August 11, 2017 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

Included for each runner is their top Brisnet Speed Figure and top Racing Post Rating at the closest distance and over the surface over the past full year. Beyers provided within the text where applicable.

7- SECRETARIAT, 10 furlongs, 3:50

1 AFANDEM (9-2, BRIS N/A, 112 RPR) Has shown ascending Racing Post Ratings in his three 2017 starts in Europe and makes his U.S. debut here for trainer Jean Claude Rouget.  He shows a win at the distance in Stakes company and is Group 2 placed at the distance as well.  It remains to be seen how son of Zoffany will take to the firm turf here, as his two prior turf starts have come on good and soft ground, but improving sort has never finished worse than 2nd and has won three of his four career starts. His RPR figures aren’t that far behind the favorites, who gift him a nine pound weight break in this spot as expert tactical rider Frankie Dettori takes the mount and could find a cozy spot on the rail behind a likely speed duel.

2 SONIC BOOM (8-1, 89 BRIS, RPR N/A)- Won the local prep for this, the American Derby at 9f (85 Beyer) but appeared to be losing ground in the stretch after setting the pace, and now stretches out to 10f for the first time against some classy Euro shippers that also tend to run on the lead. Sire More Than Ready doesn’t flatter his ability to wire this field going 10f, pass.

3 PERMIAN (9-5, BRIS N/A, 114 RPR)- Godolphin sends this seasoned charge for his first U.S. start off a 2nd place finish in the Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris at 12f in his last. He won the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at the same distance the race before that, and this pacesetter looms extremely dangerous on the cutback here. All told, he boasts three wins at this distance and beyond, while no other runner in this field has more than one.  In a short field, he is a tempting single, but will make his eighth start of the year following his first ship abroad for a trainer who rarely runs here; not invincible.

4 OSCAR PERFORMANCE (8-5, 98 BRIS, 114 RPR)- Juvenile Turf champion got off to a rough start this year when off the board in his first two starts, both at 8.5f. He’s rebounded nicely, winning his last two starts in wire to wire fashion as distances have increased-  the 9f Pennine Ridge (93 Beyer) and 10f Belmont Derby (96 Beyer), the latter a Grade 1 event. He got away with pretty easy leads in those wins (:49.92, :49.48) and will face more seasoned front-runners and perhaps extreme pressure here, but still appears the prominent American threat in this short field.

5 GORGEOUS KITTEN (12-1, 88 BRIS, RPR N/A)- Runner up in the local prep for this, the American Derby at 9f (82 Beyer), son of Kitten’s Joy has never contested beyond that distance. He finds an ambitious spot here in terms of figures but was gaining into the finish of his last, and his pedigree suggests potential for improvement with added ground. He’s the only true closer in the field and could make some noise undernaeth if the likely pace duel materializes.

6 TAJ MAHAL (5-1, BRIS N/A, RPR 113)- Son of Galileo has kept top company, racing four times at 10f or beyond in Group 1 races in Europe, but has missed the board in all of those attempts and shows just one win in 14 career starts, and that wasn’t even over turf. One-dimensional runner figures to go straight to the lead and try to run them all off their feet, but his Racing Post speed figures have been in decline over his last four races. His fastest race came over good/soft ground which he won’t get here.  Aidan O’Brien has had a lot of success in this race and he gets Ryan Moore aboard, which is hard to overlook, and he does receive first time Lasix and a nine pound weight break from the favorites.

PICKS:

  1. Afandem 9-2
  2. Permian 9-5
  3. Oscar Performance 8-5
  4. Taj Mahal 5-1

8- BRUCE D MEMORIAL, 8 furlongs, 4:23

1 MONGOLIAN GREYWOLF (30-1, 84 BRIS)- Cross-entered in Race 4, which might be a more realistic spot for son of Paddy O’Prado to attempt to break his maiden.

2 JUSTICE PREVAILS (30-1, 83 BRIS)- Broke his maiden in his seventh try two races back but was beaten handily by optional claimers in his last. Steps way up in class here and has never raced on the all-weather surface.

3 HARMAC (12-1, 88 BRIS)- Winner of his last, an 8f allowance, he steps up in class here and has never raced on synthetic. Trainer Grant Forster is 40% with dirt to synthetic runners but we would like to see at least some experience in his past to support him here.

4 SMOKE N GLOAT (9-2, 94 BRIS)- Speedster shows two wins and two seconds in five starts over the Arlington all-weather track and has won all of his 2017 starts ranging from 5.5f- 8f. His most impressive race to date came two back at this distance over this track as he was able to carry his speed through rapid fractions and maintain his advantage. He’s fired a bullet since then and is the only runner in the field with an 8f polytrack win on his resume; seems logical if he can withstand a likely pace duel with Uncontested.

5 KITTEN’S CAT (7-2, 84 BRIS) -Son of Kitten’s Joy out of the Mike Maker barn figures to take action on those angles alone, but he will try synthetic for just the second time in his twelfth career race after having spent the rest of his career on the turf. He was a close 4th in his only synthetic attempt, the 8.5 f Sprial, a Grade 3 contest. He hasn’t won since taking his sire’s namesake distance over the turf back in February and has been pretty consistent in the low to mid 80s in terms of speed figures. There’s not enough here on paper to support him based on his likely underlay status.

6- GAIN GROUND (12-1, 90 BRIS) -Lightly raced son of Tapit gets Joel Rosario aboard as he cuts back slightly following a 2nd place finish at 8.5f against optional claimers here in his last, where he posted a competitive figure. He held the lead in that race at the 8f mark and closer should get plenty to run at here in his third career start for trainer Eoin Harty who wins with 21% of his all weather starters.

7- YORKTON (5-1, 92 BRIS)- Has won his last two, including an 8f turf stakes at Woodbine in his most recent start and a 7f stakes triumph over the Woodbine Tapeta surface before that, where he extended through the stretch after leading from the jump. There isn’t much question about the distance here for son of Speightstown who looks poised to combine the speed of his sire with the AP Indy stamina influence he receives on bottom. Checks all the boxes but could get caught in an early speed duel.

8- UNCONTESTED (3-1, 97 BRIS)- Speedy and talented, but has never raced on synthetic and has tended to fold early when on the lead, as he’s retreated in his last three starts while setting the pace against graded company. His only win since his maiden came over a sloppy track at this distance, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how his form will translate to this surface, although sire Tiz Wonderful does leave some room for optimism on that front. More concerning is his ability to withstand the speed duel he is likely to encounter here ,  especially off a three month layoff.

9- MEMORY BANK (12-1, 86 BRIS)- Recent maiden winner moves up in class for this third career start for trainer Michael Sitdham who wins with 24% of his all-weather starters. He stands to improve here but may find these waters a bit too deep.

10- SOCIETY BEAU (6-1, 100 BRIS)- Shows a field high BRIS speed figure for his last effort, a win at 8f over optional claimers, but that came over a muddy, sealed track. Dirt runner has never run on synthetic but is impeccably bred, by Curlin out of an AP Indy mare. His BRIS Late Pace Last Race figure tops the field but we will side with the closer that has shown abiity over the surface at double the price.

PICKS:

  1. Smoke N Gloat 9-2
  2. Gain Ground 12-1
  3. Yorkton 5-1
  4. Uncontested 3-1

9- AMERICAN ST. LEGER, 13.5 furlongs, 4:58

1 KEYSTONEFORVICTORY (5-2, 108 BRIS, RPR N/A)- Won the local prep for this, the Stars And Stripes (95 Beyer), while gaining steam into the stretch, good for the highest last out BRIS figure in the field. He has now won back to back 12f races, more than any other starter. He goes third off the lay for Mike Maker who wins with 25% of his runners in that spot of their form cycle and would appear to be begging to stretch out further here as he has gained over two lengths in the stretch of both of his 12f wins, but has never gone this far before.

2 TAGHLEEB (2-1, 109 BRIS, 111 RPR)- Stretches out to a more appealing distance following a 5th place finish in his last, the 9.5f Arlington Handicap. He’ll try to turn the tables here on today’s foe Bullard’s Alley, who was 3 lengths better two back in the 2 mile Belmont Gold Cup, although neither really brought their best race that day, and Taghleeb was ahead of that foe at the 14f mark. He has triplicated the highest Racing Post Rating at 12f or beyond, most impressively back in January with a powerful late running score in the 12f W.L. McKnight (100 Beyer), and owns the speed highest figure in the field off of that effort. Looms the one to beat on paper if he runs back to it; all systems ago on the strength of a recent bullet work.

3 CREWMAN (15-1, 90 BRIS, RPR N/A)- Winner of the local graded stakes Hanshin Cup at 8f on the all-weather track (98 Beyer) was a well beaten 7th in his last in the 9.5f Arlington Handicap on the move back to turf and will look to stretch out massively here having never raced beyond that distance. Could have a say in the outcome as he figures to be part of the faster than usual early pace but we can’t see him sticking around for honors.

4- ALPHA WARRIOR (30-1, 85 BRIS, RPR N/A)- Seems ambitiously placed, as three time allowance winner takes a big step up in class second off the lay following a runner up finish beyond two miles at Mountaineer Park. He was a two time winner at 14f and beyond last year there but meets tougher foes here and has a big gap to make up in terms of speed figures.

5 TOBIAS (30-1, 83 BRIS, 98 RPR)- 8 year old will give this race another try after a 6th place finish last year, but is 0 for 4 at 12f or longer for his career, and has just one win in 32 career starts. Would be a surprise considering he finished 7th some eighteen lengths behind optional claimers in his last.

6 APPLICATOR (9-2, 106 BRIS, 100 RPR)- Need-the-lead type hung around for 3rd in the local prep for this, the Stars and Stripes,  where he posted a 93 Beyer. He hasn’t won in awhile but his most recent win was at the 12f distance in May of 2016. He’s finished a combined 15 lengths behind the favorite here today in his two marathon tries against him, but gets blinkers today and could take them a long way on the lead and stick around for a piece. Enters off a bullet work over the track; should be eager.

7 POSTULATION (5-1, 98 BRIS, 90 RPR)- Was 6th behind today’s foe Bullard’s Alley at 12f last fall but did score at that distance in his most recent start against stakes company in the Cape Henlopen (97 Beyer). That came over firmer turf in wire to wire fashion under soft fractions, but he will take a step up in class against these as he hasn’t yet won a graded event. Trainer Ed Graham won the 2014 Million with Hardest Core and wins with 48% of his next out dirt route winners.

8 BULLARD’S ALLEY (6-1, 109 BRIS, 110 RPR)- After spending the winter racing at distances far too short, he stretches out here following a 2nd place finish in the 12f Singspiel (92 Beyer).  He shows a Grade 3 place and win at that distance as well and will look to benefit from additional ground here, although it bears mention he was leading in the stretch and was subsequently caught at the wire in his last. He hasn’t been the most consistent type, as he was 5th in last year’s Stars and Stripes as the second choice and has raced 13 times since his last trip to the winner’s circle, but appears well suited against these in terms of marathon class, speed figures and experience. BRIS Prime Power selection could be in the right spot to make an impact at a square price.

PICKS:

  1. Taghleeb 2-1
  2. Bullard’s Alley 6-1
  3. Keystoneforvictory 5-2
  4. Applicator 9-2

10- BEVERLY D, 9.5 furlongs

1 DACITA (4-1, 105 BRIS, 114 RPR)- Chilean bred mare scored one of the largest wins in this division last year in winning the 10f New York Stakes (96 Beyer) over Sea Calisi who won this race in 2016, but her form has seemingly trailed off as a six year old. She could only muster 6th in her defense of that race in her most recent start, and although the race shape played against her, that was her second consecutive loss to Hawksmoor who she’ll contest again today. However, looking back to her 2016 form, her close 2nd to today’s foe Rainha da Bateria at Woodbine last fall in the Canadian Stakes (101 Beyer) merits a close look. She earned the field’s highest Racing Post Rating as she devoured two lengths in the stretch to miss by a nose over a soggy track at a distance shorter than this and while giving 9 pounds to the winner. Woodbine form tends to translate well to Arlington, and any return to prior form for off-the-pace type could turn the tables here as she enters third off the lay for the dangerous Chad Brown barn which has won the past two editions of this race. BRIS Prime Power selection figures to have a better setup today with firmer ground and more pace to run at and could be the value play of the day.

2 PRADO’S SWEET RIDE (30-1, 93 BRIS, 94 RPR)- Local hero was 2nd over this turf course last out in the Modesty (97 Beyer). She takes a bit of a class leap but does have a 9f win in the Grade 3 Regret from last year (81 Beyer). Her most recent figures aren’t incredibly far off from the rest of the field but she hasn’t won against this type of company nor running this far. She’s met today’s foe Kitten’s Roar three times but has never finished ahead of her.

3 KITTEN’S ROAR (12-1, 91 BRIS, 106 RPR)- She’s kept classy company of late, finishing 4th in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley and gaining late against the likes of Lady Eli and Dickinson at 8.5f. She was 3rd in the 10f New York Stakes (98 Beyer)  in her last behind Hawksmoor who she meets here again today, but she didn’t have a favorable setup to mount her late charge as that one got away with easy fractions up front and wired the field. She’s still winless in stakes company but the distance should fit from a pedigree standpoint, although she hasn’t won going this far. Her most recent win came in January as she held off a late charge from today’s foe Prado’s Sweet Ride in an 8.5f Stakes at the Fairgrounds (91), but it’s worrisome that her three most recent wins have all come over softer turf courses.

4 DONA BRUJA (7-2, 94 BRIS, 108 RPR)- Winner of five straight enters off her recent win in the local Modesty prep at this distance (99 Beyer) on the strength of four consecutive bullet works. She closed into a slow pace in that race (:50.37 opening half) to post the top BRIS Late Pace Last Race figure in the field and should get a better pace setup here. Argentinian bred is in career form, appears to love the track and figures to take a lot of beating. She’s only raced twice in the U.S., however, and hasn’t yet beaten anything above Grade 3 company. Favorite could be overbet after her recent win over this course but would be tough to leave out altogether. Five year old mare makes for an intriguing South American bred story line as she faces off against Dacita for the first time.

5 GRAND JETE (6-1, 91 BRIS, 85 RPR)- Has won all three starts in 2017 since arriving from Great Britain. Daughter of Dansili takes a class leap here having won the 8.5f Grade 3 Eaterton at Monmouth (95 Beyer) two back where she bested today’s foe and defending show finisher Zipessa.  She’s never raced beyond that distance but stretches out here on the strength of powerful late rushes in all three of her wins at shorter distances. An intriguing price in this race given the strong connections of Chad Brown and Joel Rosario; there’s a bit of a wise guy feel here with this one though and her speed figures are second tier in the spot.

6 ZIPESSA (15-1, 106 BRIS, 107 RPR)- Pacesetter returns to the scene after taking them as far as she could in this event a year ago and holding on for 3rd place honors. She meets a saltier group this time around however. She should enjoy the cutback following a 2nd place finish in her last in a 11f Grade 3, but this still may be a bit further than she wants to go. She has never won going further than 8.5f or above the Grade 3 level, and it is hard to elevate her above today’s foe Grand Jete, who beat her on the square two back and separated through the stretch at a shorter distance. One has to raise an eyebrow when viewing her field high 106 BRIS speed figure, which came in a lackluster 5th place finish at the Breeders’ Cup, as she’s never earned a triple digit figure in any other of her twelve career races.

7 RAINHA DA BATERIA (6-1, 105 BRIS, 106 RPR)- Consistent and versatile mare exits a 10f dead heat win over firm ground in the Grade 2 Dance Smartly at Woodbine (95 Beyer), a course that generally translates quite well to Arlington. Last year, she held off today’s foe Dacita over that same track in the 9f Canadian Stakes (101 Beyer) over a track labeled good, although she has finished behind that one twice in the last year. She was a closing fourth over yielding ground two races back in the Beaugay, losing to Dacita and Hawksmoor, but the added ground and firmer surface gives her a chance to turn the tables. One of three entrants for Chad Brown, who has owned this race of late.

8 SARANDIA (30-1, BRIS N/A, 105 RPR)- German shipper figures to show speed early and be a part of the pace. She shows a Group 2 placing at 11f and three wins at that distance amongst stakes company, all over good to soft ground, so she will be cutting back a bit here and racing over an unfamiliar surface.

9 HAWKSMOOR (9-2, 93 BRIS, 108 RPR)- Irish-bred filly has won her last two starts in wire to wire fashion, including the 9f Beaugay (100 Beyer) over yielding turf and the 10f New York Stakes over firm ground (102 Beyer). She put the naysayers to rest in the latter, as she had previously shown specific affinity for off going. The red flag here lies not in the surface condition but in the easy leads she capitalized on in those scores (:51.20 and :49.72 respectively). She is likely to see more company up front here and may very well be an underlay off her prior two efforts and field high Beyer figures, which run somewhat in contrast to her BRIS numbers. Combined with the likely firm turf and on the heels of a two month layoff, the feeling here is that the time to be on her has passed, and we’ll aim to keep her off the board in this spot.

10 RAIN GODDESS (5-1, BRIS N/A, 112 RPR)- Aidan O’Brien (1 for 17 with first timer runners in North American) shoots for his first Beverly D score as his shipper cuts back following two impressive Group 1 runner-up finishes in the 12f Irish Oaks and 10f Pretty Polly Stakes, both over good ground. In the latter, she defeated Zhukova, who had previously destroyed American males by 6 lengths in the Grade 1 Man O’War over 11f, and in the former, she was bested only by Enable, who may well end up the favorite in the Arc de Triomphe. Based on that, one could argue that even this competitive field offers some class relief. She shows ascending Racing Post ratings in each of her last five starts, the most recent of which is highly competitive here. She was running on late in both of her last two races so she may leave herself a bit too much to do at the shorter distance, and it also bears mention that while she’s kept classy company, she still has no wins above the maiden level.  Three-year old daughter of Gaileo gets first time Lasix and a six pound weight advantage here however and has every right to be in the mix if she takes to the surface and handles the ship after a busy campaign. Ryan Moore gets the mount, and the last time he was here in 2014, he took two of the four festival races.

PICKS:

  1. Dacita 4-1
  2. Dona Bruja 7-2
  3. Rain Goddess 5-1
  4. Rainha Da Bateria 6-1

ARLINGTON MILLION, 10f, 6:19

1 OAK BROOK (30-1, 94 BRIS, RPR N/A)- Surprise runner up finisher at 45-1 in the local prep for this takes a massive step up in class having never won a graded race or any race beyond 8.5f. Bombs away if you are feeling illogical.

2 OSCAR NOMINATED (15-1, 93 BRIS, 109 RPR)- Seasoned son of Kitten’s Joy has shown versatility racing between 8.5f and 12f over the last year but has never won a graded stakes on turf. He’s spent most of the year running behind the likes of Beach Patrol, Divisidero, Enterprising and Kasaqui who he meets again here and we tend to like the chances of those a bit better for the home team.

3 ENTERPRISING (30-1, 93 BRIS, 110 RPR)- Made a name for himself this winter winning a couple of gutsy 9f races at the Fairgrounds (96 Beyer), but has yet to contest beyond that distance. The pedigree suggests that this may be a bit further than he wants to go, but he was gaining ground in the stretch of both his graded 9f wins. His form since then leaves a bit to be desired, as he’s turned in off the board 6th place finishes in his last two, beaten by three of these.

4 GHOST HUNTER (30-1, 95 BRIS, RPR N/A)- Sprung a bit of an upset from a stalking position in winning the local prep for this, the Arlington Handicap at 9.5f (98 Beyer). He may have won that race a bit by default as favored Kasaqui had a terrible trip and he only held off a  45-1 shot by ¾ of a length. He was only a half length behind today’s foe Ascend four races back but that came at a mile, and he’ll need to improve upon his last speed figure to compete amongst these.

5 DEAUVILLE (7-2, 94 BRIS, 117 RPR)- Finished third in this race last year, missing the win by a half a length in a rare three year old attempt at the Million crown. He returns for another chance having improved greatly in the past year and earns morning line favoritism off the strength of two Group 1 placings and a Group 3 win in Europe. He stacks up well against some of Europe’s best measuring by his close 2nd place finish to Ulysses at this distance in April after he returned from Dubai. He earned a field high Racing Post Rating for that effort and was flattered when Ulysses came back to run 3rd behind the highly regarded Highland Reel in the Group 1 Prince of Wales, missing by just 1 1/14 lengths. Today’s foe Mehktaal wound 3.5 lengths behind the winner, so Deauville appears to fit in between- behind Ulysses and ahead of Mehktaal- at this distance. He’s been running primarily over good to soft ground overseas and should be expected to move up on a firmer surface given his performance here last year and win prior in the 10f Belmont Derby. Aidan O’Brien has a deserving favorite here as the tactical speed and form lines of Deauville should prove difficult to beat in this spot.

6 FANCIFUL ANGEL (30-1, BRIS N/A, 101 RPR)- Forwardly-placed type gets first time Lasix for his first American start. He has a single win at this distance but that came over synthetic track, and has spent most of his turf career running 8f races. He was an off the board 6th in stakes company in his first 10f turf try, so this seems an odd spot to ship over considering the strength of the other shippers. Should ensure an honest pace if nothing else.

7 THE PIZZA MAN (12-1, 94 BRIS, 111 RPR)- 2015 Arlington Million winner returns for what has to be his final race over this course where he has amassed ten career victories. He benefited from a pretty weak field two years ago though, and now as an eight-year-old, old-timer may have lost a step. The feeling here has always been that he needs a bit more ground than the 10f trip offers, and his only two wins since his Million score have come at the 12f distance. He tends to be an underlay at this track due to his popularity, so we’ll make him beat us again as we always have, especially as this race comes up as deep as it has been in recent memory.

8 KASAQUI (10-1, 94 BRIS, 113 RPR-  Last year’s runner up missed by just a neck in that race and returns for redemption after a tough luck 3rd place finish in the local prep that should provide ideal fitness for this attempt. He’s contested distances all shorter than this one since last year’s race, and perhaps that’s the reason for him having won just once in his seven races since. That was a 2 ¾ length score in the Grade 2 Wise Dan at 8.5f (102 Beyer), but this really is a true 10f horse who won twice at that distance before shipping from Argentina. He should enjoy the slight stretchout here over a track where he has never missed the board in three career starts. His mid-pack running style should set him up nicely with plenty of pace signed on, and he could be overlooked again at the windows despite his prior success here. All eyes on the grey.

9 SCOTTISH – Scratched

10 BEACH PATROL (5-1, 95 BRIS, 113 RPR)- Hard-knocking speedster was victorious in last year’s Secretariat, his first win over 10f, and subsequently threw together a string of second place finishes at 9f before faltering in his most recent two starts at longer distances. He’s been winless for the entire year and his forwardly placed style has always seemed to lend itself better to 9f races to our eyes. He didn’t really have much of an excuse when 4th two starts back to 30-1 shot Ascend, who he’ll meet here again. Divisidero caught him from off the pace in the 9f Turf Classic on Derby Day, and the 11f distance of his last race is just simply further than he wants to go. He should enjoy the cutback here, and while his Secretariat last year compares almost identically in terms of speed to Kasaqui’s Million run, we prefer the latter in this spot purely due to race shape. However, he rarely throws in a downright bad effort, and his tactical speed renders him useable on the bottom of exotics.

11 DIVISIDERO (5-1, 90 BRIS, 114 RPR)- Deep closer has been unbeatable in 9f races at Churchill but hasn’t been able to duplicate his closing punch away from that track or at the 10f distance, as he is 0 for 3 and has been off the board in all of those attempts. In his defense, he didn’t have much pace to run at when a better-than-it-looked 6th last out in the Manhattan at Belmont, as he sat back off a pace that crawled along in :50.0 for the half. He looked fantastic as he devoured Beach Patrol when winning the 9f Turf Classic two back at 9f (102 Beyer), but it is tough to support him for the win given his form lines at this distance. Perhaps the Arlington turf course, being more similar to Churchill in configuration and speed, will move him up, and he figures to be gobbling up ground late with a bit more pace to run at this time. Useable underneath.

12 ASCEND (10-1, 93 BRIS, 108 RPR)- Surprise winner of the 10f Manhattan two back at 28-1 odds (104 Beyer), five year old son of Candy Ride was unable to substantiate that effort in his most recent attempt, finishing 4th in the 11f Bowing Green at Saratoga, perhaps running a bit too close to the pace. The field high Beyer figure will likely turn some heads and he will appreciate the cutback off that effort, but he draws wide here against a tough group after getting a pretty easy trip in his upset score, and the two week turnaround may be a bit on the sharp side for this up and comer.

13 MEKHTAAL (9-2, BRIS N/A, 115 RPR)- Son of Sea the Stars drew widest of all for his first American turf attempt. He’s kept top company in Europe, and finished just behind Scottish, who he meets again today, in the 10f Prince of Wales. He has won twice at this distance in Group 2 and Group 3 company which looms the most formful of the Euro shippers, and he’s run seven times at this distance, finishing worse than second only once. Some of those race came over ground labeled good to soft but he has won twice over ground that was probably on the firmer side of “good”. Running without Lasix, he figures to be placed forwardly by Frankie Dettori, as he’s done his best running on or near the pace, and won’t want to get caught wide from this post. His combination of tactical speed, form and speed figures put him squarely in the mix here if he can circumvent the firm ground and post position.

PICKS:

  1. Deauville 7-2
  2. Kasaqui 10-1
  3. Mekhtaal 9-2
  4. Divisidero 5-1

12- PUCKER UP, 9 furlongs, 7:02

1 ROYALTY PRINCESS (30-1, 74 BRIS)- Should show early speed from the rail but goes blinkers off here. Hasn’t been able to sustain leads and stretches out after falling back in the stretch in her last two.

2 FAULT (8-1, 93 BRIS)- Closed like a freight train in her last when running against her typical style, making up four lengths in the stretch to just miss the win at 8f in the Ta Wee stakes, and passing today’s favorite Lovely Bernadette in the process. She’ll seek her first win outside optional claiming company but could get sucked up into a wicked pace from the rail here, and faded two starts back in that scenario after leading in the stretch, but if she can take back off the lead a bit, daughter of Blame should hae no trouble at the distance.

3 LIPSTICK CITY (4-1, 88 BRIS)- A Chad Brown trainee being ridden by Joel Rosario is sure to take action at the windows in a field like this, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s the only runner who enters as a last out turf winner around two turns. She exploded through the stretch winning her last in listed stakes company at 8.5f and gets to go a little further here third off the lay, where her trainer is 7 for 11 with three year old turf filles that are last out winners over the past three years. She shows ascending speed figures since last October, along with the best BRIS Late Pace Last Race figure in the field, which could come in handy considering the wealth of pace expected here. The pick.

4 JOURNEY HOME (9-2, 88 BRIS)-Made up 4 ½ lengths in the stretch two back in winning an 8.5f listed stakes. Deep closer threw up an even bigger number (99) when 8th in Grade 1 company at the longer 10f distance. She cuts back here and gets significant class relief for Graham Motion and should get plenty of pace to run at, but will need to run back to that effort, as daughter of War Front has been 8th in three of her last four outside of that one win.

5 DONTMESSWITHJOANNE (8-1, 91 BRIS) Lightly raced daughter of Pioneer of the Nile was a hard closing 5th behind two of these in the 8.5f Ta Wee, a race where the pace collapsed similarly to what we might see unfold here. She has never gone beyond 8f and should benefit from the added ground here as her Average BRIS Late Pace Figure is tired for the best in the field.  She goes third off the lay, where trainer Brad Cox wins with 23% of his runners, and should be sitting on an improved effort.

6 SENSITIVE (12-1, 83 BRIS) Closer defeated lesser at 8f in her last but will need to take a step forward figure-wise. There are other closers here that close faster in the event of a pace collapse.

7 LOVELY BERNADETTE (7-2, 92 BRIS) Closed fastest of all when 3rd in her last at 8f, but that race fell apart up front and with three entered here that all scrambled within 1.25 of the win, we’re not sure why that translates to favoritism here. Heavily raced filly has only just recently switched to turf, showing a 1st and a 3rd in her two starts and never having gone this far before. Seems beatable at these odds.

8 PRINCESS LA QUINTA (20-1, 83 BRIS) Arlington-based daughter of Quality Road has spent time shifting between turf and polytrack, with her only two career wins two coming over the latter. She takes a step up in class having just broken her made three starts back and winning against optional claimers last out.

9 KATINKA (30-1, 82 BRIS) Early speed type would seem to be up against it stretching out here, having fallen back against lesser at 8f in her last two after leading through the half.

10 HAPPY MESA (5-1, 90 BRIS) Was completely off the board and beaten by a handful of these in her last at 8f but scored an impressive listed stakes win from off the pace in the race before that, posting a competitive figure. That race seems more like an outlier than the norm looking over her form lines, but if she runs back to it, she could be a force here with Flourent Geroux aboard.

11 CANNY (15-1, 88 BRIS) Pacesetter couldn’t quite hang on in her last effort, losing to today’s foe Journey Home by a neck at 8.5f after leading the whole way. She does have a win at the distance over allowance company in the race prior, the only runner in the field that can claim that, and could carry them a long way again with Julien Leparoux in the saddle for this well bred progeny of Big Brown. One wonders how sharp she will be though as she enters off a two month layoff, the longest in the field.

12 MO’S MVP (30-1, 75 BRIS) Her one career win in seven starts came over this turf course, so why not give it a shot? Then again, that win was her maiden in her 5th try, so this looks like a bit too much too soon.

PICKS:

  1. Lipstick City (4-1)
  2. Journey Home (9-2)
  3. Dontmesswithjoanne (8-1)
  4. Fault (8-1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belmont Day Late Pick 4 Picks and Analysis

Posted June 9, 2017 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

8- Just A Game, 8f turf, 3:58

We’ll take a pass on trying to predict the race shape here and instead try to get through with just two that cover both scenarios in this short seven horse field. Closer ROCA ROJO hasn’t needed a strong pace to win from behind. Although she was closer to the crawling pace when winning her last, she won from well off the pace three back when they were only going :48.2 up front. She’s 3/3 at Belmont and boasts the highest speed figures in the field for 2017 (103 Beyer, 102 Brisnet). CELESTINE only knows one gear and figures to go straight to the lead. She turned in a career best effort in winning this race last year and is also a perfect 3/3 over the course. If SASSY LITTLE LILA doesn’t go with her to the inside, she could have it all her way up front. DICKINSON merits respect and figures to take money coming off an upset win over the highly regarded Lady Eli. We wonder if that wasn’t the better day to play her though, as Lady Eli was making her first start of the year and probably needed the race. She cuts back here to a distance that she may find a bit too sharp. Chad Brown sends out ANTONOE for her second start off the ship from France. She steps up in class off an allowance win last out but is Grade 3 placed across the pond and could offer value in this spot.

Picks:

1) Roca Roja 9-5

2) Celestine 3-1

3) Dickinson 5-2

4) Antonoe 8-1

9- Met Mile, 8f, 4:41

There figures to be an ample enough pace in this seemingly wide open edition of the Met Mile to side with an off-the-pace type, and all signs point in one direction. AWESOME SLEW stretches out a furlong in his third off the lay for Mark Casse. He made up nearly four lengths in the stretch when just missing by a head at 7f in his last and the added distance figures to fit him like a glove in his spot. He has a solid bullet work on 6/2 to fall back on and has won from wide posts before; all systems go for the son of Awesome Again. SHARP AZTECA looms the horse to beat on paper off his 2016 form as well as his win in the Gulfstream Park Handicap at this distance in February, where he posted a field high 113 Brisnet figure and a 106 Beyer. He bested the top choice in that race by 4.5 lengths but enters here off a long layoff following a trip to Dubai, and with other pace signed on, this may be the time to look for the tables to turn. If we like the top pick, then it is tough to overlook the others that closed impressively  in that race, TOM’S READY and SOLID WAGER, who both made up ground late to finish within a length of the winner as well. TOM’S READY appears particularly appealing, having won the 7f Woody Stephens over this course from off the pace a year ago. SOLID WAGER may have benefited a bit from the wet track that day and hasn’t yet won above the Grade 3 level, but has upside. DENMAN’S CALL upset the highly regarded Masochistic two back in the 7f Triple Bend, posting an eye-popping 104 Beyer. He faded to finish 7th in his last behind many of these but have may deserved a pass on the wet track; a return to his prior form puts himself squarely in the mix here. We’ll take a stand against the morning line favorite MOR SPIRIT, who ships in from the west coast following a career best 107 Beyer in a wire job at this distance over Grade 3 company. That was around two turns though, and he’s unlikely to have it as easy this time around with colts like SHARP AZTECA and the suddenly intriguing MOHAYMEN, who has posted two straight bullet works, gunning it early. RALLY CRY enters with strong figures on paper as well but has yet to win a stakes race, and we’d be more inclined to use ECONOMIC MODEL, who beat him head to head here a year ago, for the deeper exotics.

Picks:

1) Awesome Slew 6-1

2) Sharp Azteca 7-2

3) Tom’s Ready 15-1

4) Denman’s Call 15-1

10- Manhattan, 10f turf, 5:37

Don’t look now, but there’s only one horse in the field that has posted a triple digit Beyer beyond 9f. SADLER’S JOY comes in third off the lay for Tom Albetrani in this spot and cuts back another furlong after winning the Grade 2 Pan American at 12f two back and finishing 3rd in the Grade 1 Man O’War at 11f last out. He should see plenty of pace to close into thanks to the presence of APPLICATOR combined with a couple of favorites that are prone to being on the lead. TIME TEST was installed as 5-1 on the morning line but figures to be half of that at best and the likely favorite by post time off his Euro form, which includes a Group 1 win at the distance. His Racing Post Rating of 124 simply towers over this field (next highest is 115, several tied at 114) so he definitely figures on class and is a must use in multi-race wagers. He was beaten as the heavy favorite in his first start off the ship last out, but he gets added distance and a drier course this time, and is in receipt of weight to boot as he runs second off the lay. Sticking with the Euros, POTEMKIN looms an intriguing longshot as he runs with first time Lasix here. He is a Group 1 winner in Italy at the distance as well as a Group 2 placed in France, and also receives weight with Joel Rosario on board. His Racing Post Rating of 114 puts him right there in the mix for a piece. BEACH PATROL, WORLD APPROVAL and DIVISIDERO are the top three choices on the morning line, having established themselves at the front of the American Turf division. The feeling here though is that all three are far better suited to the 9f distance. Of the three, we prefer BEACH PATROL, who does have a win at the distance, and who has been ultra-consistent, finishing no worse than 2nd in his last five starts. WORLD APPROVAL led here most of the way a year ago before fading to 3rd and then was off the board in the Arlington Million in his only other start at the distance, and DIVISIDERO has been 5th and 7th in his two 10f tries.

Picks:

1) Sadler’s Joy 6-1

2) Time Test 5-1

3) Potemkin 8-1

4) Beach Patrol 4-1

11- Belmont Stakes, 12f, 6:37

Given that the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness are passing on the final jewel of the Triple Crown, and that likely favorite Classic Empire was declared out earlier in the week, this year’s edition of the Belmont comes up a bit weak and wide open. That being the case, it is unfortunate that we’ve landed on the morning line favorite as the most likely winner, but we call them like we see them. IRISH WAR CRY seems to be on an alternating pattern of great races and disappointing ones, and is due for a bounce back after fading badly in the Kentucky Derby from a wide post. Fact is, he is still the only runner in the field to post a triple digit Beyer speed figure beyond 8.5f, and that combined with his tactical running style makes him the most likely winner in a race that often favors front runners. There isn’t any other real speed in here, as MEANTIME is a cheap front-running type who faded in the 8f Peter Pan and is bred to sprint. Being a son of Curlin, he’s likely to improve into his three year old season and this appears the right spot in the cycle. Remember, he easily dispatched eventual Preakness winner Cloud Computing in the Wood Memorial, so the quality is there when he shows up, it has just been a bit of an inconsistent proposition. Todd Pletcher has been successful in this race over the years and brings back two Derby runners here. TAPWRIT finished an above-expectations 6th in the Kentucky Derby and has been out working his one-eyed stablemate PATCH over the track. Sons of Tapit, once believed to be distance challenged, have won two of the last three editions of this race, but we will side with PATCH as the Pletcher colt the most upside from a pedigree standpoint, as his sire Union Rags and damsire AP Indy both won this race. PATCH, who had an extremely rough go of it when 14th in the Derby, is still very lightly raced making just his 5th career start, and is eligible to take a bit of a form leap here coming in fresh with John Velazquez aboard. He’ll certainly have no trouble with the distance, and the price should be right to see if he can find the speed to compete with these. Derby runner up LOOKIN AT LEE is the only runner to contest all three Triple Crown events, and while his deep closing style makes intuitive sense with the added distance here, that running style doesn’t always play well into races that don’t set up with much pace up front. He is sure to keep coming yet again but figures to miss the top spot. He is still our favorite of the closers though, as colts like SENIOR INVESTMENT and MULTIPLIER aren’t bred to run this far. J BOYS ECHO is another that defeated Cloud Computing but doesn’t seem to want to run at or beyond Classic distances, and Dubai shipper EPICHARIS has had soundness issues all week and is a play against at his 4-1 morning line. We could offer some lukewarm endorsement for GORMLEY underneath. He turned in an even enough effort when 9th in the Derby, and while he may not want to run quite this far and his speed figures have been in decline as distances have been increasing, may be able to grind his way onto the bottom of the superfecta. All told, we will give a decisive edge to the colts that competed on the first Saturday in May.

Picks:

1) Irish War Cry 7-2

2) Patch 12-1

3) Tapwrit 6-1

4) Lookin At Lee 5-1

Kentucky Derby 2017 Picks And Analysis

Posted May 3, 2017 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

PACE

#17 IRISH WAR CRY (Curlin/ Polish Numbers) 6-1

 101 Beyer, 339 Tomlinson 

Pros: The only runner in the field to duplicate triple digit Brisnet Speed Figures around two turns, tactical type also will enter this boasting the highest last out Beyer for his Wood Memorial win (101), the only triple digit final prep Beyer. He rated off the pace nicely to win that race with authority over a tiring track. Son of Curlin is only three generations removed from the Mr. Prospector sire line and should have no trouble with the distance. His Tomlinson rating is the second highest in the field and is the BRIS Prime Power selection.

Cons: In between his impressive Holy Bull and Wood Memorial scores, he faded badly without excuse when setting the pace in the Fountain of Youth, so there appear to be some consistency questions here. Although the track was tiring at Aqueduct and his stretch move looked visually impressive, the fractions leave something to be desired, as he came home slowly (:39.03, 13.14), posting a meager Bris Late Pace figure of 80.

Conclusion: After bouncing back so strongly in the Wood Memorial, we are inclined to draw a line through his puzzling Fountain of Youth dud, an effort that was too bad to be considered believable when compared to his form elsewhere. He has won all of his other four career races, and has to be considered a contender for the win here.

His tactical speed should give him an edge in a race where closers must worry about traffic trouble in such a large field, while the pace on paper isn’t shaping up to be as hot as it typically is. We are partial to Curlin colts, as they tend to improve steadily into their three year old seasons, so a step forward here would be no surprise. Usable on top.

#5 ALWAYS DREAMING (Bodemeister/ In Excess) 5-1

97 Beyer, 291 Tomlinson

Pros: Promising Pletcher trainee decimated the Florida Derby field in his fifth career start, winning in a blazing 1:47.2, the fastest 9f prep time of this group and the fastest in that race since 1978. The track was surely playing fast that day, as evidenced by the relatively light Beyer (97) attributed to it, but what was most impressive was how he relaxed early and exploded through the stretch, coming home in a commanding :36.52 and :12.53 after racing near the lead. He is the only colt with two wins at 9f in this field, having won an allowance before his last, and descends from the Mr. Prospector sire line from a Derby runner-up sire, one of just two in this field.  He turned in an eye-popping work at Churchill, breezing 5f in :59.2 and galloping out like a monster.

Cons: He has burst onto the scene rather quickly, having just broken his maiden in January in his third attempt, so it is fair to wonder if a big bounce is coming off his last effort over a track that may not play quite as kindly to his style. He has finished races well on paper, but with added pressure up front, the bottom of his pedigree gives the indication that he could have some trouble going this far. Damsire In Excess shows an average winning distance (AWD) of 6.1 among his progeny, which is a field-low number, although he does hold the 10f record at Belmont Park, but apparently has not been able transfer this stamina to his grandchildren. The lowest Damsire AWD ever for a Derby winner is 6.3, and that was the other-worldly American Pharoah. Additionally, his Dosage profile of 5.00 is tied for the worst in the field. And, we’d be remiss not to point out that for all his success, Pletcher has just one Derby win over his 16 years of starters.

Conclusion: While we aren’t in love with this post draw, this colt has been red hot since being transferred to the Pletcher barn and figures vie for favoritism. He looks to be sitting on unlimited potential as he attempts to avenge his sire’s narrow defeat in this race by utilizing similar tactics. He’s a logical win contender that should be used defensively in multi-race wagers and exactas, although this space will take a stand against him on the top line in narrower spots like the trifecta, and we don’t consider him to provide value as an outright bet. The combination of his likelihood to bounce, his relative lack of seasoning and potentially distance-challenged pedigree give some reason for concern at these odds.

#18 GORMLEY (Malibu Moon/ Bernstein) 15-1

90 Beyer, 265 Tomlinson

Pros: Showed a new dimension in his last when sitting a stalking trip behind a quick pace and overtaking the pacesetters in the stretch to win the Santa Anita Derby. That was a step forward from his previous race, when he led and faded badly at a shorter distance in the San Felipe. He has a solid two year old foundation underneath him, showing a Grade I win at 8.5f.

Cons: Let’s face it- the Santa Anita Derby was a pretty weak race, and the winning Beyer of 90 he received for it seems to confirm that suspicion. While he did pass several runners in the stretch, he didn’t do so especially quickly, coming home in :39.49 and :13.51, which seems to indicate he was passing tired horses.

Conclusion: If he can settle off the pace again like last time, a case could be made to use him underneath, but we will side with the colts who have shown better speed and more consistent ability to finish races.

#6 STATE OF HONOR (To Honor And Serve/ Elusive Quality) 30-1

90 Beyer, 240 Tomlinson

Pros: His grinding 2nd place finish in the Florida Derby was his best effort to date, as he showed some ability to relax off the pace and improve position in the stretch. Consistent type has hit the board in 7 of 10 starts and is plenty experienced.

Cons: Finding the winners circle hasn’t been easy, having just a single maiden win to his credit, and even that came in his third try, so this looks like an ambitious spot from a class standpoint. Even more concerning is whether he truly wants to run this far. He has either lost ground or position in the stretch in each of his six starts around two turns.

Conclusion: If he’s losing ground at the end of 8.5 and 9f races and figures to see a more contested pace here from an inside post at a longer distance, it is hard to make a compelling argument to support him.

#11 BATTLE OF MIDWAY (Smart Strike/ Concerto) 30-1

88 Beyer, 310 Tomlinson

Pros: Was involved in a rather torrid pace but held on gamely to finish 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby. He is a grandson of Mr. Prospector, which makes him closest in proximity in this field to the sire line that has won 13 of the last 25 editions of this race.

Cons: Unraced at two, he will have the dreaded Apollo curse to contend with, as no colt has won this race without a start in his juvenile season since 1882. As a result, he comes into this lightly raced having made only four career starts. His speed figures are well below the cut here and the Santa Anita Derby come home times are as well. The BRIS Late Pace figure he earned in that race (71) is the lowest in the field for a final prep on dirt.

Conclusion: Someday the Apollo curse will be broken, but this one would need to take a considerable step forward to even be a factor. A finish in the top half of the field seems unlikely.

JUST OFF THE PACE

#14 CLASSIC EMPIRE (Pioneer Of The Nile/ Cat Thief) 4-1 Favorite

94 Beyer, 284 Tomlinson

Pros: The reigning two year old champion got back to his winning ways in his last as he powered through the stretch to win the Arkansas Derby, coming home impressively in :37.42 and :12.20. He descends from Mr. Prospector, and shares a Derby runner-up sire with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. He is also one of just three colts in the field with a win over the track, having won both his starts at Churchill Downs last fall.

Cons: After a middling effort in his first start of the year in the Holy Bull, an injury setback forced him to miss training and wait for the Arkansas Derby, leading to foundation questions coming into this despite his strong juvenile campaign. He won there, but the 94 Beyer he received leaves something to be desired. From a pedigree standpoint, there is reason for distance concern on the dam side; damsire Cat Thief shows an AWD of just 6.7, the third lowest in the field, and the dosage profile of 5.00 is tied for the worst in the field. He has had a tendency to be a bit of a head case before races, so it is fair to wonder how the frantic environment on Derby day will affect him.

Conclusion: At his best, morning line favorite may be the most talented of the bunch, but you never like to see a horse come into this race rushed. He’ll essentially try to wheel back from his only true prep race after just three weeks of rest. Did he get enough out of the Arkansas Derby- a race where he was all out to beat a colt purchased for $8500 last fall, mind you- to take the necessary step forward here? A return to his two year old form likely wins this race, and he’s worth using defensively just in case, but there are plenty of reasons to try to beat him on top.

#9 IRAP (Tiznow/ Storm Cat) 20-1

93 Beyer, 307 Tomlinson 

Pros: Surprise winner of the Blue Grass broke his maiden in that race in his eighth try as the longest shot on the board, taking them all the way around. He has gained muscle and strength since that win and has been a clocker favorite over the track this week. He is well-bred for this distance, and being by Tiznow, figures to improve steadily into the year.

Cons: He got away with a pretty easy lead in his last race (:48.1, 1:12.1) and still lost a bit of ground in the stretch. The 93 Beyer he earned in that race is also on the low side. He took eight tries to break his maiden, so will face a class leap against these.

Conclusion: The Blue Grass result is likely more an indictment of the quality of that field than anything else. He is unlikely to get such an easy trip against a larger, tougher field. But if one wants to make the case that the race was actually better than it looked (and Thoro-graph figures do), we could see including him on the bottom of the superfecta.

#3 FAST AND ACCURATE (Hansen/ Green Dancer) 50-1

82 Beyer, 294 Tomlinson

Pros: He won the Spiral over the Turfway synthetic track to earn a spot here. Connections have emphasized that he will be sent to the lead from his inside post.

Cons: His lone start on dirt was easily the worst of his career. The Beyer he earned in the Spiral (82) is the lowest in the field, as is the Bris Late Pace figure (65). From a pedigree standpoint, he appears distance challenged on top and turf-oriented on bottom.

Conclusion: Derby fever at its very finest, especially considering his connections had to put up a $200,000 fee to supplement him.

#2 THUNDER SNOW (Helmet/ Dubai Destination) 20-1

94 Beyer, 250 Tomlinson

Pros: UAE Derby winner will try to become the first Dubai shipper to win this race, and just like they always do, he will have the advantage of having won at a longer distance than the rest of the field by virtue of the 9.5f there. His damsire AWD of 9.1 is the highest in the field, and he shows the strongest Dosage profile as well (0.89), so the distance would not appear to be a problem. The connections show confidence by shipping here, as he had been considered a strong contender for the Euro classics. He gets first time Lasix and could make a jump figure wise as a result.

Cons: The Beyer equivalent for his UAE Derby win came back a bit slow (94), and he is already up against history trying to ship from Dubai without having to overcome an edge in speed and talent. While his pedigree won’t limit his ability to get the distance, there is an argument to be made that it is more geared towards turf, and his leg action seems to confirm this. He will be forced early from a disadvantageous post inside the speed.

Conclusion: Until one of these shippers actually comes over and makes a solid impact in this race, you would need a pretty compelling reason to include one in your wagers, and we do not see that here.

#16 TAPWRIT (Tapit/ Successful Appeal) 20-1

96 Beyer, 312 Tomlinson

Pros: Posted a triple digit Brisnet figure (101) winning the Tampa Bay Derby, pulling away from the field in impressive fashion and delivering a triple digit Brisnet Late Pace figure (101) as well. Before that, he had finished well to be 2nd behind McCraken in the Sam Davis. He has flourished over the track since arriving.

Cons: Finished a puzzling 5th in his last outing in the Blue Grass, where he didn’t run a lick, coming home in :39.38 and :13.84, and only mustering a Bris Late Pace figure of 81. Sire Tapit has had recent success with his classic distance runners but most are still suited best to 9f races, and the bottom of the pedigree here is fairly sprint-oriented. Tapit is 0 for 7 as a Derby sire and none of his progeny have finished higher than 4th.

Conclusion: The results of the Blue Grass give one incentive to toss that entire field from consideration, and he was arguably worst of them all and least deserving of a mulligan. He lost the most ground in the stretch and didn’t come home at all, and it is difficult to see him completely reversing that form here, having beaten just one opponent in the field head to head in State of Honor, who is not one we are particularly high on.

STALKERS

#13 J BOYS ECHO (Mineshaft/ Menifee) 20-1

102 Beyer, 302 Tomlinson

Pros: His win in the 8.5f Gotham two back earned the highest speed figures of any prep (102 Beyer, 104 Brisnet) and was also his second consecutive triple digit Bris Late Pace figure, one of only three colts in the field to do so.

Cons: He wasn’t able to duplicate his Gotham effort in his final prep as he finished 4th in the Blue Grass. While he can be given the benefit of the doubt to some extent having endured a pretty rough trip, he simply didn’t do any running in the stretch once he finally had a clear path (:38.53, 13.29 final fractions).

Conclusion: The Blue Grass was a strange race and the feeling here is that he deserves a bit of a mulligan for that effort. It wouldn’t be the first time a colt has run poorly there and come back with a big effort in the Derby. While we’d have liked to have seen him come home a bit quicker that day, our fears are somewhat eased by the fact that he’d closed so impressively in his two races prior. Perhaps the rough trip simply broke his will to run, and while he won’t be made any promises to have it any easier in this large field, he appears usable underneath as a potential underlay and forgotten horse. A return to his Gotham race puts him squarely in the mix, on paper at least.

#7 GIRVIN (Tale of Ekati/ Malibu Moon) 15-1

93 Beyer, 216 Tomlinson

Pros: Lightly raced colt dominated the Fairgrounds preps, taking both the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby from off the pace. Grinding type came home well enough in the latter, finishing his final 1/8 in :12.97.

Cons: He has history to buck in terms of seasoning, having raced only four times to date and only three times in dirt. While he has proven his ability to win races, he has done so with slow times and speed figures (93 Beyer), leading many to question the quality of the fields he has beaten. The top of his pedigree seems fairly speed laden, and this observation is confirmed by his field low Tomlinson Distance figure (216). He’s had some setbacks leading up to this, as a quarter crack delayed his workout schedule.

Conclusion: There simply isn’t anything that makes him stick out here among these, and it is hard to make a compelling argument to use him, that being the case, especially with so little experience. He’s a fine colt that always accounts well for himself, but the five week layoff in combination with the foot problems make him hard to support; seems a pretty safe bet to finish somewhere towards the middle of the field at best.

#19 PRACTICAL JOKE (Into Mischief/ Distorted Humor) 20-1

92 Beyer, 320 Tomlinson

Pros: Shows solid foundation and class lines, having won the Grade I Champagne around one turn as a two year old before a distant 3rd place finish in the Breeders’ Cup. He picked up some ground in the stretch last out when runner-up in a strange edition of the Blue Grass, covering the final 1/8 in a respectable :12.89. He will go third off the lay for Chad Brown here.

Cons: It’s possible he is more of a dirt miler and may prefer one turn races, as indicated by both his pedigree and form lines to date. Although he did make up some ground late in his last, he did so running close to a slow pace set by a maiden. More concerning was his prior race, where he backed up five lengths in the stretch after the mile mark. He also lost ground at a similar stage in the Breeders’ Cup. He is winless this year and would need to take a big step forward figure-wise.

Conclusion: While he admittedly has upside, our preference in this race is not for closers who seem to want to close at shorter distances, and that appears to be the case here.

#20 PATCH (Union Rags/ AP Indy) 30-1

89 Beyer, 236 Tomlinson

Pros: Made an impression in his last, when 2nd in the Louisiana Derby in just his third career start. He appears well bred on the bottom, and is the only colt in the field to have two Belmont winners in his immediate family.

Cons: With only three career starts, he is the least seasoned colt in the field, so it is fair to wonder if this is too much too soon. He also did not race as a two year old, so he has a lot of history to buck. He stands to improve off his last effort, but it needs to be said that he has never broken the 90 Beyer threshold.

Conclusion: One-eyed colt would need to improve drastically to be a factor here, so we will focus on more seasoned runners, while keeping an eye on him for races later in the year. Fun fact- by nature of his missing left eye and wide post draw, he won’t see a single horse coming out of the gate.

#4 UNTRAPPED (Trappe Shot/ Giant’s Causeway) 30-1

89 Beyer, 285 Tomlinson

Pros: A bit of a strange pedigree finds him with mostly speed influences on top but strong stamina influences underneath. Damsire AWD of 8.2 is tied for tops in the field for dirt, and he is one of three runners to have won over the Churchill track.

Cons: Enters the race with only a maiden victory to his credit, and has seen his speed figures decline over his last three starts as distances have increased. There doesn’t appear to be much evidence that he wants to run this far, and his off the board finish in the Arkansas Derby in his final prep for this doesn’t exactly set him up well.

Conclusion: A definite outsider among these.

CLOSERS

#10 GUNNEVERA (Dialed In/ Unbridled) 15-1

97 Beyer, 343 Tomlinson

Pros: Impressive winner of the Fountain of Youth stakes showed an explosive turn of foot in that race, and had pace going against him when finishing a middling 3rd in the Florida Derby last out. Even so, he was coming home well in the stretch, finishing the race with speedy fractions of :36.22 and :12.23. His final 3/8 time in that race is the fastest of any in the field for final preps. He is the only colt in the field to post three consecutive triple digit Bris Late pace figures and his strong pedigree statistics (including the field high Tomlinson of 343) seem to confirm that he will be happy with the added ground here.

Cons: He didn’t need to win the Florida Derby and he didn’t do himself any favors falling ten lengths back off the pace on a speed favoring track, but it is hard to view that effort as anything other than a step back following the Fountain of Youth.

Conclusion: The move he made in the Fountain of Youth is exactly the sort of move that wins this race. In previous wins he had been able to remain in touch with the leaders more easily than he did in the Florida Derby, so he doesn’t have to come from the clouds to win this. He doesn’t have any statistical red flags and is the only colt in the field that can claim that. One thing is for sure, this consistent colt will be coming late, and we are admittedly suckers for closers in this race. The pick at likely juicy odds.

#15 MCCRAKEN (Ghostzapper/ Seeking The Gold) 5-1

 95 Beyer, 320 Tomlinson

Pros: Appears the horse for the course, as he is undefeated in three starts at Churchill, so we know he likes the track. He is well bred to handle the distance, as evidenced by his strong Tomlinson and Dosage (2.43) data. An impressive winner of the 8.5f San Davis two back, he doesn’t show many glaring weaknesses and has been working perhaps most impressively of all at Churchill.

Cons: A slight setback de-railed his prep plans, forcing him to skip the Tampa Bay Derby and contest the Blue Grass off a two month layoff. As a result he may have needed that race when a disappointing 3rd in his last. Still, he didn’t appear to have any excuse in the stretch, coming home in just :38.18 and :13.19. For all his talent and potential, he has still yet to run a big figure, topping out with a 95 Beyer for his Sam Davis effort.

Conclusion: An early choice to contend for favoritism here, it would require quite the leap of faith to endorse this colt for the top spot given his slow speed figures and closing fractions, not to mention the fact that he just lost to a maiden. However, Blue Grass results haven’t always translated meaningfully to the Derby, and he does seem to check off a lot of boxes and clearly loves the track, so it would be no surprise to see him run well and grab a spot on the board here; will use underneath, but looks like an underlay at these odds for the win.

#8 HENCE (Street Boss/ AP Indy) 15-1

97 Beyer, 285 Tomlinson

Pros: The Sunland Derby winner has seen the form of that race elevated with the runner-up Conquest Mo Money coming back to run within a half length of favored Classic Empire, and the easily beaten Irap coming back to win the Blue Grass. He finished impressively in that race, coming home in :37.58 and :12.39 after racing close to a hot pace. He descends from Mr. Prospector on the top of his pedigree and the bottom is laced with stamina, so he should handle the distance just fine here. He will enter this race with the highest last out Brisnet figure in the field (103).

Cons: The Sunland Derby was run March 26, which means he will enter here off a six week layoff, and only two colts since 1929 have won this race with that much time between races. The Bris Late Pace figure (93) he earned for the Sunland finish is a bit of a head-scratcher, somewhat contradicting what appeared to be a solid closing effort, but perhaps demonstrates how well that race set up for him. He did not break his maiden until this year in his fourth attempt.

Conclusion: There has been quite a bit of wise guy buzz surrounding him as astute handicappers have realized the quality of the Sunland form in combination with his pedigree and running style. In truth, when comparing transitive results along with speed figures, pedigree and closing fractions though, one can easily make the argument that he stands right up to Classic Empire on paper, and he’ll likely be about four times the price, wise guy or not. He appears to be a solid value play, potentially on top in exactas.

#1 LOOKIN AT LEE (Lookin At Lucky/ Langfuhr) 20-1

91 Beyer, 319 Tomlinson

Pros: Enters with a solid foundation, having finished 2nd to Classic Empire in the Breeders’ Futurity as a two year old and 4th to him at the Breeders’ Cup. He closed like a freight train when 3rd in the Arkansas Derby, coming home in :37.02 and :12.05, earning a Bris Late Pace figure of 101 in the process. That was his second consecutive triple digit Late Pace figure, one of just three colts in the field to duplicate that feat. He is a great-grandson of Mr. Prospector and shows a strong Tomlinson.

Cons: He has yet to win in graded company and has yet to run fast, posting modest top speed figures (91 Beyer, 94 Brisnet). He drew the dreaded #1 post just like his Daddy did, although given his running style, that may not be as negative as it sounds.

Conclusion: The race would have to completely fall apart Giacomo-style for him to actually win it, but he is just the type of colt to simply keep coming late while others are backing up and crash the exotics at a huge price, as he figures to drop back early and enjoy a ground-saving trip. In fact, he may be the key to hitting a huge trifecta payout in our mind, and is a must-use on the second and third lines of that structure.

#12 SONNETEER (Midnight Lute/ Half Ours) 50-1

92 Beyer, 314 Tomlinson

Pros: Came home impressively when 4th in the Arkansas Derby last out, posting final fractions of :36.22 and :11.65, good for a Brisnet Late Pace figure of 109. All of those numbers are tops in the field for 9f. He descends from the Mr. Prospector sire line, and is the only runner here with a grandsire to have won this race.

Cons: The giant pink elephant in the room: He’s the only maiden in the field, winless in 10 career starts. A maiden hasn’t won the Derby since 1933. His come home times in the Arkansas Derby may be deceiving as he sat back far off the early pace. The bottom of his pedigree doesn’t appear to point to stamina, and shows a field low Damsire AWD of 6.1, and sire Midnight Lute was a sprinter, which may not be enough to balance it out.

Conclusion:​ Let’s be clear here- a maiden isn’t winning the Kentucky Derby. His closing style gives him a shot to pick up a piece, but we can’t support using him any higher than the last line of the superfecta.

PICKS SUMMARY:

  1. Gunnevera
  2. Irish War Cry
  3. Always Dreaming
  4. Classic Empire
  5. Hence
  6. Lookin At Lee
  7. McCraken
  8. J Boys Echo
  9. Sonneteer
  10. Irap
  11. Practical Joke
  12. Tapwrit
  13. Thunder Snow
  14. Gormley
  15. Girvin
  16. Battle of Midway
  17. Patch
  18. Untrapped
  19. State of Honor
  20. Fast and Accurate

HOW TO BET $100 ON THE KENTUCKY DERBY:

$10 Win, $20 Place- Gunnevera

$20 Place- Irish War Cry

$1 Exacta Box- Gunnevera, Irish War Cry, Always Dreaming, Classic Empire, Hence

$0.50 Trifecta- Gunnevera, Irish War Cry/ Gunnevera, Irish War Cry, Always Dreaming, Classic Empire, Hence, Looking At Lee/ Gunnevera, Irish War Cry, Always Dreaming, Classic Empire, Hence, Looking At Lee, McCraken, J Boys Echo

USE IN MULTI-RACE WAGERS:

Gunnevera, Irish War Cry, Always Dreaming, Classic Empire

 

 

 

 

 

Bracketology

Posted March 12, 2017 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Uncategorized

MIDWEST SOUTH EAST WEST

1

Kansas DUKE VILLANOVA GONZAGA

2

Louisville Baylor North Carolina Arizona

3

Florida State IOWA STATE Ucla KENTUCKY

4

Buter SMU West Virginia Notre Dame

5

MICHIGAN Oregon Purdue Wisconsin

6

Creighton Florida Cincinnati Virginia

7

WITCHITA ST Minnesota Miami Virginia Tech

8

Northwestern Maryland Oklahoma State St. Mary’s

9

Marquette Kansas State Vcu Arkansas

10

Wake Forest Seton Hall South Carolina Usc

11

MIDDLE TENNESSEE Michigan State RHODE ISLAND Xavier/ Illinois State

12

NEVADA UNC WILMINGTON VERMONT Dayton/ Providence

13

BUCKNELL WINTHROP EAST TENNESSEE STATE PRINCETON

14

IONA CSU BAKERSFIELD NEW MEXICO STATE FLORIDA GULF COAST

15

NORTH DAKOTA KENT ST UC DAVIS JACKSONVILLE ST

16

NC CENTRAL/ MY ST MARY’S TEXAS ST/ NEW ORLEANS TEXAS SOUTHERN SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

THE TOP TEN 2016 CUBS POSTSEASON MOMENTS

Posted December 30, 2016 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

#10: Aroldis Chapman Pitches Eight Out Save To Preserve Season With One Run Lead- Game 5, World Series

Much was made of Chapman’s shortcomings in Game 7 and overuse in Game 6, but it’s easy to forget that neither would have happened in the first place if not for his performance in the first of his three elimination game experiences. He was able to escape trouble in the 7th and 8th innings with runners in scoring position, and then took his at bat in the bottom of the 8th before closing out the win in the 9th at home. Considering the lack of any room for error while holding onto life with a 3-2 lead, it was an all-time postseason performance.

#9: Dexter Fowler Leads Off Game With Home Run- Game 7, World Series

In a decisive Game 7 scenario, the Cubs came in riding momentum and needed a spark to keep it going. How about the first lead-off home run in Game 7 history? The Cubs needed it too, and every other run they scored, to force extra innings before eventually winning in the 10th.

#8: Kris Bryant Ties Game With Solo Shot- Game 5, World Series

The Cub bats had gone cold and they were facing elimination in Game 5, trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the 4th. But then MVP Kris Bryant launched a solo shot to tie the game and sparked a three run inning that would be just enough to stay alive for Game 6.

#7: Grandpa Rossy Hits Solo Home Run Off Of Andrew Miller To Extend Lead in Last MLB Game- Game 7, World Series

One of the best things about Game 7, which was probably the single greatest game of any sport I’ve ever witnessed live, was that every single Cub gave a meaningful contribution, and that every inch of it was needed for the win. After a wild pitch bounced off his mask and scored two runs to cut the lead in half the inning prior, David Ross hit an improbable solo shot off of the seemingly invincible Andrew Miller in his final game. Without it, the Cubs lose 6-5 in an absolute heartbreaker.

#6: Javy Baez Delivers Solo Shot in the Bottom of the 8th in Pitcher’s Duel- Game 1, NLDS

There is nothing worse in all of sports than the fact that baseball’s first round of the playoffs is a five game series. It throws an element of unpredictability into the result that is completely illogical in a sport that plays a 162-game regular season, placing an uncommon amount of importance upon the first game of a series relative to other sports. In a pitcher’s duel for the ages, Baez was able to get ahold of one here and give the Cubs an important 1-0 win in a game that may otherwise have never ended.

#5: Cubs Pound Clayton Kershaw Early To Lock Up Pennant At Home- Game 6, NLCS

The Dodgers weren’t going to score on Kyle Hendricks, but it was important that the Cubs gave him a lead early against arguably the greatest pitcher of the young century in Clayton Kershaw. An Anthony Rizzo double and a fortunate outfield mistake set the stage for a 2 run first inning, which would be all the Cubs needed to clinch their first trip to the World Series since 1945, and send the home crowd into a Saturday night frenzy for the ages.

#4: Addison Russell Hits A Grand Slam To Keep Cubs Alive- Game 6, World Series

This was an “icing on the cake” moment if ever there was one. Addison Russell, who had been cold as ice at the plate in the NLDS and NLCS, had begun to heat up in the World Series, but had no greater moment than this one, where he launched what was only the fifth grand slam in World Series history and gave the Cubs an insurmountable 7-0 lead basically assured a Game 7 for the ages.

#3: Miguel Montero Hits Pinch Hit Grand Slam To Break Tie, Win Game- Game 1, NLCS

The first game of the NLCS was a roller coaster of emotions. The Cubs came into the series with their pitching rotation set up better than the Dodgers did by way of clinching their previous series in four games, so it was important not to waste the advantageous matchup of Jon Lester versus rookie Kenta Maeda. Lester did his job and the Cubs led 3-1 going to the 8th, but Adrian Gonzalez crushed our hearts with a game tying single off Aroldis Chapman. In the bottom half of the inning, Maddon had no choice but to pinch hit for Chapman with the bases loaded and two outs, leaving the Cubs vulnerable on the mound should they not score. Miguel Montero then launched a grand slam on an 0-2 slider to give the Cubs plenty of insurance.

#2: Cubs Stage Improbable Comeback in the Top of the 9th- Game 4, NLDS

After jumping out to a commanding 2-0 lead in the NLDS against the Giants, the Cubs appeared to be heading back home for a decisive, nerve wracking Game 5. After losing Game 3, they trailed 5-2 heading into the top of the 9th, a 98% win probability scenario for the Giants. But the never-say-die Cubs pulled off only the second clinching game comeback when down three runs in playoff baseball history. Here’s how it happened:

– Kris Bryant starts the inning with a leadoff single.

– Anthony Rizzo delivers a fantastic at bat, drawing a walk after falling behind in the count, fouling off several pitches.

– Ben Zobrist moves ahead in the count 3-1 against Sergio Romo, and then drives a double down the right field line, scoring Bryant and moving Rizzo to third.

– Manager Joe Maddon outsmarts Bruce Bochy, pinch-hitting the left-handed Chris Coghlan for Addison Russell, who had been cold at the plate in the series. But Maddon likely never had any intention of batting Coghlan- he simply went with a lefty to get Bochy to make a pitching change to a a lefty. As soon as that happened, Maddon immediately burned Coghlan and instead pinch-hit with the red hot rookie righty Wilson Contreras, who promptly singled up the middle to tie the game in the biggest at bat of his life.

– $180 million right fielder Jason Heyward had arguably been the only disappointment of the Cubs’ season, but he was sent to the plate to bunt with no outs and Contreras on first. The bunt he laid down was almost too horrendous to be real, but after forcing Contreras out at second, shortstop Brandon Crawford threw the ball away. This crucial error allowed Heyward to advance to second and put the winning run in scoring position, and also prevented him from being remembered as the worst bunter of all time.

– Javy Baez delivered a hard hit single to score the go-ahead run, his second game-winning hit of the four game series.

– Aroldis Chapman absolutely dominated the Giants, striking out the side in the bottom of the 9th, and the Cubs celebrated a series win in front of a stunned crowd in San Francisco.

#1: Cubs Win World Series In Drama-Filled Extra Inning- Game 7, World Series

The stage was set. Two franchises with a combined 176 years since their last World Series Championship would play a single game to deliver one to a starved fanbase. The Cubs had control early, and even after a 5-1 lead was cut to 5-3, a David Ross provided some insurance. But the goat awoke in the bottom of the 8th. Four outs away from a World Championship and leading by three with Aroldis Chapman on the mound, the Indians were able to tie the game after a pinch hit double from Brandon Guyer and a soul-crushing two run bomb from Rajai Davis. The latter may have been the lowest point of my entire life as a sports fan.

After the Cubs failed to score in the top of the 9th, panic set in, but Chapman was able to shut down the Indians and force extra innings. A rain delay immediately followed, because of course it did- Cubs fans were really going to have to earn it if they wanted to celebrate on this night. Jason Heyward delivered a now legendary locker room speech during the delay because he knew what we all knew: if the Cubs didn’t score in the top of the 10th, they were going to lose the World Series in heartbreaking fashion.

Kyle Schwarber gave the Cubs life, starting off the inning with an important leadoff single to cap a 3-5 performance and cement an incredible comeback story. Pinch-runner Albert Almora was able to advance to second on a nifty piece of base running following a warning track fly out by Kris Bryant. In a puzzling move, manager Terry Francona opted to walk Anthony Rizzo to create a double play opportunity against the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist, who doubled in the go ahead run on a 1-2 count in an incredibly clutch piece of hitting. The move proved costly, as Rizzo scored what would be a crucial insurance run on the ensuing single by Miguel Montero.

It wasn’t going to be that easy though, as even with a two run lead in the bottom of the inning, the Indians didn’t roll over easily. Carl Edwards Jr. was able to retire the first two batters, but a walk and a single later, the Indians had life, bringing the winning run to the plate with a man on first. Luckily for the Cubs, that hitter was Victor Martinez, not one the Indians’ greatest threats, and Mike Montgomery was able to force a softly hit ball down the third base line, which Kris Bryant easily corralled for the win.
The curse was broken. We Are The Champions!

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2016

Posted December 18, 2016 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Tunes

To say that 2016 was a “terrible year” has undeniably become somewhat of a cliche. It’s funny; for me, 2016 was great. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. IU basketball eliminated Kentucky from the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Mondialiste won the Arlington Millon. I reconnected with and gained a Sidekick who lights up my days. I saw Radiohead and Sigur Ros, easily my two favorite living bands, live, within 30 days of one another, with her. Also, Harambe happened.  You get the idea.

Musically, it was also strong, if odd. Traditional rock took a backseat as indie rock’s presence in the spectrum as it pertains to quality continued to become more and more subdued. It was an extraordinarily weak year for electronic music as well. While those genres came up lacking in 2016, rap and R&B stepped authoritatively to the front, and even so, this year might best be remembered from the long overdue albums delivered by classic artists that have been around since the early 90s (Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest) and also those that delivered worthy swan songs just before leaving this world (David Bowie, Leonard Cohen).

I can’t use them all though. Here were my Top 10 Albums of 2016:

#10: Cobalt/ Slow Forever

cobalt  

When asked recently to describe the purpose of Cobalt’s music, I deferred to a good friend whose appreciation for metal far surpasses mine. He responded rather perfectly, “Guttural angst. Rural miasma. A curious expedition into general misanthropy.” Calculated, precise and angular while still maintaining accessibility despite its aggressiveness, Slow Forever marked a revitalized return to form for the two man act complete with new lead singer Charlie Fell, formerly of Lord Mantis. This is black metal on its surface but defies genre in reality, holding a unique niche as a hybrid crossover between that and hard rock. The guitar riffs here are simply so melodic and memorable that they nearly overwhelm the guttural ferocity of the vocals.

The raw energy of the guitar hooks dominate the entirety of the album and are clearly present on the instantly engaging opener “Hunt The Buffalo”, which showcases an almost western edge, but it’s the hidden nuances that give Slow Forever such sharp, interesting edges over the course of an album that could have easily relegated itself to repetitive screaming- the way the sludge-driven coda of the constantly evolving “Elephant Graveyard” cuts off suddenly without warning, the intense, grinding riff of the epic “King Rust”, the tonal contrast of the pure rock hook and atmospheric paranoia on “Cold Breaker.” Like Deafheaven’s Sunbather, which has arguably become the template for the black metal crossover genre, Slow Forever utilizes soft interlude tracks to bring the listener down a bit between waves of intensity. It’s a sequencing technique that works effectively here and keeps the album focused on its music first and foremost rather than devolving into redundancy based purely around screaming vocals, which instead work to provide balance and emotion.

#9: Chance The Rapper/ Coloring Book

chance

The rise of Chance The Rapper from Chicago’s underground rap scene over the past five years has been the stuff of legend, as his unlikely ascension led to a headline gig at the 2015 Pitchfork Music Festival behind the strength of two mixtapes. On his third, Chance delivers an upbeat, if stripped down effort, highly focused in its spirituality to such an extent that it practically plays like a Gospel concept album. Coloring Book starts softly with the tone-setting “All We Get”, but then explodes into the bright summer anthem “No Problem”, which somehow seems to make what would sound from a lot of rap artists like a threat or warning to the music industry instead bounce along with positivity and confidence. Chance’s decision to avoid signing with a label and to base his income strictly upon live performances based on word of mouth has been an unorthodox one, but has worked just fine up to this point, and it’s a rare thing indeed in this day in age for rap as a genre to provide so much collective joy and cheer. Call it soft if you want or find a shoulder to cry on if it suits you, but the spaciousness on tracks like “Summer Friends” and “Same Drugs” truly emote like few rap albums do.

There’s an uncommon amount of patience and nonchalance here, and on first listen, it is fair to wonder when the party action will pick up. But the true brilliance of this collection of songs lies in how well the latter ends up balancing out the former. “All Night” seems like the quintessential party track, short, sweet and compact, while “Angels” sounds more like old Chance with its combination of off-kilter beats and horn elements. “Mixtape” even adds an unsettling vibe of darkness with some help from Young Thug, but the context fits perfectly here as a centerpiece. With Coloring Book, Chance appreciates, doesn’t threaten, and simplifies the backbone of rap itself, and in the process shows how much more it is capable of in what was already a very strong year for the genre. When the praises go up, the blessings come down.

#8 A Tribe Called Quest/ We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

tribe

18 years in the waiting, A Tribe Called Quest delivered their final collection of hip hop, and it resonates as a proper send-off to say the least. Double-sided and checking in at just under an hour over its sixteen tracks, it’s an ambitious effort, reminiscent of Vince Staples’ 2015 album Summertime ’06 in terms of scale. The primary difference is that Tribe has such a strong back catalog to fall back on, and as a result, We Got It From Here comes off sounding more like a triumphant victory lap than anything else. Complete with guest performances from Anderson Paak (who made a great record this year in his own right), Kanye West, Jack White, Talib Kweli and Andre 3000 (whose spitfire exchange with Q-Tip on “Kids” is a standout moment here), the album manages to retain its unique east coast sound on tracks like opener “The Space Program”- sparse, brittle beats and razor sharp rhymes- while still sounding decidedly current and of the moment. Dropping the week after the election, the chorus Q-Tip delivers on highlight track “We The People” sounds almost impossibly fitting: “All you black folks you must go/ All you Mexicans you must go/ And all you poor folks you must go/ Muslims and gays, boy we hate your ways.”

Founding member Phife Dog passed away earlier this year, putting some doubt into longtime fans’ minds in regard to the feasibility of this project coming to fruition, but not to fear, he’s featured prominently here from start to finish, and gets a homage from Busta Rhymes, who chants his name in reggae fashion over the entirety of closer “The Donald.” Busta Rhymes was always closely associated with Tribe’s prior work, and his presence here is an added bonus that doesn’t really feel like a guest appearance. His contributions to near perfect tracks like “Dis Generation” take the record to another level. More melodic tracks like “Enough!” and “Lost Somebody” provide balance and help avoid any chance of hook-less redundancy. While the first half of the second side tends to meander a bit and the record as a whole could arguably have been a few tracks shorter, it’s hard to penalize the group much, as none of it seems overly indulgent. Penultimate track “Ego” might be the single most immediately grabbing moment here, with its ominous bass line that picks up an incredible hook and subtle electric guitar as it bounces along effortlessly. It’s a reflective track lyrically, but it’s also a microcosm of the entire album- these guys have earned the right to have a big ego and to have some fun with their swan song, which hits on serious current topics without ever taking itself too seriously.

#7: Blood Orange/ Freetown Sound

bloodorange

Dev Hynes has had his fair share of memorable singles as Blood Orange, but nothing in his back catalog indicated that anything as complete, ambitious and with as much scope as Freetown Sound was on the horizon. There isn’t a single weak moment over its 17 tracks, and there’s a tonal consistency here thanks to impeccable production that results in an atmospheric and ethereal vibe that is rare for the R&B genre. There’s a whispery quality to Hynes’ vocal delivery that lends an element of intimacy to every song here. To its credit, the soft, soothing nature of this album is balanced effectively by some truly incredible beats. After “By Ourselves” opens the record with some slam poetry, the dark, pumping drum machine of “Augustine” follows, complete with carefully subdued but gorgeous piano lines and plenty of politically charged lyricism, which finds Hynes more reflective and pained than actually angry in regards to the current state of the treatment of African Americans in American society. Centerpiece “E.V.P” is an immediate banger, showcasing the hardest drum line on the record and adding saxaphone, funk elements and synthesizers over its catchiest hook. What makes this such a stunning moment is the juxtaposition of these seemingly sunny musical aspects with such lyrical uncertainty: “Choosing what you live for/ It’s never what you make your life/ How could you know/ If you’re squandering your passion for another?”

Highlight track “But You” probably best demonstrates the overall theme of the album, as Hynes appears to be singing to himself and offering himself encouragement as he grapples with his own self-image and construction- “You are special in your own way.” Tonally, it’s a masterpiece that evokes Michael Jackson’s more reflective, optimistic work, and brings together a devastating, perfectly executed bridge with jabs of electric guitar through its coda. “Hands Up” is a more direct observation of the Trayvon Martin killing than the closing lyric on “Augustine” offers, but musically, it’s the exact opposite of aggressive or combatant, as it glides along effortlessly and mournfully. Female guest vocals power two of the album’s most tender tracks, as Empress Of absolutely soars on “Best To You”, which picks up tempo as it evolves into a steady groove and Hynes begins to trade lines with her; it’s a song about wanting to give love and feeling helpless when that feeling isn’t being reciprocated. And Nelly Furtado shows up on “Hadron Collider”, one of the prettiest tracks here. Freetown Sound touches on so much, combining its small stories and societal observations into a mass collection that eventually adds up to a lot- a dreamlike, seamless mix of melancholy, beauty and hope.

#6: Anderson Paak/ Malibu

apaak

Anderson Paak burst onto the scene this year to such an extent that his third proper full length feels more like a sprawling debut. A concept album loosely-based around a surfing analogy, Malibu plays like a magnum opus of innovative music that straddles the line between rap and R&B in a manner far more personal than anything from artists like Drake or Future. These songs are accessible, yet confident, honest and thought-provoking, thanks in large part to Paak’s admirable vocal command. The breezy, effortless warmth of opener “The Bird” sets the stage immediately, as Paak tells the story of his family background with a soulful vocal delivery that can’t really be described as either singing or rapping, complete with an atmospheric horn and a gorgeous piano line behind it. It’s a truly unique niche that he fills as this isn’t an album that can be categorized by genre, constantly shifting and evolving between musical styles. Insightful tracks (“Look at the time/ My God/ So precious/ Is yours/ Is mine”) like “Am I Wrong” border on straight up club music, complete with more horns through its coda, while “Put Me Thru” evokes soul from a more distant generation, and “Silicon Valley” almost seems to borrow horns from Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” behind its seemingly satirical lyrics and intentionally overpowering vocals. The most complex track on the album is a doubly titled effort; “The Season” begins as a somewhat dark R&B track before shifting suddenly into the swanky, effortless groove of the hip-hop section “Carry Me,” with Paak’s ability to straddle the line between genres with his raspy vocal on full display. There is hardly any way to even reasonably explain the brilliance of the tightly-coiled power of “Come Down”, which packs its triumphant funk vibe into an intense three minutes that we wish would never end (“Cool beans/ Cool beans!”).

The greatest attribute of Malibu, though, may be the way it concludes. The aptly titled penultimate track “Celebrate” could serve well as a closer on an album equally ambitious as this one, as an upbeat bass line meets more major piano keys, creating a song every bit as optimistic, warm and imparting of young wisdom as its title suggests: “It’d be a bad look/ Talkin’ bout what coulda been/ So let’s celebrate/ while we still can”. But it’s really all just a setup for the incredible closer “The Dreamer” and its rolling drum line, which looks at something as dark as poverty as a glass half full situation : “Who cares ya daddy couldn’t be here/ Mama always kept the cable on/ I’m a product of the tube and the free lunch/ Living room, watching old reruns.” It isn’t even remotely easy to make a 16-track album without any clear low point or drag that still sounds this varied, vibrant and consistently melodic. Paak appears poised for even bigger things in the future, and with this record, has created a persona that is very difficult not to love. Listening to this, I have the exact opposite reaction I still have when I listen to To Pimp A Butterfly; Paak’s arms are open, not closed, and his smile feels wide and accepting.

#5: Danny Brown/ Atrocity Exhibition

danny

With his fourth full-length album, Detroit’s Danny Brown takes a detour way off the mainstream map. There may have never been a hip hop album made before that sounds quite like Atrocity Exhibition, an unsettling, menacing and unrelentingly dark collection of introspection. There’s plenty of stylistic variation here but the album never deviates from its steady vibe of internal paranoia and terror. The overwhelming sonic experience provided by tracks like “Ain’t It Funny” and “Golddust” is straight up panic-inducing behind their deep, powerful bass beats; I imagine this is about exactly how it feels right before having a heart attack. In contrast, the raw, spacious, and haunting beats on “Pneumonia” and “Today” make a strong impact due to how chilly and stripped down they are. Confessional opener “Downward Spiral” sets the tone immediately, as Brown amazingly rhymes a word that appears to be the plural of “ghost” with “oh shit” as the track builds in a manner representative of being trapped in a claustrophobic nightmare of his own creation (“I gotta figure it out”), while the brutal “White Lines” finds him in the thralls of a potentially fatal drug overdose. Brown’s unique nasal vocal delivery is among the most recognizable in rap, and it’s easy to forget how unparalleled his flow can be, but we are reminded of that fact as he spits rapid-fire rhyme schemes on the brilliantly tense and apocalyptic “When It Rain”, and the moments where he uses his more baritone speaking voice on tracks like “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” and “From the Ground” add depth and complexity to the record.

If there was a stronger back to back duo of tracks all year than the high-powered, rock-driven bass line of “Rolling Stone” and ultimate posse track “Really Doe”, I’m not sure what it was. The latter stands out especially, as Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul lend verses behind a horrifying bell chime loop. Only “Dance In The Water” seems truly out of place here, with its ramped up and somewhat overdone rave beats, but we’ll allow for a small misstep, especially since the album concludes as powerfully as it does. The soothing and melodic penultimate track “Get Hi” is as peaceful as it is depressing, as Brown seems to be simultaneously lamenting and justifying drug dependence through its devastating hook: “Say ya had a bad day/ Want the stress to go away/ Just rollup/ Take the pain away/ And get high.” “Hell For It” is the perfect closer, as Brown takes the intensity to another level, which is saying a lot on this album. There’s such anger and fear evident here, especially as his voice constantly evolves from his usual nasal tone into a more threatening sounding baritone on the back end of the beat. (Not even Iggy is safe). As great as his last album Old was, it’s easy to make the argument that the best three or four moments here are better than anything on that record. Its rare focus and consistent tone renders this is the strongest hip hop album of the year, and 2016 provided many rap highlights.

#4: Avalanches/ Wildflower

avalanches

Sixteen years in the making, the long-awaited follow-up to The Avalanches’ legendary Since I Left You is impressively varied and substantial, and is as worthy a follow-up effort as could have been reasonably expected over such a timespan. While still heavily dependent on sampling, the primary difference lies in the amount of guest appearances present on Wildflower. There’s the obvious appearance of Danny Brown and MF Doom complete with a carnival beat on highlight track “Frankie Sinatra”, where the calypso sample from Australian artist Robbie Chater perfectly balances the line between being kooky and brilliant, in the same way that classic Avalanches tracks like “Frontier Psychiatrist” did, complete with elements of electro-swing that make it a repeatedly fun and addictive listen. Brown shows up again on the dreamy “The Wozard of Iz”, but Wildflower also features contributions from Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue on psychedelic tracks like “Colours”, “Harmony” and “Kaleidoscopic Lovers”, while Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick lends a sunny, ethereal vocal element to the steady “If I Was A Folkstar.” Even Biz Markie drops by to help out with the impossibly silly “The Noisy Eater.”

Opening track “Because I’m Me” evokes memories of the title track from their debut, with its nostalgic, self-affirming female vocal that glides along a triumphant beat. There’s so much mood and feel here, from the glimmering sweetness of “Sunshine” to the bouncing groove of “Subways” and the bittersweet optimism of the gorgeous penultimate track “Stepkids.”There’s a certain wistfulness that permeates all of The Avalanches’ music, and it’s perfectly captured by the joyful closer “Saturday Night Inside Out”, complete with guest appearances from Father John Misty providing backing vocals on the chorus and David Berman reading a spoken word poem. Making music out of samples is time-consuming, as it requires as much listening as it does creativity and meticulous application, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we’ve had to wait so long to hear music as unilaterally unique as this is. (There aren’t any Avalanches imitators out there). What might be a surprise after all this time though, is that the delivery is again so well executed and so worth the wait. Wildflower retains that same consistent, unmistakable sound that is decidedly Avalanches, yet still also carries with it a certain timeliness, and a modernized air.

#3: ANOHNI/ Hopelessness

anohni

If you’ve ever wondered what an electronic album from Antony and The Johnsons would sound like, you now have your answer. ANOHNI is the post-transition moniker of the artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty, and this effort far surpasses anything previously put to record in what was formerly a more baroque pop style. Hopelessness flips any notion of reliance upon some past formula completely on its back, and it’s a powerful statement, both musically and politically. ANOHNI’s other-worldly voice absolutely soars on standout track “4 Degrees”, and has there ever been a song about the impending apocalypse that sounds this beautiful? It’s clearly a sarcastic commentary on global warming, as the artist attempts to convince us that if we are going to continue to destroy the planet, we should do so because we want to-“I wanna see this world, I wanna see it boil.” It all builds behind a percussion sample that sounds as though it has been fired out of a cannon, picking up horns and violin that cascade upon themselves through the coda. Elsewhere, there’s more politically charged lyricism on tracks like “Drone Bomb Me”, a dark, suicidal cry from the perspective of a young child who has lost her family in a drone attack, and “Execution”, which takes a hard look at American foreign policy decisions behind its steady synth beat. The chilling “I Don’t Love You Anymore” uses an echoed, fuzzy bass beat with an off-kilter time signature behind a subtle, gorgeous church organ as listeners are forced to confront the stunning, transition-confirming line “You left me/ for ANOTHER girl.” No one is off the hook here, as “Obama” investigates the disappointment felt now by many relative to the naive expectation of “hope and change” eight years ago over music that resembles a Gregorian chant.

A surveillance analogy, “Watch Me” is the most melodic and intimate moment here, among one of the very best, as dark but soothing beats glide behind the addictive “Daddy” chorus line, while centerpiece “Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth” arguably delivers the single most incredible vocal performance on the record. While it hits hard, nothing comes off as finger-pointing or preachy here. In fact, tracks like the devastating “Crisis”, which again touches on drone bombing, find ANOHNI grappling with personal culpability and asking the listener to do the same over its apologetic chorus. Closer “Marrow” is such a soft, restrained letdown with its gorgeous but understated piano lines. A bracing indictment of society combined with a new sound altogether from what was once a familiar artist, Hopelessness is the embodiment of a new identity.

#2: Bon Iver/ 22, A Million

boniver

In 2011, Bon Iver released their impeccably produced self-titled album, which at the time of this writing, is still easily in the Top 3 best albums of the decade. Given that, it’s no surprise that this release stood as one of the most highly anticipated of the year. While it doesn’t quite match the greatness of its predecessor, the band should be commended for simply conceding its own inability to top it, and instead doesn’t even try. Everything about 22, A Million, from the bizarre, Aphex Twin-esque song titles to the sequencing and composition, demonstrates the undertaking of a new direction entirely, and it’s a far less accessible one. There’s an ambient quality to this record, with its crackling, glitchy synths, echoed percussion loops and vocal processing, that makes it sound even more stripped down than either Bon Iver or For Emma, Forever Ago did, which is an interesting observation considering those were both composed of primarily acoustic songs, while these lend more toward the electronic variety. The auto-tuned vocal manipulation on “715- Creeks” is so prominent it sounds almost like it could have been lifted from 808s and Heartbreak, ironic since Kanye West has noted that lead singer and mastermind Justin Vernon is his favorite living artist. “10 Deathbreast” opens with unorthodox, chaotic electronic drums that pick up complex horns and lifted vocal samples through its powerful crescendo. But this level of experimentation isn’t for everyone, to say the least of those fans hoping for more of the same after five years of patiently waiting. To that end, the band doesn’t completely divert from its lifeblood, and it’s the highlight “8 (Circle)” that is most reminiscent of their immediately prior work, and again, that’s a very good thing. Straightforward but bursting from the seams with emotion and melody behind impeccable production and its gorgeous synthesized horn, it’s a reminder that sometimes what isn’t broken doesn’t need fixing. The ballad “29 Strafford APTS” isn’t a notable diversion either, with its pretty acoustic guitar plucks, subtle violin string orchestration, and of course Vernon’s unmistakable falsetto. “666” combines a bit of the old with the new, as a gorgeous melody combines with synthesized trumpet and a commanding drum backbone.

But what makes 22, A Million such an exciting record are indeed the moments where the band takes risks and succeeds. “33 God” opens with what sounds like a typical piano line, but evolves quickly and astonishingly over its three minutes, revealing stunning complexity as it explodes into buzzing synth, ethereal howls and thunderous drumming. Opener “22 (Over Soon”) begins with a shot of sharp synth before Vernon’s heavily processed voice alternates stanzas with his regular one. It’s an atmospheric, spacious track that examines finality, picking up subtle horns before it suddenly cuts off without warning, an analogy for the question/ reality it raises and obsesses over in the first place. Still, what prevents this album from completely living up to its admittedly sky-high expectations are moments where the focus seems to meander and flatten out on tracks like “21 Moon Water” and “_45_.” Those tracks water down the back half a bit, but aren’t enough to undo the overall impressiveness or cohesion present here, especially as closer “00000 Million” ends it on such a strong note. Melancholic piano carries Vernon’s aching vocal in a manner that is straightforward but heart-wrenching, as the album ends with the somber resignation “If it’s harmed, it harmed me/ It’ll harm me, I let it in.” In a way, the ultimate direction and result of 22, A Million is reminiscent of Kid A, in that a band seemed either bored or unwilling to revert back to some pre-determined formula or expectation, and was more intrigued by looking forward rather than backward while playing by its own rules.

#1: Radiohead/ A Moon Shaped Pool

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Radiohead has arguably been the single most important band to the musical spectrum in terms of contribution over the course of my 37 years of life. In fact, can you think of another band in history with a reasonable argument to have made the single greatest album of three different decades? Their previous eight studio albums spanned eighteen years and covered an incredible breadth of musical ground, beginning with the rock-driven Pablo Honey and The Bends, evolving into the musical personification of perfection that is OK Computer, and then veering off course to set the stage for the change to come in the new century with the more electronic and experimental albums Kid A and Amnesiac. In Rainbows was a serious return to form in between the more scattered offerings found on Hail To The Thief and The King of Limbs, but over the course of time, Radiohead has provided something for everyone. Personally, while I appreciate and adore all of it, I’ve always been more drawn to the beauty of their work than the power of it. Softer, more nuanced tracks like “Street Spirit”, “The Tourist”, “How To Disappear Completely” “Exit Music” and “Pyramid Song” are to me, the band at their very best. Given that tonal preference, with A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead has delivered exactly the kind of album that I had always hoped they would make. These songs are rich, beautiful and emotional in a manner above and beyond what the band has ever put all in one place previously.

Opener “Burn The Witch” is a politically charged number that serves as somewhat of a red herring. It’s surely a highlight, but isn’t indicative at all of what the rest of the album sounds like, either musically or lyrically. The melody is ominous but pretty, and as Radiohead has never made a song with this type of staccato string instrumentation, it’s an immediately engaging listen. The driving synth buzz is as chaotic as the album gets however, and Thom Yorke’s high falsetto wails are the star of the show. Last year, Yorke split with his longtime partner of 23 years (Rachel Owen) in an “amicable” fashion, but everything that comes the after the first track has a sense of heartbreak, pain and sadness that adds a measure of relatable beauty. “Daydreaming” delivers a gorgeous, repetitive piano line beneath some of the most hopeless lyrics he has ever written; this is the true tone-setter, as lyrics like “It’s too late/ The damage is done” seem to simply surrender to loss. But While A Moon Shaped Pool is much too complex to be categorized as a “break-up” album per se, it is highly evident through his songwriting that the toll the separation took on Yorke was immense. “Present Tense” is arguably the most honest, emasculating song he has ever written. The absence of any other instrumentation during its lush, engaging opening guitar line lends focus to his gutwrenching plight. The closing line “In you I’m lost” sounds so defeated that it actually turns uplifting and optimistic somehow.

“Decks Dark” is an early standout and grabber, as the amazing piano riff that starts the song is reminiscent of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, but also showcases a subtly dark beauty as a lifted choral element enters over the bassline. A sense of doom builds as Yorke repeats “Just a lie” over and over again; any time he sings at this sans-falsetto pitch level for an extended period of time, it just sounds like he’s talking and it conveys hopelessness and fear, reminiscent of previous closers like “Wolf At The Door.” The complete shift into a breakdown groove complete with echoey percussion blasts through the coda adds an unexpected and layered contrast, and it’s one of the most complex songs they’ve ever put to record- drummer Phil Selway gets extra credit on this one for his contribution. “Ful Stop” holds a unique spot on the album as it’s basically the only track that could possibly be described as up-tempo, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to dance to it. There’s nothing in the band’s catalog that compares to that synthesized horn that carries the first minute and a half, and I’d argue it’s the single most ominous sound the band has ever created. After that, there’s a shift in tempo that is highly reminiscent of “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”, as few other songs have demonstrated such propulsion in combination with such ethereality. The coda comes together in a lush manner similar to how “Arpeggi” made you feel like you were literally underwater drowning with weird fishes. Even in moving forward, Radiohead has not forgotten to draw upon what has gotten them here.

There is a lot to enjoy here even on less immediate and more challenging tracks. “Identikit” turns anthemic after its punchy riff, intermittent synth jabs and choral interjections, as Yorke wails, “Broken hearts! Make it rain!”, while the steady, melodic groove of “The Numbers” adds warmth and depth, and the stripped down orchestration of “Glass Eyes” and raw acoustic flavor of “Desert Island Disk” contribute to the tonal beauty that permeates this album. Perhaps the most rewarding element though requires patience, as closer “True Love Waits” was actually, FINALLY given the official, committed-to-album recording that it always deserved. The band did so by stripping the song of its acoustic guitars and instead revitalizing and freshening it with hypnotic, haunting pianos. What remains is a slower, emotionally darker, more lyrically powerful ballad than existed before. It’s the perfect closer, greatest song and most welcome surprise on the year’s best album, thankfully still containing one of my favorite Radiohead lyrics of all: “I’m not living/ I’m just killing time.” Leave it to Radiohead to take a song they’ve been playing for 20 years, change its primary instrument entirely, remove a chord, slow it down to a virtual halt…and in the process create a piece of music that perfectly ties together, both thematically and musically, a collection of other pieces with far more recency. That, my friends, is true genius.