Friday, January 29, 2016

Handicapper's Corner - Withers Stakes

The 2016 Withers Stakes

By Robert Marks, They're in the Gate (and on Twitter @theyreinthegate)

On Saturday, January 30, 2016 the 136th running of the Withers Stakes will be held at the Aqueduct Racetrack in New York.  Post Time is 1:50 (Eastern Time).  Last weeks Blizzard led to several cancelled cards but the forecast looks ok for Saturday with temperatures in the upper 30's with partly cloudy skies.
The race has a $250,000 purse and is for 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the dirt track. The Grade III Withers Stakes will award the first place finisher with ten points towards the chance at a position in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. Here are the participants listed by Horse, Odds, Jockey and Trainer.

Withers Stakes 2016 Post Positions & Odds
1 Donegal Moon 15-1           A.T. Gryder              T. Pletcher
2 Flexibility 7-5                    I. Ortiz                    C.C. Brown
3 Cards of Stone  20-1         E. Cancel                 H.J. Bond
4 King Kranz 8-1                 C.H. Velasquez          J. Terranova
5 Vorticity 8-1                     J.L. Ortiz                  L. Lawrence II
6 Adventist 5-1                   K. Carmouche           L. Gyarmati
7 Sunny Ridge 5-2              M. Franco                 J. Servis

Here's who we like as far as horses to bet:

Flexibility -The 7-5 favorite is coming off a 4.5 length victory in the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct back on 01/02/16. His sire Bluegrass Cat was second in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes. He is 2-2-0 out of his 4 starts. There is no value in picking him but this New York bred looks like the clear winner.

Adventist is sitting at 5-1 and definitely more value than Flexibility will give you. Kendrick Carmouche has been riding very well this year at Aqueduct and would love the change to get the upset win here. Only has 1 start with an 11 length win back in December.  

Vorticity -This horse is 8-1. He finished a game 2nd to Flexibility in the Jerome States. He has placed in all 4 stars (2-1-1) so you know he likes to compete.  This competitiveness will be needed as I expect him to up near the front in what I expect to be a fast pace race.  

Sunny Ridge-5-2 I expect a fast pace and sometimes a midpack type horse like Sunny Ridge sticks around in a fast pace race to pick up the pieces. Definitely a horse to play in your Trifecta and Superfecta combinations.

Wagering/Betting Handigambling Bankroll:

$25 Win/Place: Flexibility (2) ($50 total)
EXACTA: $2 Key Exacta (10 Bets for total cost of $20)
2, 6 / 2,5,,6,7
Trifecta ($1 Box for $24 Total)
$6 Show : Flexibility

We expect a fast pace with Flexibility prevailing. We place a nice win/place bet on him and we will also key the favorite with Flexibility over the 3mentioned above. If Vorticity or Adventist hits on top it could be a nice payout.

As always, watch the Board and if at the track watch how the horses look in the Paddock and adjust your bets accordingly. Good Luck!

Handicapper's Corner - Holy Bull Stakes

Holy Bull!

by Jeffry Cobb

Hello Thorofans! 

This week I get the honor of bringing to you the Grade 2 Holy Bull from beautiful Gulfstream Park at Hallandale Beach, FL. It's raining today but it should be dry tomorrow and Saturday meaning we will most likely have a fast track to race on.

For a race that's intended for early Derby hopefuls, it's a little disappointing that GP could only attract 6 entries. I mean this is 350k purse, c'mon people. I'm really surprised trainer Barry Rose hasn't entered the race. I mean whatever he entered would be near hopeless, but if he could somehow manage to get up into fifth place, 3% of 350K wouldn't be so bad.

But let's look at the ones that are, at least as of now, planning to show up. In PP 1 is Perfect Saint trained by Dale Romans and ridden by Corey Lanerie. Perfect Saint is lined at 20/1 (aside, whoever is writing the morning lines at GP is full of it.  The morning lines there are worthless). He has won once in 5 tries. One of those tries was at GP and not very inspiring finishing 8th of 8 16 lengths back. His Thorograph number was his worst on dirt. Maybe Romans is trying to pull a fast one here but I'm not buying it. A bullet workout, 1 of 4 is not very convincing when the ML favorite ran the same distance on a slower track a full 3 seconds faster.

So we segue to the ML favorite Mohaymen trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by Junior Alvarado. So far the colt has done nothing wrong winning 3 of 3 including the G2 Nashua and Remsen at Aqueduct. He's been off since November 28, but McLaughlin can get them ready first out. Shadwell Stable paid a lot of cash for this one as a yearling, and its obvious there are Derby aspirations for this son of Tapit. Mohaymen likely won't be fully cranked for the 3yo debut, but he may not need to be as this is a rather lackluster field. He paired his first two Thorograph figures (usually not a good sign in my book as I expect a better effort 2nd time out), but then again, he won the race. Then improved almost 3 full points (5.25 to 2.5) in the Remsen. That last race is the best in the field, if there is a knock it is that he bore out in his last two races. Could just be a green two year old racing, or it could be more. Your guess is as good as mine

From PP 3 comes Fellowship for always dangerous GP trainer Stanley Gold and the Jacks or Better Farm. Fellowship has been busy racing 7 times as a 2yo and once already as a 3yo. In 8 starts he has finished first twice and placed thrice. He broke his maiden first out last May and has run in nothing but stakes races since winning the Florida Stallion Reality Stakes. Four of his seven stakes races were against restricted company. He stepped up in his 3yo debut, the 100k Mucho Macho Man and disappointed his backers at 3 to 1 with a fifth place finish. His second win did come at this distance, but he'd have to improve a lot off his last effort to take this one

Conquest Big E breaks from the 4 hole. Mark Casse, who is having a strong meet, is training and Mike Smith is making the trip from Cali for the ride. Maybe he is looking for a Derby prospect here. CBE has won two of 4 with a place finish to boot. I'll forgive his poor BC Juvi effort. Based on Thorograph figures he looks to be a colt which is steadily getting better although I note that his best figures are on sloppy tracks. If Conquest Big E can move forward off his last outing he could be a factor here. However, just because Mr. Smith is making the trip west doesn't mean CBE is a sure thing.

Probably the strongest competition for the ML favorite and the 8/5 ML on this one suggests so is the 5 horse Greenpointcrusader. The colt is another 4-2-1-0 runner, but one of his 2 wins is the G1 Champagne. The GPCrusader didn't show much in the BC Juvi finishing barely in the first division at 7th in a field of 14. Is there any significance that Johnny V. is getting the ride while is former jock Joe Bravo is on the premises? I don't know. I'm as bad at reading people as I am at reading horses. Greenpointcrusader regressed in terms of figures for his Breeder's Cup race. Devoted sheets players would tell you that he bounced out of his Champagne win. Sometimes, a big race will take a lot out of the animal and it takes a while for the horse to get back to that effort. As a sheets player, I would wait for GPCrusader to come back to that Champagne effort before taking him for the win. In addition the GP course favors the early runners and there is a distinct lack of pace in this race which will be unfavorable to the GPCrusader. Maybe that's the reason for jockey switch and we'll see GPCrusader show a little more early effort this time. A change in running style and a move forward from his last could put him in the hunt, but I don't think it will be good enough.

The 6 horse Frontier Ranger is trained by Ronald Pellegrini and ridden by Edgard Zayas who is one of the strongest and most promising young South Florida jocks. Frontier Ranger has thus far has been a productive runner, but not yet able to crack through non winners of two. He may be in a little over his head here. His first four races were on turf and he was moved to dirt for his last. On either surface his figures have been flat not showing any improvement or decline. I just don't think this is a stakes quality horse.

So it boils down to this. If you are a value player, in the traditional sense, you will find little in this race. The race is Mohaymen's to lose. If I had to try to beat him it would be with Conquest Big E. GPCrusader is also capable, but I don't think it will happen here. If I am playing this race it is all $100 Mohaymen to win except if the odds get ridiculous like 2/5 or something. I would play him at 4/5 and consider even money a bargain. Otherwise its El Paso.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Handicapper's Corner - Fillies and Mares Sprinting in the Santa Monica Stakes (G2)

The Santa Monica – Grade 2   7 Furlongs

By Trackfacts

Tom Amello betting against the favorite in a contentious Santa Monica.

Pace Analysis

Projected Running Positions:
 E = Early speed/ need the lead 
EP = Early Presser/Front-Half Stalker
P = Front –Half Stalker
S = Rear-Half runner/ Closer





Several in here want position among the front pack and are proven early pressers. #2 Ben’s Duchess , #5 Tara’s Tango, #6 Room for Me, and #9 Finest City each have shown enough early speed to gain position pressing or stalking the lead in and among the first flight, with #9 most likely to set the pace depending how  jockey Cory Nakatani reads the break.  #2 Ben’s Duchess is not a sharp breaker (note 5/5, 7/8, 8/14, 8/9, 5/6 in pps) but will secure mid-pack stalking position. #1 Prize Exhibit and #7 Living The Life will race near the rear.

The Field in Post Position Order:

#1 Prize Exhibit 4-1 (Sustained Presser over Turf)
Solid and speedy Graded Stakes turf and synthetic track performer makes dirt/sprint debut for trainer Cassidy, who wins 13% with this surface move (8-1-1-1).  Both the sire and dam were “turf only” competitors and there are no dirt siblings. This runner’s best efforts over turf have come when running from mid-pack or further back off the pace. Not much to be learned about potential dirt efforts from recent slow works over this surface.  Meet’s leading rider back in the irons. Might win if handles the switch to dirt and/or the race collapses; more likely limited to exotics. (5-1)

#2 Ben’s Duchess 5-2 (Front-Half Stalker/Presser)
Ben’s Duchess drops in class from the G1 La Brea run at today’s distance, while making her second start following a layoff. She scored an upset win at 8-1 October 4 in the 5-horse G3 LA Woman going shorter. That win was somewhat bias-aided by race dynamics when racing as the lone closer behind a strong 4-horse contested pace that went 43.45 over a track that also played kindly to off-the-pace runners. Favored Taris battled widest throughout before weakening to 3rd but returned to win the G2 La Canada over La Brea winner Birdatthewire. Ben’s Duchess faced quality filly sprinters last out in Birdatthewire (2-2 at 7f), the speedy Hot City Girl, and G1 Test Stakes winner Cavorting. While today’s field is softer, Ben’s Duchess is yet to win beyond 6 ½ furlongs and today’s 7 furlongs remains a question. 

Trainer John Sadler won this race back-to-back in 2011 & 2012 and is 4-2-1-0 with all Santa Monica starters.  Home Sweet Aspen won this race in 2012 following a 4th place finish in the La Brea racing 3rd after a layoff. Switch followed a win in the La Brea with a win in 2011. Besides the distance question, Ben’s Duchess has tactical speed but is not a sharp gate breaker. A slow break will compromise her chances. This filly might win, is vulnerable at short odds but a “must use” in exotics. (7-2)

#3 Kiss At Midnight 12-1 (Rear-Half Sustained Closer)
Kiss At Midnight won on-debut at 6 furlongs over state bred $50k maiden claimers. It took five starts and $40k Starter Allowance for her to earn a 2nd win, that at today’s distance. She has been competitive in Cal-bred restricted stakes company through late 2015 (3-0-3-0), finishing ahead of today’s rivals Lost Bus and Tara’s Tango. Gets a “power jock switch” to Gary Stevens, who is 8-2-1-3 riding sprints for trainer Richard Baltas. Baltas is 12-2-1-1 in Graded Stakes sprints and 3-0-1-1 running at today’s distance. This is a solid field of proven open company and stakes-competitive sprinters. She races from off-the-pace, looks slow on speed figures and short on class. Unlikely win contender. Limit to deep exotics. 

#4 Lost Bus 20-1 (Front-Half Presser/Stalker)
Lost Bus is 4-2-1-1 over dirt thus far in her 10-race career. She sprinted away from rivals when heavily favored on debut in a 4 ½ furlong dash in May. She was dead game in narrow losses over synthetic at Del Mar before heading to the shelf in March of 2015. Her last four efforts came over turf while in the charge of low percentage trainer Blake Heap (8%). Trainer Gary Sherlock (8%) took her for $32K and immediately switched back to dirt, where she chased the pace, led but had no resistance for the winner at 16-1 Dec 13 at Los Alamitos. He then added blinkers last out where she raced evenly throughout at 39-1 to finish 3rd behind today’s rival Lost Bus. Raced for a $32k tag 3-back; steps way up in class today. Non-contender.   

#5 Tara’s Tango 6-1 (Front-Half Presser)
Tactical speed and class are the traits this filly brings to this contest. She won on debut under jockey Mike Smith over synthetic when bet to do so, then raced competitively in two overnight stakes before suffering a narrow photo loss to the 2015 Eclipse Award winner Stellar Wind. Two back in September Tara’s Tango proved a non-factor at 2-turns in the G1 Cotillion at Parx. Freshened off that dismal effort, she returned Dec. 30 to finish a non-threatening 4th behind rivals Kiss At Midnight and Lost Bus.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer wins 34% with sprinters in Grades Stakes company and is 21-8-2-3 when sending sprinters 7 furlongs at Santa Anita. He won this race with a sharp horse in Scherzinger under Mike Smith in 2014 and with a sharp horse in Sam’s Sister in 2015. Mike Smith is 6-5-0-1 riding Graded Stakes sprinters for Hollendorfer and is back in the saddle today. Needs a top effort and fair odds (5-1) to contend for the win; a must use in exotics.

#6 Room for Me 3-1 (Presser)
Room for Me is a solid and consistent sprinter who showed marked improvement after being claimed for $12,500 by trainer David Jacobson last February; she is 11-5-1-2 since switching to the barn and shipping east. Three of those efforts have been at today’s 7 furlong distance: Room for Me was off poorly from post 1 and a non-threatening 4th in the G3 Bed of Roses, overmatched but held well for 3rd in the G1 Ballerina, and hopelessly overmatched in the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Last out she was no match for Eclipse winner La Verdad in the $100k Interborough at Aqueduct.

Trainer David Jacobson is a high percentage trainer on the NYRA circuit where he has won 24% with dirt sprinters over the last five years. Over that same period, he won 18% in Graded Stakes sprints. He is, however, only 24-1-5-5 with domestic shippers in Graded Stakes, including sending his top sprinter Salutos Amigos to a 7th place finish in the Breeders Cup Sprint and, m ore recently,  a 2nd in the G3 Midnight Lute under Martin Garcia, named today on Room for Me. Jacobson shipped a string to Santa Anita this year and stands 8-0-1-1 thus far.

 Ironically, Room for Me began her career in California at Golden Gate. She owns two wins at 7 and 8 furlongs over the Santa Anita oval. Those efforts occurred in 2014 against lesser. She is a much better horse today. The fact Jacobson is yet to win at Santa Anita is a concern, as is the ship west.  Room for Me is a win contender with questions; a “must use” in exotics. (7-2) 

#7 Living The Life 6-1 (Rear-Half Sustained Closer)
Living The Life is a synthetic specialist with a solid record at today’s distance (8-3-1-1). Her three races over dirt include a last place finish in the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Sprint where she was 16-1 to rival Room for Me’s 78-1, an off-the-board finish against a speed favoring surface at 6 furlongs in an overnight stake, and a decent 2nd in the G2 Great Lady M at Los Alamitos behind a good winner in Fantastic Style and ahead of a tough runner in Sunday Rules. 

Trainer Gary Mandella gave her rest, and then made a smart ship to run over the synthetic Tapeta surface at Presque Isle Downs to get a repeat win in the G2 Masters. That win makes her co-high weight with #1 Prize Exhibit, conceding weight to rivals. When last seen in November, Living The Life raced close-up to a modest pace while uncomfortable in the vice between rivals early, took back, then was both boxed in and out brushed to a lane by a rallying rival when attempting to angle out for running room leaving the turn. From there she lost momentum when squeezed back a bit, never getting a fair chance to run under jockey Joe Bravo. From there she finished with interest and galloped out well. That was a two-turn route, not this filly’s best distance.  Today, Living The Life returns fresh from an 83-day layoff to race at a better distance and reunites with winning jockey Flavien Prat. She is proven capable of racing well off works having won off an April-August layoff when first switched into Mandella’s barn, as well as one from a November-March vacation. She has the class and solid efforts over dirt to argue the outcome if her off-the-pace running style is not compromised by what projects to be a moderate but crowded early pace. She will be the one to deny in the race to the wire. Win contender and “must use” in exotics. (4-1)

#8 Kyriaki 12-1 (Mid-Pack Stalker)
Kyriaki broke her maiden 2nd-out at a turf route after a decent debut effort in a 6 ½ furlong sprint rained off-the-turf, then kept turf stakes company throughout her 3-year old season. Trainer Eureton kept her on turf until April of 2014, where she showed tactical speed trailing at the back of the pace pack from where she made a mild bid when angled widest into the lane in a decent field of dirt routers. Freshened after a dull turf effort and switching to jockey Mario Gutierrez, Kyriaki showed good tactical speed to score twice at the OC$40k/N1X & N$Y conditions going one-mile. Eureton next opted for the G1 Zenyatta where Kyriaki was hopelessly overmatched and outrun behind Eclipse winner Beholder and a few proven Graded Stakes routers. Last out at Delta Downs in the Treasure Chest, Kyriaki’s lone wet track race boded well for success over a muddy surface. This will be the strongest field of filly & mare sprinters Kayriaki has faced. She is an unlikely win contender but can be used on deep exotics.

#9 Finest City 10-1 (Front-Half Presser/ Stalker)
Finest City has but six career starts and brings a 6-2-2-0 record to this event. On debut, after breaking from post 12 to set the pace at 33-1, Finest City was caught late by Gloryzappper in a “key” race that produced five next-out winners and three place runners. Connections knew what they had, kept it quiet and almost got the goods. Next out, she crushed nine special weight rivals at Del Mar at 3-5. It was no surprise when trainer Ian Kruljak tried this daughter of the speedy City Zip, out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare, down the hill in a turf sprint stake. Dam Be Envied raced primarily at turf routes, and sire City Zip carried his speed up to a mile. But Finest City could do no better that day than fourth. After a 5-week rest it was back to Del Mar’s dirt and another solid short odds win over a prolific sprint winner in Stealth Drone. Holding form, she managed another placing as the heavy favorite versus Optional Claiming/N$Y company. Last out, Kruljak sent her into G1 company in the La Brea at today’s 7 furlong distance where, breaking from post 9, she was outgunned for the lead and forced to chase proven stakes sprinters while widest, succumbing to their class, the effort, and the extra panel to finish an indistinct ninth.

 Speed is always dangerous, and Finest City might be the speed of speeds. Given the circumstances, the fade in the G1 La Brea is understandable. She drops into a softer but strong competitive field today while reuniting with winning jockey Cory Nakatani (Stevens moves to #3). Finest City is most likely to benefit from scratches of other front-running rivals, has a modest chance to win if able to control the pace but would require odds in excess of 8-1. She, too, can be used in exotics.

#7 Living The Life (“Key” horse)
#6 Room for Me
#2 Ben’s Duchess
#9 Finest City
#1 Prize Exhibit

$100 Bankroll:
$25 Win 7
$12 Exacta 7/2,6
$ 8 Exacta 7/1,9
$ 5 Exacta 1,2,6,9/7
$ 1 Trifecta 1,2,6,9 / 1,2,6,9 / 7

$97 total wagers