Archive for August 2017

Napa and Sonoma Wine Tasting Recap

August 17, 2017

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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

August 11, 2017

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)