Saturday, July 30, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: 2016 Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1)

2016 Haskell Stakes Nyquist vs. Exaggerator, Part Six

By: Jeffrey Cobb, S. FL ThoroFan

This week I am bringing to you my analysis of the William Hill Haskell Invitational. The race will take place on the Jersey shore at Monmouth Park. The race will be run at a distance of 9 furlongs for a $1,000,000 purse.

Last year me and my wonderful wife, Annette had the privilege of attending as guests of the track. We watched Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah (did I spell that right?) dominate an over matched field before facing defeat in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. I blame his connections for that. They had no business running the colt back so soon after 4 cross country flights. But enough editorializing.

A check of the weather forecast indicates that it is going to be a rather wet weekend at the shore which will suit several of our 6 contenders. As for the track bias, Monmouth tends to be biased towards those who can be on or near the lead early. Of our 6 contenders, there are no need to lead types which will not bode well for late running types such as Preakness winner Exaggerator #6 and winner of OC50k for non winners of one Awesome Slew (#3).

Of course Exaggerator has demonstrated that he is a classy horse with a liking for off tracks.

After running a new top in April and then pairing that top twice in two weeks, it was no surprise that Exaggerator did not fire in the Belmont. However, he has now got some needed time off so I will expect a good showing from him, but maybe not good enough for top honors.

Bob Baffert is shipping American Freedom (#5) who is the winner of the Grade 3 Iowa Derby last time out. American Freedom is lightly raced with only 4 races under his saddle. His best race, Thorograph figure wise, was his Maiden debut which he ran on a sloppy track. He was unable to move forward of that race and ran 4 points slower at Churchill in the Pat Day Mile on Derby day. He improved a little of that effort at Pimlico on Preakness day winning the Sir Barton and was a couple points better in his win at Prairie Meadows. His pattern suggest that he could return to and perhaps surpass his debut figure which makes him a solid contender. The negative is that he is unproven at the distance and this will be his toughest test to date. I think American Freedom has an excellent chance to be in the money and could possibly win if he makes a very possible move forward of his debut race.

Steve Asmussen's Gun Runner (#4) ran a new top 2 races ago in the Derby where he finished third and then paired that top in winning Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill. The fact that he was able to pair that new top rather than bounce off of it is a good sign of a healthy runner who could be set for a move forward now.  However, he would have to move forward by a couple of points to be a contender here. He could be in the money, but I am looking elsewhere for the top slot.

Sunny Ridge (#2) is another who has run respectably on off tracks. He's another who is a couple of points slower than the better known contenders. However, he has not raced since March, so the question is how much has he grown and matured in that time. I don't know the answer to that question, but I expect he too should move forward.

Finally, we come to the 6/5 favorite, Nyquist (#1). Trainer Doug O'Neill and the ownership made, in my opinion, a good decision in skipping the Belmont. Although he only managed 3rd in the Preakness after winning the Derby, he paired the top he had achieved in the Derby which is a good sign. Given time to recover from those grueling races I really like his July 11 work at Santa Anita and the 1 mile work a Del Mar on the 24th. This tells me that this guy is healthy and ready to go.

Bottom line, Nyquist is the horse to beat here. He could be sitting on his best yet. Unfortunately, there will not be a big score if you use him either to win or in the exotics. If you are looking for an upset horse, that would be American Freedom. Unfortunately, it is difficult to make much of a score in 6 horse fields. Exaggerator will also be right there at the finish. Your surest bet to cash a ticket would be Nyquist to win. However, in cases such as this maybe it is best to take a shot with the longest odds horse you think can win. If the morning line holds up, that would be American Freedom. There will be no value in using Nyquist or Exaggerator in an exacta with American Freedom, so take a shot with him solo. With a $100.00 to spend on this race I think a $50.00 Win/Place bet is in order. That way if he does come up short to Nyquist, you at least have a shot of getting your money back and maybe show a minimal profit.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: 2016 Jim Dandy Stakes (G2)

Is the 2016 Jim Dandy Stakes a Belmont Stakes Rematch?

By: The Turk

Signing Line
Welcome Friends to The Turk and the Little Turk, I am the Big Turk and my son, The Korean,  is the Little Turk.  At 16 years old The Little Turk has been to plenty of Grade 1 races and hit plenty of cold exactas.  The kid has the stuff.  Me?  I'm a internet hack handicapper, old school, with a style that is a derivative of the techniques taught by my favorite handicappers, men like Brad Free and Tom Ainsile, Steve Davidowitz and Alan Shuback.  My blog, The Turk and the Little Turk, has been producing handicaps for people who never asked for them since 2008.  No self promotion, no pink sheets, no subscriptions, no high brow prose, just plain talk, handicapping based on form factors I consider key drivers and bet construction that is often too conservative, yet has produced  positive ROI over a long period of time.

Thanks to the good people at The Thorofan who allow me an opportunity to talk horses with you.  I'm a bit of a loner.  I like to go to the track, but when I go, I'm seldom working as a handicapper.  When I go, I'm a fan, there for the horses, the people, the relaxed nature and the rhythm of race day.    I do my best handicapping away from the track, in solitude, at my kitchen table, late in the evening.  Meets like Saratoga appeal to the fan in me.  I love Saratoga and it's really the track that became ground zero in my horse racing romance when I used to live on Jumel Place and walk to the track, summer of 1986.  It's been 30 years since I was a resident of Saratoga, a young man with a Skiddy Kiddy girlfriend, a fast car, plenty of cash, a mean grove dancing at The Metro and time to kill.  The city has a special place in my heart even if the track seems designed to stab me in the heart.  You see, I'm not that good at Saratoga.  My ROI at Saratoga is just so-so, negative over time.  I love the track but for whatever reason I've never played it well.  You've been warned!

So what are we doing today?  The Jim Dandy is a 3 YO handicap prep for The Travers Stakes.  A six horse Grade 2, with five of six entrants being Triple Crown nominated, a Grade 1 winner in Creator, two Grade 2 winners with Mohaymen and Destin and a fairly even group of runners.  My first reaction is that as a betting opportunity I'm not sure what we have here: four of the six runners will have short prices and the other two might be a bit long, and I don't see upset possibilities with the bigger prices, but possibly Place or Show.  Let's not jump ahead yet to the bet construction, lets just break this down first into a base handicap.

Let's start with Mohaymen's Fountain of Youth at GP.

Shutdown after an exotic finish in the Kentucky Derby, Trainer McLaughlin is 22% off the 60-180 day break.  Five Wins in six Fast Dirt starts and five wins in seven career starts. Smoked by Nyquist in the Florida Derby on an off track and the Kentucky Derby.

I'm not going to give Mohaymen too much of a pass for the trip: at the top of the stretch he had no response even though he went wide most of the way.  He was just beaten and Nyquist's acceleration was phenomenal. It would have been great to have Nyquist here but I always respect Haskell runners.

I thought Mohaymen looked pretty game at the top of the stretch where again he was wide most of the race.  Exaggerator just blew past him as he chased down Nyquist.  I'm thinking in this company, Grade 2 company, he looks good.  He's my chalk.

I typically toss Belmont performance. Sometimes I'm right to do that, sometimes I'm wrong. I think Destin deserves consideration as a high class runner.  Watch this gutty fight in the last 1/16th to win the Tampa Bay Derby.

This might be blasphemy, but the Belmont Stakes is typically a yawn for me.  I loved Rags to Riches, and of course American Pharoah's, but this year's edition was pretty, pretty good. Owner of the top Beyer on fast dirt, Destin is five of seven in the money lifetime and Trainer Pletcher has maybe the best pilot in the race, Castellano, up. Tactical speed may win this race.

I've been a big Arkansas Derby race respect giver and Creator gets that praise this year.

Does wow cover it?  Last at first call, a dazzling move through traffic by previous pilot Santana (Ortiz up today as he was on Belmont win) and a driving win.  He's not going to be within three at the top of the stretch unless the pace really plods, which I'm not expecting, and I'm not sure I like his running style here.  Steve Asmussen knows a thing or two about horse racing, and he likes him here so maybe i'm right, maybe I'm wrong, but handicapping is about being decisive and I have him shaded down a bit.

 I may have Governor Malibu too high in my base handicap, and in my bet construction I may flip flop him with Creator on some tickets and Race Me Home on others.  This New York bred may not win the Class competition but I'm a big fan of Clement's barn and I like the tactical speed here too.  Five of six in the money on fast dirt and seven of eight lifetime in the money.  I like tough, game, speedy Malibu Moon's.

I liked this effort in the Grade 2 Peter Pan at BEL in May.  Game, smart, gutty in final 1/16th.  

Race Me Home (Ire) represents a horse that will run at a good price and may spice up some pretty blah tickets if he can sneak into the top three or two.  He'll be coming off the pace, like Creator.  They should have plenty of speed to set their sights on.  This Easy Goer Stakes , an ungraded 1 1/16 race at BEL had some pretty good horses in it and Race Me Home doesn't embarrass himself with this effort.

I'm tossing Laoban, owner of a :46 2/5ths bullet (1/86) this week at my own peril.  He's been slow in races and I'd like to see a bit more before I sign up for that. This Uncle Mo is a maiden still, seven races into his career, not sure he was worth the $260,000 fee yet.

I don't know what I'll do with this yet.  I'm thinking my base handicap will look similar to the tote board with maybe the exception of Creator being too low and Race Me Home and Governor Malibu being too high.   I'm most likely going to single Mohaymen and then build a matrix of possibilities for Place and Show.  I'm not planning on spending too much as the risk-reward for my bet construction methods, is seldom there in a six horse, top heavy card.  I'll tweet out my bet from my handle @turkandlilturk after checking the tote board, the scratches and changes and the track condition.

Have fun with it friends, Turk Out!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: Sanford Stakes (G3)

2016 Sanford Stakes Filled With Potential

By: Laurie Ross, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds 

Opening weekend at the Spaaa. It wouldn’t be complete without a stakes race for two year olds. After all, this is where the blue-bloods hang out, both the horses and the people. The prestigious Sanford Stakes (G3) is traditionally held on the first Saturday of the meet at Saratoga.  

First contested in 1913, the six-furlong event has a roll-call that reads like a who’s who of racing legends. The 1914 winner was the filly Regret, who then became the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby. Other major winners include the Champions Tom Fool, Hail To Reason, Secretariat, Affirmed, Forty Niner and Afleet Alex. Famous also-rans include the great Man O’War, who suffered his only defeat in the Sanford Stakes in 1919, Triple Crown hero Omaha, and Champion Juvenile Boston Harbor. 

Five last-out two-year-old colts will vie for the chance to stand in the winner’s circle of the 2016 Sanford Stakes.

Todd Pletcher has six Sanford Stakes trophies on his mantle.  He’s just one race shy from tying for the most wins. The record of seven is owned by John Gaver, Sr., who conditioned the great Tom Fool and many other champions for the Whitney family’s Greentree Stable.

John Velazquez has guided the winner home seven times, more than any other jockey.

This year, the pair team up with the well-bred Bronson (Medaglia d'Oro - Cambiocorsa, by Avenue of Flags).  The pretty gray colt won his debut by 1 ¾ lengths and traveled five furlongs in :59.33, pretty much in hand with brief hand urging near the wire.  Bronson appeared uncomfortable during the race. He ran with his head up and never extended his stride.  Bronson had a slow pre-race four-furlong move in :49.4 over the Saratoga track.

Pedigree notes:  Bronson’s immediate female family is loaded with blacktype earners. Four of his five half-siblings, are turf stakes winners or stakes placed. A couple have placed on dirt, but Bronson is the only one to have won over the surface.  Bronson’s dam Cambiocorsa’s is passing her turfy talent to her offspring. The mare was one of the best turf runners on the Santa Anita downhill turf and captured seven straight starts, including two G3 events.  The gray mare’s full brother was Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint hero California Flag.  

Precociously Bred
Zartera (Tapizar - Catera, by Gone West) captured his 4 ½ furlong debut by an easy two lengths.  Zartera had an easy pre-race three-furlong breeze in :38.4.
This guy is bred to be a win-early sprinter/miler.  First crop sire Tapizar, a son of Tapit, has four winners from ten starters. Recently, Tapizar’s daughter Tap It All was fourth in the 2016 Landaluce Stakes.  

Pedigree notes:  Zartera’s  ¾ sister Areolite (Tapit)  was third in the Churchill Downs Debutante last year.   Their stakes-placed dam Catera is a half-sister to the multiple graded stakes sprinter and sire Cuvee, who captured four graded stakes as a two-year-old. Catera’s other half siblings include G2 sprinter Will He Shine (Silver Deputy), and three stakes placed runners. 

Zartera’s sire and dam’s female families trace back directly to Carol’s Christmas through half siblings. So Zartera has 4 3 x Rasmussen Factor (inbred to a rene-de- course or “blue hen”) to Carol’s Christmas.  Carol’s Christmas’ descendants include Champion three-year-old filly Untapable (Tapit), Louisiana Derby hero Pyro (Pulpit), and the graded stakes-winning sires Early Flyer (Gilded Time) Olympio (Naskra),  Paddy O’Prado (El Prado) and, of course, Tapizar.  

Random Walk (Super Saver - Lunargal, by Yes It's True) outclassed maidens at Belmont by 5 ¾ lengths, traveling 5 ½ furlongs in  1:03.66. Trainer Rick Violette, Jr. tightened the colt up with a bullet five-furlong move and a pre-race quick four furlongs in :47.6.

Pedigree notes:  None of Random Walk’s half siblings own blacktype, but they are winners. The second generation of Random Walk’s female family is filled with juvenile stakes winners. His dam Lunargal and her full sister Lunarlady won stakes as two-year-olds. Plus, Lunargal’s half-brothers, Freshman sire Astrology (A.P. Indy), and Lunarpal (Successful Appeal) were G3 juvie stakes winners.  

Flashy & Classy
Bitumen (Mineshaft - Kobla Cat, by Tale of the Cat) galloped away from over-matched maidens at Churchill Downs by 6 ¾ lengths.  The talented colt was timed in 1:09.49 for six furlongs and flew his final 1/8 in 11.75. He owns the highest late-pace speed figure in the field.  Trainer Eddie Kenneally gave Bitumen a pre-race light :48.4 four-furlong work over the Saratoga surface.

Pedigree notes:  Bitumen’s  half-sister Meshell (Elusive Quality) is a stakes winning sprinter. Their dam Kobla Cat is a half-sister to multiple G1 winner and sire Quality Road (Elusive Quality).  

Bay Numbers (Algorithms - Zawzooth, by Unbridled's Song) was not ready for prime time in his debut last month. He didn’t want to go into the gate, then sulked his way around the track, finishing 13 lengths behind the winner.  The Eddie Plesa, Jr. trainee was more amendable in his second start, happily splashing his way to a 6 ¼ length victory in the Monmouth mud.  Bay Numbers final time was a quick :58.30.  

Pedigree notes:  First Crop Sire Algorithms is off to a good start at stud.  Ten of his babies have started, five are winners and two, Recruiting Ready (Strong Hope) and Junket (Notebook) are stakes placed.  Bay Number’s three half siblings to race were indifferent runners. Only one visited the winner’s circle. Their dam was a stakes winning sprinter.  

In four of the last six years, the favorite hasn’t won the Sanford Stakes. In four of the last five editions, the winner settled off of the pace and made his move in the stretch. Last year, the long shot Magna Light wired the field but was DQ’d to second in favor of Pletcher’s Uncle Vinny.

It’s anybody’s guess which colt will sit off of the pace since all except Bronson wired their respective fields.  With only five horses in the contest, it could be anyone’s race.

Random Walk has the only pre-race bullet breeze and a nice work pattern leading up to the Sanford. He’s ready to go.  I like Zartera a lot, but that three-furlong breeze was meant to sharpen the colt’s speed, and he draws post one, so he’ll likely shoot out of the gate and go for the lead.   Bitumen is the only colt in the field with a six-furlong race under his girth. He draws the outside and could sit off of the speed. If you’re a numbers person, you’ll be happy to know that Bitumen owns the highest late-pace figures in the field.   If Bay Numbers is happy, he could also make a race of it. The trainer/jock combo of Plesa & Parco win 38% together.  I don’t like Bronson in here. Maybe he could win on raw talent, but I think he’ll wind up being a nice turf horse.  

It is very difficult to make selections for a baby race without seeing the horses in the paddock or warming up on the track. Whenever possible, view the horses before placing your bets. The favorite or your best pick can become a hot mess. An unconsidered longshot may have the look of a winner. 

Five horse fields aren’t good betting propositions, unless there is a heavy favorite and the rest are double digits. Then the favorite has to lose.  If you absolutely must spend ThoroFan’s hypothetical $100 on the bet because it is burning a hole in your pocket, scatter it in $5 or $10 Win/Place bets on horses with odds of 5-1 or higher. Or create a few exactas with the favorite underneath. Or, skip the betting, spend the $100 on a good meal and enjoy watching the race.

#2 RANDOM WALK (7-5)
#1 ZARTERA (9-2)
#5 BITUMEN (8-5)