Thursday, August 27, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: The Travers

American Pharoah is a horse of a lifetime. While I celebrate and appreciate his historic run and thus, his ease at dismantling horses in the three-year-old division, I do not bet 1-5 shots, on principle alone.

If you feel compelled to bet at such low odds, you may wish to stop reading now, as I may anger you as an American Pharoah fan. My task, an important and worthy one, is finding an alternative to getting 20 cents on a wagering dollar. Yeah, I know 20 percent is a fabulous return if we were betting the stock market, but we’re not, so it’s not – at least for me.

Sure you can kid yourself into mastering a Pick 4 sequence singling American Pharoah, tossing in some long shots along with a few logical choices in the three races preceding the Travers Stakes hoping for an even better return, turning 1-5 into 3-1, but don’t come crying to me when your $72 investment returns $45. Nine years ago, Bernardini’s Travers win at 2-5 got you $14.50 for a 50-cent Pick 4 wager. No thanks.

If you really love American Pharoah, as a fan and want him to carry on his winning ways, do yourself a favor and just watch. Better to simply root the son of Pioneerof the Nile home with nothing left to chance except for continued excellence.  But, and this is a big but, if American Pharoah regresses at all, doesn’t like the Saratoga dirt, God-forbid takes a misstep or simply has a bad day, you’d be in for a decent score to bet against.

Of course I’m not talking about a $100 win-bet on someone else, but I would consider at least one other horse to use in multi-race exotics in the win position and even a vertical play including American Pharoah underneath. I’m fashioning a Pick 4 without the big horse. A short play for sure, less than $50, but if I’m right at getting the first three winners home and Pharoah falters, then I could get as high as 25-1 on my bet, meaning $1,250 back.

Of course I am setting myself up for ridicule and some Twitter taunting, if as scheduled, American Pharoah romps home a furlong in front under jockey, Victor Espinosa. Nothing ventured, nothing gained or as I also like to say, “God hates a coward.”

I won’t bore you with heavy-duty analysis here, just a few quick quips disqualifying all but one betting choice to take down The King.

#1 Upstart – hard to back a horse losing by 60 lengths in the Kentucky Derby and his return race left something to be desired in the Haskell. Nice horse, but not nice enough to win here.

#2 American Pharoah – Triple Crown champ dominated in his Jersey Shore return and only a bad day keeps him from the chalk-outlined, Travers winner’s circle.

#3 Mid Ocean – gets $45,000 if he finishes eighth, only having to beat two others, so why not enter him? Helps pay the bills for a while…

#5 Frammento – will not get trainer Nick Zito off the Saratoga snide unless he enters him in a non-winners of one allowance instead, probably where this son of Midshipman belongs.

#6 Frosted – had his chance to track down the Champ in Belmont stretch and came up woefully short while finishing second. No disgrace there, but I don’t see a change of placings here, although I think he’s most likely to finish second. Don’t try to extrapolate the logic from the prior statement; it holds none.

#7 Keen Ice – trainer Dale Romans bubbles with optimism with this horse and does get Javier Castellano to ride…still not enough.

#8 Tale of Verve – see Frammento for where he should be racing…

#9 King of New York – simply the wrong stage to run this son of Street Boss at, but who am I to say? Fifth through eighth gets paid, much better than a $100,000 listed stakes, so there’ that.

#10 Smart Transition – trainer John Sheriffs only runs a few he likes at Saratoga and this son of Smart Strike won the Curlin Stakes last out which proved a good prep for last year’s Travers winner, V.E. Day. A strong showing puts him somewhere from second to fourth.

#4 Texas Red – The talented Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ is the only horse I see winning the Travers with an A-plus effort and anything but from American Pharoah. He won more easily than his ½-length over Frosted indicated in the Jim Dandy when Kent Desmormeaux hot-dogged his ride in the final strides. Something tells me there’s a lot more in the tank for Saturday’s big race, and trainer Keith Desormeaux has spotted his runners well at the Spa. You’re going to get decent odds in the vicinity of 5-1 to 10-1, and he’ll pay double that in the Pick 4 with so many players singling American Pharoah.

A brief look at the other three races that compromise the $1million dollar guaranteed Pick 4 pool.

Race 8: #3 Competitive Edge because you have to take the fastest horse, #2 Grand Bili since horses from Gulfstream have outpaced others that have shipped in, #7 Holy Boss will have the best trip that matches his running style, and #4 Watershed because I find it hard to dismiss a horse Kiaran McLaughlin sends into a Grade 1 stakes off a strong maiden win.

Race 9: #1 Race Day on the cut back and excuse in last, #7 Private Zone because he’ll courageously lead them around the track and likely win if no one challenges him and #5 The Big Beast loves the Spa

Race 10: #2 Flintshire, they didn’t bring him here for nothing, #5 Twilight Eclipse always seems to have a shot, #8 War Dancer should be able to lull the field to sleep if he’s given the front end, #4 Red Rifle will probably not be favored off a good looking stakes win in last and #6 Messi exits off back-to-back stateside wins.

2-3-4-7/1-5-7/2-4-5-6-8/4 - $30 to take a shot against a 1-5 favorite is a reasonable risk-reward scenario for me. Good luck in however you wager! 

Monday, August 24, 2015

What a week in racing for fans , especially at Saratoga. American Pharoah is coming to the Travers Stakes on 8/29/15 to take on some of the horse he has previously beat, but now a little more mature. That could make the difference in the outcome of the race. Horses develop at different paces. So lurking in the field may be a growing boy ready to run like a man again Pharoah.

The day after the Travers, Sunday, August 30th, the New York State Racing Fan Advisory Council will hold its annual "Fan Forum at Saratoga". It starts promptly at 11:30, however get there before to get a seat. The event will be held in the Upper Carousel and opens by 11:00 a.m. Members of the Council will be there to listen to what you think is right or wrong about racing across New York States. Too often fans complain to media and our friends, but not to the people who can affect change in New York. The Council is such entity .

Fan Forum on August 30th at Saratoga

The New York State Racing Fan Advisory Council will host a Fan Forum on August 30th at 11:30 a.m. with doors open at 11:00 a.m. A large crowd is expected so get there early to get a seat and chat with Council members. Tom Durkin with host the event.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Pacific Classic

By Rob Fundter, aka. Amateurcapper

The 25th running of the TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar marks the first time since 2006 that the marquee race of the meeting has been run on dirt.  The inaugural edition in 1991 was won by Best Pal for California owners/breeders John and Betty Mabee’s Golden Eagle Farm, trained by Gary Jones and ridden by Patrick Valenzuela.  Prior to his passing, the race could have been renamed for trainer Bobby Frankel who won the race six times including back-to-back runnings with TINNER’S WAY, a son of SECRETARIAT, and Juddmonte Farms’ SKIMMING. 

The 1996 edition of the Pacific Classic is also remembered as the great CIGAR’s waterloo.  Longshot DARE AND GO took advantage of a hot pace and prevented CIGAR from tying CITATION’s 16 straight wins.  Important sire CANDY RIDE stayed undefeated winning the 2003 renewal in 1:59.11 setting a stakes and track record time; he was guided by Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone who became the first female jockey to win a race with a $1 million purse. The Pacific Classic was the final race of CANDY RIDE’s career. 

Enough history, let’s get to it.

CANDY RIDE provides the perfect segue to the 2015 running of the Pacific Classic as his son, Eastern shipper RED VINE, makes a bid for the first graded stakes win of his career.  Trained by Christophe Clement and ridden by Joel Rosario, RED VINE appears to be a live longshot.  He will have to contend with local graded stakes winners including Champion female thoroughbred BEHOLDER, her stable mate 2x G.2 winner and G.1 placed CATCH A FLIGHT, G.1 Gold Cup upsetter HARD ACES, Bob Baffert’s pair of G.1 Breeders’ Cup Classic and Haskell Invitational winner BAYERN and G.1 Clark H. and multiple G.2 winner HOPPERTUNITY.  Despite the absences of Triple Crown winner AMERICAN PHAROAH, Champion SHARED BELIEF, and Champion CALIFORNIA CHROME, Del Mar has assembled a fantastic field. 

Discussion of the Pacific Classic begins with BEHOLDER, a two time Champion and one of the best female race horses of all time.  A winner of 13 races, of those seven were G.1’s including the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, in 18 lifetime starts.  Two of her three runner-up efforts were in G.1 races:  the 2012 Del Mar Debutante and the 2013 Kentucky Oaks. 

The Pacific Classic marks her first try against males.  Aside from her BC Distaff BRIS rating of 112, her ratings are no better than most of the other graded stakes winners.  She’s won her last three starts like taking a walk in the park, earning comments like “handily” and “ridden out” which suggests there’s much more in her tank.  However, she’ll be tracking a fast pace set/pressed by BAYERN and MIDNIGHT STORM who are much faster than pacesetters she’s faced since finishing 4th to CLOSE HATCHES in the G.1 Ogden Phipps last summer.  Traveling 1/8 mile farther than she’s ever run, against a strong pace, and against the strongest group of runners the morning line favorite is a short price to question.

To consider a mare of her quality on top, she’d have to demonstrate a quality that is superior to the others entered today, front speed like RACHEL ALEXANDER possessed or the closing ability of ZENYATTA. While BEHOLDER has been great against her own sex, today she’ll feel the weight of racing against mature male race horses who run faster through the entirety of a race than YAHILWA, WARREN’S VENEDA, UZZIEL, or IOTAPA can.  Drawn outside she’ll avoid contact, but she could suffer ground loss around the turns from post 9 which will use energy needed to run hard at a classic distance.

BAYERN is one of two G.1 winners at 1 ¼ miles (the other is HARD ACES) but he found Del Mar’s dirt testing last out in the G.2 San Diego.  Sent off the 7-5 favorite and staked to an easy opening ¼ mile split (:24), sprinter/miler APPEALING TALE pressed outside of him and inched away but settled for second in a photo to CATCH A FLIGHT with BAYERN 1 ¼ lengths back in 3rd.  That runner is cutting back to one turn for the G.1 Pat O’Brien on the undercard. BAYERN must contend with MIDNIGHT STORM to his outside, a former G.2 Del Mar Derby winner in wire-to-wire fashion.  He should put the turf speed away, but traveling 1 ½ furlongs farther than he did in a tiring San Diego H. effort, BAYERN may be vulnerable to BEHOLDER and more in the final furlong.

HOPPERTUNITY appears the best suited to take advantage of tiring pace setters and pressers.  A G.1 winning closer, the son of ANY GIVEN SATURDAY was a fast-finishing 4th in the G.2 San Diego last out following a nose defeat to rail skimming HARD ACES in the G.1 Gold Cup after suffering a horrendously wide trip.  The San Diego was clearly a prep for the Pacific Classic and the last :59 4/5 work suggests he’s primed for his best effort.  HOPPERTUNITY is reunited with Martin Garcia who rides him best.  His best BRIS rating of 104 is better than the second-best figure on BEHOLDER’s PP’s.

RED VINE is an interesting longshot.  By former Pacific Classic winner CANDY RIDE as noted above, he found the speed-favoring Monmouth dirt and speedy BRADESTER too much but finished with great energy for second in the G.3 Salvator Mile.  Clement does not ship horses to California for fun…he’s always live.  That he lured Rosario away from New York for this is a definite eye brow raiser.  RED VINE’s BRIS ratings this year, 106-107-104 are all better than the numbers the field has run in 2015.  You’ll get a ground-saving trip, a top jockey, and a potentially double digit odds if you like this 5y.o. horse.

CATCH A FLIGHT is accomplished and will make his presence felt during the race, but the 1 ¼ miles seems too far.  He was life and death to win the G.2 San Diego and G.2 Californian with a tiring third in the G.1 Gold Cup between them.  His late pace of 79 in the Gold Cup gives major pause to his chances against this field.  Earlier in the year he finished with a late pace of 88 when outrun by SHARED BELIEF and CALIFORNIA CHROME. Gary Stevens chose the hickory mare over this 5y.o., enough said.

HARD ACES has eclipsed the 100 BRIS rating just once and not in Southern California.  He got a perfect trip against a fast pace to just last by a nose vs. HOPPERTUNITY in the G.1 Gold Cup but was four lengths behind  CATCH A FLIGHT two back in the G.2 Californian.  He’s clearly a cut below the top runners requiring a meltdown and subpar efforts from the favorites to make the exacta.

MIDNIGHT STORM will be a thorn in the side of BAYERN and is the absolute key to the race and this analysis.  If he doesn’t break or Tyler Baze takes back like he did last out, BAYERN and BEHOLDER become double tough.  By PIONEEROF THE NILE, he’s got some genes to suggest he could win at 10f but he needed a slow early pace to win the G.2 Del Mar Derby last year.

IMPERATIVE gets fantastic Corey Nakatani’s experience but he’s been a cut below the best.  A minor award will come only if top horses don’t fire.

CLASS LEADER and BAILOUTBOBBY are longshots with little chance to make an impression in this G.1 race.

I’ll “Dutch” HOPPERTUNITY and RED VINE to win, with a little more on the lower odds Baffert closer, hoping to catch a nice profit while the world stares at Richard Mandella’s pair of BEHOLDER and CATCH A FLIGHT along with “name” runner BAYERN.

Good luck and enjoy the racing around the world!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Del Mar Oaks

By Valerie Grash, Foolish Pleasure

With turf racing’s focus firmly on Arlington Park this weekend (where three Grade 1 events including the Secretariat, Beverly D and Arlington Million will be contested), 3-year-old turf fillies are showcased on the West Coast with the 1-1/8 miles (9 furlongs) Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. Winners in recent years include Canadian Horse of the Year Arravale, as well as talented fillies Rutherienne, Magical Fantasy, Evening Jewel, Lady of Shamrock, and Discreet Marq. Let’s break down the field by post position:

#1 Majestic Heat
(Unusual Heat, out of Ole mare Chi Chi Nette)  Barry Abrams/Corey Nakatani

A 1-1/16 miles turf allowance optional claiming winner just six days ago, this nicely-bred but lightly-raced filly is jumping into the deep end here, her first attempt at stakes company. A full-sister to Grade 1-placed sprinter Mensa Heat, Majestic Heat has only four lifetime races under her belt, and this will be her fourth race in less than 30 days. There’s no Spanish Queen in this race, but the others entered have certainly proven themselves more capable than this youngster. Racing for an exotics placing only—and even that seems unlikely.

#2 Paulina’s Love
(Mizzen Mast, out of Spinning World mare Electric Cove)  Richard Baltas/Tyler Baze

Interestingly, this Louisiana-bred filly has raced entirely in California. She very nearly broke her maiden going 1-mile over Del Mar’s turf course last November, but her connections threw her to the wolves by entering her in the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante off that effort—the still-maiden juvenile filly finished tenth of 11 starters. Shipped back to Santa Anita, it took four more tries before she finally found her way into the winner’s circle. However, one of those failed attempts was a sharp close-up third-place finish going 9 furlongs on turf. After two 1-mile turf victories (a maiden special weight and an allowance race) she was a game third behind Prize Exhibit and Sunset Glow in the 1-mile Grade 2 San Clemente last-out. Can she turn the tables on those two more favored rivals? Based on her most recent workout, I’d say she’s a strong longshot play. Her dam raced only twice, both in France at age 3; she won both of those contests, including her final start going 9 furlongs.

#3 Rattataptap
(Tapit, out of Broken Vow mare Sindy With an S)  Philip D’Amato/Mike Smith

Most of her limited success has come sprinting, but last-out she finished a promising fourth, just 3-3/4 lengths back of Prize Exhibit in the 1-mile Grade 3 Senorita on turf. Yes, she’s out of red-hot sire Tapit, but her Grade 3-winning dam was clearly a sprinter. That said, Rattataptap’s full brother I’ll Wrap It Up did finish a game second in last year’s 1-1/16 mile Grade 3 La Jolla on turf…a nice factoid, but probably not enough evidence to support her upset chances these, even with the talented Mike Smith aboard.

#4 Sharla Rae
(Afleet Alex, out of Gold Fever mare Jinny’s Gold)  Doug O’Neill/James Graham

A narrow runner-up behind Spanish Queen (and nearly six lengths ahead of fellow Oaks competitor Prize Exhibit) in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Honeymoon, this filly weakened in the final furlong of the 1-1/4 mile Grade 1 American Oaks to finish out of the money. Shipped to the East Coast, she finished mid-pack after making a nice late-run in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational behind Lady Eli (among others). Cutting back in distance here is a big advantage, so don’t be surprised if this filly springs a huge upset, especially given her razor-sharp workout leading into this race.

#5 Her Emmynency
(Successful Appeal, out of Joyeux Danseur mare Chic Dancer)  Michael Stidham /Rafael Bejarano

This filly finished just a neck behind fellow Oaks entrant Sunset Glow over Del Mar’s former all-weather track in last year’s 7-furlong Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante. She followed up that performance with an emphatic victory in the 1-mile listed Surfer Girl over Santa Anita’s turf course. After more than eight months away from the track, she began her 2015 campaign with an off-the-turf allowance win at Arlington before a disappointing last-place finish in the Grade 2 San Clemente. Let’s just hope that last effort was an anomaly rather than a sign of declining form. Her dam won the 9.5 furlong Grade 3 Modesty, so stamina should not be an issue. Her second dam is half-sister to 6-time Grade 1 winner and Hall of Fame inductee Best Pal.

#6 Prize Exhibit
(Showcasing, out of Inchinor mare Roodeye)  James Cassidy/Santiago Gonzalez

Rightly made the morning line favorite, this well-tried filly will be making her 16th lifetime start. Her first eight starts were in England, including a close third-place finish in a Group 3 event at Newmarket. Her first American start: a fourth-place finish behind Lady Eli and Sunset Glow in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Her first start of 2015 came at today’s 9-furlong distance, an unlucky, late-closing fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Providencia. Her second start, in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Honeymoon, also resulted in a problematic fourth-place finish behind razor-sharp Spanish Queen. An ill-advised jaunt to Penn National resulted in a disappointing out of the placing in the too-short 1-mile listed Penn Oaks. Back in California, she came blazing late to win the 1-mile Grade 3 Senorita and, most recently, defeated Sunset Glow in the 1-mile Grade 2 San Clemente at Del Mar. That “home field advantage”, along with her late-running style and 9-furlong experience makes her an appealing and logical choice.

#7 Zipessa
(City Zip, out of Horse Chestnut mare Precious Princess)  Michael Stidham/Flavien Prat

With only two lifetime races to her name, including a definitive allowance win over a field that included fellow Oaks entrant Majestic Heat on July 17, this filly too appears a bit overmatched. However, she was made a 4-1 co-third choice in the morning line (with stablemate Her Emmynency) based on that victory. Her dam did finish third in the 10-furlong Omnibus Stakes at Monmouth, but it should be noted that race, originally scheduled for turf, ended up on a sloppy track and, after seven other mares scratched, it was a 3-horse race—and she ended up 15-1/4 lengths back of the winner. To me, that’s not enough to signify clear turf stamina on her damside so this distance may be problematic for Zipessa.

#8 Sunset Glow
(Exchange Rate, out of Dynaformer mare Perfectforthepart)  Wesley Ward/Gary Stevens

The sole Grade 1 winner in this race, she won both the 6.5-furlong Grade 2 Sorrento and the 7-furlong Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante last year before finishing a respectable runner-up behind Lady Eli in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Her 2015 debut was a late-yielding third behind Lady Eli and Miss Temple City in the 1-mile Grade 3 Appalachian at Keeneland, followed by runner-up finishes in the 7-furlong non-graded Wait a While at Belmont and the 1-mile Grade 2 San Clemente (behind fellow Oaks contestant Prize Exhibit). Can she stretch out to 9 furlongs? Her breeding suggests it’s a strong possibility, but she’ll have to outrace Prize Exhibit who has twice already contested the 9-furlong distance.


Trifecta box (4, 6, 8): Sharla Rae, Prize Exhibit, Sunset Glow

Longshot flyer (2): Pauline’s Love

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Arlington Million

“Thirteen to Test Arlington Turf in the Million”

by Paul Mazur of ChicagoNow 

For one week a year, the beleaguered Illinois Racing circuit puts aside its struggles and anguishes and gets down on one of the best parties - and race days -  of the year.  That same circuit becomes the epicenter of the racing world when it's Arlington Million week.  The race drew a bumper field of thirteen.  The Arlington Million became an instant classic when John Henry bested The Bart by an inch in the first running in 1981 before a packed grandstand and eventual statue.  The Million's ten furlong trip makes it a convergent race for the mile category and the longer turf races.  In fact, the winner of this race gets a trip to the Breeders' Cup Turf.  Little Mike (2012) turned the double of winning the Breeders' Cup Turf after winning the Arlington Million.  Steinlen (1989) did a similar double - Mile and instead of Turf in the fall.

Chicago-based WGN-TV will televise the Arlington Million as part of a one-hour live telecast airing from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm CT. Such program can be also seen through WGN's live free stream. Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will be broadcasting live from Arlington on Million Day from 3:30 p.m.  to 6:00 p.m. CT.  This broadcast will include coverage of the Secretariat (GI), the Beverly D (GI), and the Arlington Million (GI) from Arlington, as well as the Adirondack (GII) and the Fourstardave (GII) from Saratoga.  Coverage can be heard on Sirius 92, as well as streaming on the HRRN website.

All races are scheduled for Saturday August 15. Selections are "turf only". At publish time the rail will be set to 62 feet from zero.

Arlington International -- Race 10 -- G1 Arlington Million -- One and one-quarter miles on turf -- post time 5:48 p.m. CT

When speaking with Richard Papiese, one half of the Midwest Thoroughbreds charge that sends out THE PIZZA MAN at Wednesday's Arlington Million draw, Papiese dipped into the hackneyed book of horse racing idioms by saying he wouldn't want to trade places with anyone.  But he feels the same strong feeling here that he got with Work All Week in the fall.  All that happened last fall was Work All Week won the Breeders' Cup Sprint.  But while heebie-jeebies is not an accepted form of handicapping rigor, what is accepted are other things like third off the layoff.  THE PIZZA MAN goes third off the layoff after starting his 2015 in a salty listed mile category stakes at Churchill.  He defended his Stars and Stripes title last month in a soft-paced G3 event on Million Preview Day.  Now he goes to ten furlongs.  While it's a strange pattern on the surface, this is what the connections want and this is the same path Hardest Core took to Arlington Million glory.  This is THE PIZZA MAN's home turf, as he won last year's Stars & Stripes and American St. Leger both.  Pacewise, a false pace could develop where SHINING COPPER goes out for the lead on a suicide mission to set up BIG BLUE KITTEN (but setting up others in the field, too) and THE PIZZA MAN gets in front of the second flank.  That could play out in a field with a lot of closers and few desiring to be pace presences.  It may be cheesy to take an Illinois-bred in an Illinois-based graded stakes race, but THE PIZZA MAN - even if the locals bet him down - won't be the usual odds on.  Europeans often take to Arlington's turf like ducks to water.  Of them, MAVERICK WAVE may loom biggest.  Trainer John Gosden pulled the upset out of his hat with Debussy in the Million five years back and shocked the world once upon a time with Raven's Pass.  Ergo, Gosden trainees shipping over deserve a hard look. Especially ones that won at ten and a half panels last time, as MAVERICK WAVE did that at Chester in a Group 3 in Britain.  Nine of thirteen in the money overseas and a Group Three winner, he'll get first time lasix in his American debut.  MAVERICK WAVE does also appear to be tactical enough based on his European races. While he led last out, he's shown he can pull back if the pace quickens.  BIG BLUE KITTEN has done little wrong in his 2015 as he won first off the layoff in the G3 Fort Marcy then engaged in two standoffs with SLUMBER in a pair of Grade Ones - the Manhattan and United Nations.  Both him and SLUMBER traded spots as 1-2 in the Manhattan was 2-1 in the United Nations.  This year's Million is round three.  A trump card in BIG BLUE KITTEN's favor is that he was second in last year's G1 Pattison Canadian International.  That's meaningful as Woodbine form often translates well to Arlington's weeds.  Ken Ramsey owns BIG BLUE KITTEN - who won this race two years back.  BIG BLUE KITTEN's rabbit, SHINING COPPER is in the field to aid him.

#7 THE PIZZA MAN (10/1)

Longshot: If ever a runner were bred for ten furlongs on the turf, it would be one by Tiznow out of a Chester House mare.  Tiznow is a fine distance and turf influence, Chester House won a Million. #3 BOOKRUNNER (15/1) owns that pedigree, and that could be useful to have go a mile and a quarter for the first time.  A winner at first asking at nine and a half, BOOKRUNNER's only real clunker of a race came in career start three last Spring in the English 2,000 Guineas.  Perhaps an English classic in career start three is a bridge too far, and removing that race gives you a runner that's always been in the superfecta and beat a next-out winner two back.  BOOKRUNNER will also get first time lasix in the Arlington Million as well.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: The La Jolla Handicap (G.III) - Turf specialists in training?

By Rob Fundter, aka. Amateurcapper

(Check out Saturday's Whitney analysis by Robert Marks, aka They're in the Gate)

The La Jolla Handicap will be renewed on the Del Mar turf course on Sunday, August 9, 2015.  It is a Grade III race first run in 1972 which serves as the middle leg of a three race series for 3y.o.’s which begins with the traditional opening day feature Oceanside Stakes and ends with the Grade II Del Mar Derby.  In 2014 it was downgraded from a G.II but it still has a potential to produce a fantastic grass runner and more useful turf runners.

Breeders’ Cup Mile winner of 2004, SINGLETARY, and 1991 Arlington Million hero TIGHT SPOT used the La Jolla H. as a sophomore springboard to greater success at age four.  Last year Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith guided ENTERPRISING to a come-from-behind victory for Glen Hill Farm, marking the third time the orange,black, and white silks graced the winner’s circle after the La Jolla H. (OLD TIME HOCKEY - 2012, RELAUNCH - 1979).  Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron has the most wins with six, scoring with three straight from 1980-1982.  Remarkably, the inimitable “Bald Eagle” Charlie Whittingham still holds the “training title” in the La Jolla H. with three wins.

Soul Driver and Tyler Baze, winners of the Oceanside Stakes,
pictured before the Eddie Logan Stakes at Santa Anita Park
Let’s get to what is happening in the 2015 running.  This year neither the Oceanside S. winner SOUL DRIVER, nor the runner-up FOREST BLUE, separated by a nose on July 16, will wheel back in 22 days for the La Jolla H.  The third through fifth place finishers of the Oceanside S. swing back while former Kentucky Derby trail contender PROSPECT PARK seeks to fulfill graded stakes promise getting away from Bob Baffert trainees who’ve defeated him in four straight starts.  There are multiple questions left for these 3y.o.’s to answer the rest of the year, starting with the La Jolla, which makes this a challenging but potentially rewarding race.

(1)  TRIED AND TRUE, 10-1
            A Darley homebred by $125k stallion MEDAGLIA D’ORO, out of Irish bred DEARLY, by RAHY, ran a better-than-looked 4th in the Oceanside S. in his turf debut.  Settled in the back half of the field early, he appeared full of run and moved forward with the eventual winner before being checked at the 3/8 pole.  After having to regather momentum he followed the winner until the top of the stretch when the hole closed and then rallied well down on the rail to just miss 3rd by a nose.  He galloped out strongly while making up the stagger on the first two very quickly.  A clean trip against these and without a break-out performance from his competitors, it would not be surprising to see the Godolphin blue silks on Martin Pedroza, and Eoin Harty, in the winner’s circle after the race.

(2)  HERO TEN ALL, 12-1
            Full of promise as a late 2y.o. after a debut 2nd to eventual SA Derby winner DORTMUND and a second-out maiden win stretching out to a mile, he did not progress early in 2015.  The son of ROCK HARD TEN, out of the MR. GREELEY broodmare SILKY SMOOTH (a 3x stakes winner on turf), was freshened and moved to the turf for his last three starts.  After a runner-up effort to PAPACOOLPAPACOOL in the La Puente S. he was stuck behind a slow pace and could not make an impression on BOLO and ROYAL ALBERT HALL.  In the Singletary with blinkers off, the bay colt lost contact at a fast pace to be last after the first ¼, and made up six positions from the ½ mile call to the wire.  In the latter half of the year, he could begin to blossom for Jeff Mullins and Tyler Baze at what should be boxcar odds.

(3)  OM, 7-2
            This Dan Hendricks trainee has the distinction of the only horse to win a race in which Triple Crown winner AMERICAN PHAROAH was entered, breaking maiden on Polytrack last year at this oval.  After a disappointing sprint return in the San Pedro, the son of MUNNINGS out of RARE CAT, by TABASCO CAT, wired an allowance field on the Santa Anita turf at a mile.  The pace setter to GIMME DA LUTE and PROSPECT PARK in the G.III Affirmed S. last out, he ran his best race on dirt to be a tenacious 3rd just three lengths back.  Freshened for this with some terrific turf works on paper, this chestnut colt who was attractive and fast enough to bring 12 ½ times his sire’s stud fee may prove very tough to overhaul.  What gives me some pause regarding his win chance is the presence to his outside of PAIN AND MISERY, who could provide lots of that through six furlongs or more and sap necessary stretch energy.  At the possibility he's freaky on turf and only one other speed to beat, he should be included as a win contender.

(4)  OVER PAR, 20-1
            The only entrant with a win over the course, achieved last out against Cal-bred maidens, the Reddam Racing, LLC homebred could be in over his head against open stakes company.  That said, his 90 BRIS speed rating on turf is only two points below the field best figures on the grass.  By SQUARE EDDIE out of SILAR RULES, by TEN MOST WANTED, his sire’s Polytrack prowess could be the best endorsement of this chestnut colt’s potential for graded stakes success on grass.  Coming off his career-best effort, with good recent turf form, no one should be talked off using this number in any or all slots at a huge price.

(5)  CROSS THE LINE, 8-1
            A Northern California transplant in the Jerry Hollendorfer barn, his past performances have been dimmed off three consecutive dirt efforts after finishing on-the-board in his five starts on Tapeta Footings at Golden Gate Fields.  Of note was Hollendorfer wanted to try him at a mile on grass in his third career start after falling short twice with stretch rallies going one turn.  He broke maiden that day but the race was washed off the turf.  A win in the California Derby and a runner-up effort in the G.III El Camino Real Derby allowed his connections unfulfilled “Derby dreams.”  By LINE OF DAVID-BEER BARONESS, by MR. GREELEY, people may forget his sire won the G.I Arkansas Derby off back-to-back mile wins on turf, the second of which stopped the clock in 1:34.41.  He may have inherited a “turf foot” which helps explain success on synthetic footing making this former $55k yearling purchase, more than 27x his sire’s stud fee, eligible for  a “break out” performance.

            He’s the entrant with the most turf form but relative to Santa Anita’s grass course on which he’s undefeated in four starts including two stakes wins, the Del Mar turf is his kryptonite (4-0-1-1).  Supporters can point to improved value as the beaten-favorite angle applies.  By synthetic lover TEMPLE CITY out of SAINTTWOK, by SAINT BALLADO, grass is certainly in his wheelhouse.  His damsire was a full brother to Canadian Horse of the Year GLORIOUS SONG, who dropped SINGSPIEL and RAHY.  Without a late pace in the 90’s in four efforts on Del Mar grass, it’s difficult to see him mounting a winning rally.  This horse may not be for this course.

(7)  PAIN AND MISERY, 15-1
            The son of BOB AND JOHN-SINGING DOE, by RUNNING STAG has been all over the country in his past performances with mixed results.  He’s a two time stakes winner and twice G.III placed under the care of Henry Dominguez with a two start stint in the Richard Mandella barn.  This gelding is the key to unlocking winning wagers on this race.  Both of his stakes wins were wire-to-wire, one sprinting in start #3 at Zia Park and the other over a mile at Albuquerque.  He’s been wildly inconsistent finishing 20 lengths back to nose loser PROSPECT PARK in the G.II Los Alamitos Derby last out, won a stakes two back, finished 2nd in the G.III Pat Day Mile, and got beat 16 lengths to FIRING LINE in the G.III Sunland Derby.  Which PAIN AND MISERY shows up?  Under Martin Garcia for the first time, expect him to keep OM company for as long as possible.

(8)  PRETENTIOUS, 20-1
            It took 10 starts and a sloppy, off-turf event for the Jim Cassidy trainee to break maiden.  Blinkers on for his last three starts appear to have made a big difference for him with a record of 3-1-1-1.  By Kentucky Derby winner SUPER SAVER out of turf-loving TURKAPPEAL (2x SW-T, 2x G.II-T placed), by TURKOMAN, long on the grass could be his calling card from his dam side.  If his BRIS figures can be predictive he’s set for another forward move off paired new tops, a pattern that’s repeated twice already.  There are pluses all over Santiago Gonzalez’ BRIS jockey stats to add to his longshot appeal.

Prospect Park and Kent Desormeaux,
pictured prior to finishing 2nd in the G.II San Felipe S.
            On past performances, which include a nose loss in a G.II along w/ two other graded stakes runner-up efforts, he wins for fun.  However, his success was on dirt and this marks his first run on grass.  By top stallion TAPIT out of QUIET ROMANCE, by BERTRANDO, his pedigree screams dirt.  I’m sure that Clifford Sise, who also conditioned his fantastic ½ sisters SILENT SIGHS and PROPOSED, has a reason that I'm not privy to for switching surfaces after so much success on dirt for ‘PARK and his family.  No other runner can boast 100 or more  BRIS ratings, let alone two.  The adage goes, “Do not take a short price on a horse trying to do something for the first time.”  Enough said?  I’d definitely use this classy colt underneath price horses and could not dissuade preferring him on top.

            The term used by ex-NFL coach Dennis Green, is paraphrased here to fit the race analysis:  “We knew what he was.”  The second of two O’Neill trainees finished 3rd last out in the Oceanside but is not the one I like coming out of that opening day stakes.  With European breeding top and bottom (ROYAL APPLAUSE-VICTORIA SPONGE, by MARJU, allowing him to do more than race on the grass would be against what nature chose for him.  Mired in the 12 hole running an even 4th two races back, he won’t start much better if the field stays intact.  He seems to lack speed to stay close and does not have the kick others have demonstrated.  I'd watch him as the distance stretched out to 10f and beyond with his grinding style.  Flavien Prat continues to take the reins.

I’m going to “Dutch” the top spot with TRIED AND TRUE, OM, and CROSS THE LINE with a slight preference to TRIED AND TRUE.  I believe these three will represent some degree of “value” because of their qualities listed above and the expectation that PROSPECT PARK goes off favored as the “name” horse.

PROSPECT PARK should run well in this “softer” spot away from Baffert trainees, but it’s very hard to take a short price to win first time on the turf.  I’ll prefer to key him underneath in the second hole.

There are three boxcar considerations that could factor into the bottom of the superfecta: HERO TEN ALL, OVER PAR, and PRETENTIOUS.

MY WAGERS ($9.60 total)
I won't break the bank with these wagers because the wide open nature of the race I perceive should result in a terrific payoff if right.  There's a chance that three favorites finish in the top three and investing too much will be minimal benefit for the risk.  

I consistently support my opinion of trying to defeat PROSPECT PARK for the top spots, go stronger with my three preferred options around the tepid morning line favorite, while leaving out one runner,  PAPACOOLPAPACOOL, who figured to garner attention for the top spots and another, ROYAL ALBERT HALL, who'll be considered in the bottom slots at the windows.

$.60 Superfecta 1,3,5 w/9 w/1,3,5 w/1,3,5 ($3.60)
$.10 Superfecta 1,3,5 w/9w/1,3,5 w/2,4,8 ($1.80)
$.40 Superfecta 1,3,5 w/1,3,5 w/9 w/1,3,5 ($2.40)
$.10 Superfecta 1,3,5 w/1,3,5 w/9 w/2,4,8 ($1.80)

I want to thank ThoroFan for the chance to type about racing at Del Mar with you all in Handicapper's Corner.  Let me know what you think about the race, whether we agree or disagree, and thoroughbred racing in general. You can reach me on Twitter @Amateurcapper.

Good luck, enjoy the races!