Friday, December 16, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: Harlan's Holiday Stakes (G3)

Getting Lucky at Gulfstream Park

By: Nicole Neulist, Blinkers-Off

Race 7: Harlan's Holiday Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 3:01pm EST

This year’s running of the Harlan’s Holiday is the sixth.  Inaugurated in 2011, it has always been run at a mile and a sixteenth through the Gulfstream dirt.  This year’s renewal is the first that carries a grade.  

 The race takes its name from multi-millionaire Ohio-bred Harlan’s Holiday.  He won three Grade I races during the course of his career, and two came at Gulfstream: the 2002 Florida Derby and the 2003 Donn Handicap.  The races most accomplished winners have been its most recent.  Two years ago Liam’s Map won the Harlan’s Holiday.  It was his first career stakes win, but he would go on to take the Woodward (GI) and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) the next year.  Last year’s winner, Valid, has been a beautiful combination of classy and durable.  His 12 wins in 37 starts include four graded stakes, and he went on to finish second in the Donn (GI) this year. 

Though officially named after Harlan's Holiday, this race could just as well be named after trainer Todd Pletcher.  After all, out of a seven-horse field, three runners hail from Pletcher's shedrow.  Keen Ice, third in the Breeders' Cup Classic last out, is the class of the bunch.  But, Gulfstream is a track that tends to favor more forward placements, which will not help him.  Keen Ice himself has tried Gulfstream twice, and been off the board both times.  Class should get him to about midpack here, making him logical for the bottom of a trifecta or superfecta.

But, to win?  Keen Ice’s stablemates appeal more.

Both Stanford and Madefromlucky come into this race off extended layoffs, but both have solid worktabs and a strong layoff trainer.  Madefromlucky gets the slight nod due to his running style.  With Stanford, Awesome Slew, and Applicator all doing their best from the front, Madefromlucky could trip out.  He can run well on the front, as he showed last out in the Excelsior, but has done most of his best work tracking a few lengths off.  He has successfully been able to do that at Gulfstream, including a second-place finish behind Valid in this race last year.  He has also been solid at the distance, never worse than second in three tries.

Stanford also has a claim here.  His ability to run competitively fresh off a lay speaks in his favour, and he has a worktab full of bullets leading into this spot.  He also has solid records at Gulfstream and over the distance.  The question for Stanford is the pace.  Though he has some long-ago races in which he won from just off the pace, he has done his best recent work right on the lead.  Stanford's ability to keep going in a pace battle is admirable, but with Awesome Slew and Applicator in the race, he will not have it easy on the front end.

Looking outside the Pletcher barn for a moment, Awesome Slew intrigues.  This will be a class test, as it will be this sophomore's first attempt against older.  But, even though he has speed, he has shown some ability to fight, and even some ability to stalk the pace and stay engaged.  The change away from Paco Lopez is a question, as Lopez has ridden Awesome Slew for all seven of his career starts, and Lopez has other rides at Gulfstream on Saturday.  But, Lopez has no ride in the Harlan's Holiday, making it look a calculated move on trainer Edward Plesa's end to give Joel Rosario the leg up.  Awesome Slew has been out of the starting gate since September, but has a solid string of works, and fired beautifully off an even longer break earlier this year.  If someone outside Todd Pletcher's barn springs the upset, Awesome Slew has the best claim.

#2 Madefromlucky (3/1)
#1 Stanford (2/1)
#4 Awesome Slew (6/1)

Longshot:  Two turns is still a question for lightly-raced #5 Hy Riverside (15/1).  He finished a well-beaten fourth behind Mr. Jordan last out in the Sunshine Millions Classic Preview, his first try going two turns.  But that was out at Gulfstream Park West.  Here HY RIVERSIDE returns to the flagship: a track over which he has three wins and four more money finishes in ten starts.  That last time out was also his first start since late August.  He could take a step forward second off the lay.  Hy Riverside's breeding is also fine for a mile and a sixteenth: by Macho Uno out of a Distorted Humor mare whose only other runner has won at two turns.  And, the pace should suit.  With so much front-end gas in the race, Hy Riverside should be rolling along late at a price.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: Los Alamitos Futurity (G1)

Mastery to Show Skills in Los Alamitos Futurity  

By: Reinier Macatangay  

Two-year-old races are difficult to analyze because young horses evolve rapidly. While it might surprise handicappers to see an older, more established horse with a consistent pattern suddenly gain or drop 20 points on any speed figure scale, a younger colt barely starting his career is more liable to change unexpectedly.

This fact makes the $300,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (GI) on Saturday difficult to handicap, as two of the five entrants are making their second start, one is making his third start and another debuts on dirt after failed grass attempts.

Of course, most eyes will focus on Mastery, a 2-year-old colt from the loaded Bob Baffert barn.

Owned by Cheyenne Stable, Mastery sports a perfect 2 for 2 record so far, with his second win coming in the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes (GIII) at Del Mar. From a visual standpoint, Mastery looked perfect as well. Jockey Mike Smith guided him to an easy victory over the more accomplished California Diamond.

Pace matters and Mastery initially slipped away with opening fractions of 23 1/5 and 47 flat to open the Bob Hope. For a sprint race, those are sluggish numbers and he converted the soft half into the victory people are praising.

Before the Bob Hope, the promising colt also broke his maiden by over four lengths. This particular maiden race had a nice gap between runner-up Sheer Flattery and the third-place finisher, which signals a fast race. Sheer Flattery failed to hit the board in his return race, but perhaps an awkward start hampered his performance.

Regardless, Mastery offers a lot of promise and deserves the role as favorite. He is not a lock, although many will single him to open the Pick 4. Bettors need to decide whether swallowing 3-2 odds on this horse is worth it.

Remember, not every horse race has a bettable angle and no one scores extra analysis points for thinking Mastery will win, because the majority of handicappers and casual fans believe he is a nice runner already.

To the left of Mastery, Bobby Abu Dhabi tries for his second win in as many starts for trainer Peter Miller and Rockingham Ranch. Auction money does not always equal talent, but they sure paid a lot for him at $335,000.

Bobby Abu Dhabi’s final winning margin in his career debut was “only” a head. From watching the replay, it appeared more impressive than on paper. Norberto Arroyo Jr. knew he had the race wrapped after the far turn.

Unfortunately, Bobby Abu Dhabi faces a tough pace scenario in this spot because Mastery receives blinkers for this race and will hound him if he attempts to steal the contest up front. Even so, he is not without a small chance.

In the fourth post, Mastery’s stablemate Show Me Da Lute also offers bettors a reasonable chance, although his maiden win required extra effort from Martin Garcia, who had to use the whip late in order to encourage his mount.

Still, Show Me Da Lute, a son of stakes-filly Tough Tiz’s Sis, could improve given the connections and pedigree.

On the outside, Irap makes his dirt debut after two unsuccessful tries on turf. Handicappers will dismiss him, but there are a few positive points about Irap at 20-1 to consider.

For one, Irap’s dam Silken Cat won her first three races, all on dirt (back when Woodbine had dirt). In addition, Tiznow progeny are notorious for developing at a slower pace than horses from other sires. Plus, the auction price on Irap reads $300,000 at “OBSMAR 2016,” which means Reddam Racing saw something nice in this colt not too long ago. It is too early to dismiss Irap as an overpriced disappointment.

Mastery will capture the attention of most bettors while routing for the first time and facing a worthy pace foe in Bobby Abu Dhabi. He may well prove several lengths better, but it will not hurt to include other horses. 

Handigambling ($100):

This is a “non-betting situation.” If someone forced me to play and gave $100 though...

$40 Trifecta Wheel ($80 total)
Mastery / Bobby Abu Dhabi, Show Me Da Lute / Irap
(Irap keyed underneath in third)

$20 Exacta
Mastery / Irap

Friday, December 2, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: Bayakoa Handicap (G2)

Eight Chances to Win the Bayakoa Stakes

By: Laurie Ross, IMTBreds


A field of eight fillies and mares will travel 1 1/16 miles around the Del Mar oval in the 2016 Bayakoa Handicap (G2) on Saturday.  The race is named in honor of the two-time Champion Older Mare. She was based in California and trained by Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally. 

The favorite’s role in the Bayakoa Handicap may fall to Vale Dori, who has won or placed in eight of nine career starts. Two races back in the Zenyatta Stakes, Val Dori was best of the rest behind the epic battle between Stellar Wind and Beholder. Val Dori can be forgiven for finishing a dozen lengths behind the pair. Next time out the Bob Baffert trainee demolished optional claimers by ten lengths at Santa Anita. 

Autumn Flower enters the Bayakoa with a two-race win streak under her girth, including a nose victory over Desert Madam in her last start. Dan Hendricks’ charge is stepping up in class, but this isn’t an overly accomplished field and she fits here. Should a speed duel develop, it will benefit Autumn Flower, who likes to bloom from the back of the pack.

Desert Madam has also won or placed in eight of nine career starts. She finished a hard luck second, beaten a neck and nose, respectively in her last two starts. Previously, the daughter of Desert Code won three straight races. Like Autumn Flower, Desert Madam will be taking on stakes company for the first time.

Gloryzapper was part of a torrid early pace in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. The speedy miss previously won the LA Woman (G3) at 6 ½ furlongs. The two turns are a concern for the Philip D’Amato filly. Both times that Gloryzapper tried 1 1/16 miles, she placed second. The dark bay prefers to be on the front end, which could hinder her chances in a race loaded with speed.

If things get too hot on the front end, Show Stealer may live up to her name. Art Sherman’s trainee made up ground from sixth place in her previous start, to just miss out on second place, beaten a neck by Gloryzapper. That was back in July, and Show Stealer should be fresh off the layoff. 

Wild at Heart ran into traffic trouble last time out and placed an uncharacteristic eighth in the Senator Ken Maddy Stakes (G3). Previously, she came up the rail to just miss catching Gloryzapper by a half-length in the L.A. Woman Stakes. Richard Mandella’s filly has some back class. She was third in the Santa Anita Oaks last April. 

Moyo Honey hasn’t seen the winner’s circle since April and placed well behind Val Dori, Gloryzapper and Show Stealer in her last two races. Barbara Beatrice has a good/bad race cycle going. She’s making her third start off a layoff and her second consecutive dirt start, but is iffy against lesser company. 

Gloryzapper, Val Dori and Desert Madam may mix it up on the front end. Gloryzapper has the early speed, so the other two may sit off her flank. Unless Gloryzapper can slow it down some, she will likely start to fade right around the far turn. Val Dori and Desert Madam may wind up softened up by the pace, which could open the race up in the late stages for Show Stealer, Autumn Flower or Wild at Heart. 

Let’s go for the price horse on top. It makes things interesting. 

#5 VALE DORI (ARG) (7-5)

In a closely matched field of only eight horses, we could be looking at a chalky payout.  I would bet conservatively with a win/place on Autumn Flower, Show Stealer, Wild at Heart or even Desert Madam if their odds are 4-1 or higher.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: Clark Handicap (G1)

2016 Clark Handicap Filled with Road Warriors

By: The Turk

  Happy Thanksgiving and Welcome to The Turk and the Little Turk.  I'd like to thank the good people at The Thorofan for allowing me to share the musings of an old school handicapper with you today.  I've been blogging the Clark Handicap for many years and I'm reusing a post of mine from 5 years ago, 2011.  I figure if the Zayatt's can reuse a runner from that day, Prayers for Relief, I could reuse this as well.

Before I go too far,  I am thankful for the economic means that allows me to raise my family; I thank my employer. I thank my loving family. I cherish my friends, even though the introvert that I am doesn't make me a very social friend. I thank my pets.  I of course, thank my God.

Baseball fans get all misty eyed talking about Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, and as a hockey fan, I was saddened to see our Buffalo Memorial Auditorium condemned and knocked down in the name of luxury suites and more concessions. There is something special about these old places; places you shared highs and lows with, maybe with your father, your friends, your girlfriend, now your wife, your children.

Fenway and Wrigley were built in 1911 and 1914 respectively. Churchill Downs has existed since 1875, with the iconic twin spires going up in 1895. The driving force behind the creation of the track was Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of the famous American explorer, General William Clark of the William and Clark expedition of 1804-1806, the first transcontinental expedition of the United States, and whose mother was from one of Kentucky's first and leading families, the Churchill's
At the age of 29, Meriwether Clark saw the first edition of this race run. As in all things in life, you don't really own something unless you really own it, and his mother's two brothers left the land to others after their death and Meriwether found himself as nothing more than a race steward by 1897. Already hurt deeply by poor financial investments, and followed by the loss of the track, Meriwether committed suicide in 1899 at the age of 53 years old. One can't help but think he stands along the rail along with all the other horse players we've said goodbye to over the years, players like Shawn Murphy, Rose Rizzo and Tiznow Reynolds.  Our dead horse players  watch these equine heroes run over the same route of dirt in South of Louisville like they been doing for the past 141 years.

I love old racetracks. I stare out at the track and I see and hear the ghosts of races past thundering up the stretch. The Clark Handicap is a tradition of mine, a wonderful post Thanksgiving Day event that I look forward too, an echo of the season that has essentially concluded, a harbinger of the coming winter, and a hint of handicap division to come once the sun returns.

Let's get after this!

I'm leaning towards Noble Bird being my fairly tepid Chalk.  3 of 4 in the money at Churchill Downs, 3 wins in 6 starts at the distance, a trainer-jock combo clipping along at a 29% win rate at CD, this on the lead runner has my nod and we'll see if he can hold what should be his lead at the top of the stretch.

Here's Noble Bird winning the G2 Hagyand Fayette  at KEE in late October setting a track record in the process.

I sure like Gun Runner an awful lot, just another great son of Candy Ride (Arg).  He won the G3 Matt Wynn here in June, his first back off Show in the Kentucky Derby.  I'm not a big fan of first race back off Breeders' Cup efforts but I like the horse alot, he likes this track and he's 9 of 9 in the money on fast dirt.

Hopportunity is no stranger to the race and he's coming in off an outclassed Breeders' Cup Classic. I think you have to respect Baffert bringing him here as well as his Jockey Club Gold Cup G1 win in early October.  He'll be coming late, which the Belmont stretch played well to his strength,  and he should have enough speed in front of him to make a late move.

Shaman Ghost, the Ontario bred 4 YO, has been on the shelf since winning at 9-1 in The Woodward G1. first start at CD, 4 wins in 8 starts on fast dirt, 1 win at the distance in 1 try, 6 wins in 12 lifetime starts.

Do I have last year's winner, Effinex, too low? he came off a stalking trip in last year's edition and if he's in that spot again this year of course he'll be dangerous. I'm covering him in multiple spots.

The last horse I'm going to consider is a bit of a wildcard, Roger Attfield's Are You Kidding Me.  No wins in two dirt starts, winless in only attempt at CD, the modestly bred 6 YO has a combined 29 turf and fake dirt starts, mostly at Woodbine, and he is running very well but this seems like a very odd placing for him.  I like him showing up in the ticket, as I suspect he will be on the lead and dropping like a stone near the wire.  Here he is at Churchill Downs running a flat effort in the Stephen Foster Handicap.

So what to do with all this? First of all, I love the big field of handicap division warriors.  This race would be an example of what I describe to people as to why I love horse racing.  I love the stories, I love seeing a 44 start 6 YO still doing what he does.  Everyone loves the triple crown races, but this level of Grade 1 action is what does it for me.  I'm tossing at my own peril Breaking Lucky, Mr. Z, Prayers for Relief and Hawaakom.  Murphy's Law: One of them will screw us up.
I'm really torn, and while a horse racing fan can be torn, a bettor cannot be.  My base bet (below) isn't even worth me pricing out as I'm never going to make such an investment in a wide open race.

After mulling about a $69 bet $1 Super and a $50 bet $2 Exacta I settled on $1 Tri bet for $20 which I would be OK with taking to $2/$40.  The bet forces me to single Noble Bird and put the rest of my survivor pool under him.  Regardless of the horse I single, the bet construction will be what I settle on.  What do I mean by that?  I'm not sold on Noble Bird and I'm not sure if he's going to get smaller or bigger than 4-1, so if Gun Runner down  to 8-1, perhaps I flip flop Noble Bird and Gun Runner.
Watch the tote and only invest what you are prepared to lose.  My exotic hit rate on Tri's has been hovering around 25% but my IRR is positive, albeit slightly.  That's over many years.  I have had stretches where it is mind numbing horrible and also savant like fantastic. Welcome to horse racing!

To bet or not to bet?  When you sit down with a card, certain races will pop out to you, after you have invested the time and effort to develop the craft, that are much easier marks than this race.  As a horse player, why bet a hard race when you can take advantage of a no brainer race on the same card or a different track.  Don't fall into the trap of betting every race but if you handicap, take the time to build out your bets, review what coulda shoulda woulda when its over, and be honest with yourself.
Have fun with this friends.  Happy Turk(ey) Day.  Turk(s) out!