Friday, March 31, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Florida Derby (G1)

Follow the Rules in this Year’s Florida Derby

By: Michael Amo, ThoroFan Board Chairman 

The 2017 Florida Derby has the potential of converting an unknown into a star. The field of eleven has four horses that have been previously competitive on this year’s Derby Trail and seven who hope to join that group. 
Here is the field:

    1.   State of Honor (To Honor and Serve) prepped at Tampa Bay Downs placing 3rd and 2nd in the Sam Davis and Tampa Bay Derby, respectively. One of four front runners who may run their race too early. His Tampa Bay Derby race was solid running on the front end over a speed favoring track.

    2.   Talk Logistics (High Cotton) has run respectable and improving races in his career, however not enough to win here. May need a couple more races before his true form appears. Yet and in-the-money upset is not impossible.

3.   Charlie the Greek (Adios Charlie) is trying stakes company for the first time. Will need the rest of the field to underperform if he expects to be in any exotic.

4.   Always Dreaming (Bodemeister) is one of two entries for Todd Pletcher—both have jockey Velasquez with the call. Working bullets, but Beyers and ThoroGraph numbers tailing off. Questionable winner.

    5.   Quinientos (Sky Mesa) has been progressively taking on stake’s company with little success since winning his maiden in December. Latest workout nice, but racing improvement stunted. Have to wait and see, before risking any money.

    6.   Coleman Rocky (Harlan’s Holiday) is working nice since running a respectable race on January 29 over a speed favoring wet track. He is trying stake’s company for the first time. Although not much to like about his win chances, we have to remember that trainer Delgado brought Majesto a second place behind Nyguist in last year’s Florida Derby. Hummm?

    7.   Unbridled Holiday (Harlan’s Holiday) is another one trying stake’s company for the first time. His last two races, ThoroGraph numbers and most recent workout suggest he may be trending into form. Loss of jockey Saez to a competitor, Three Rules, may not be a good sign. Not sure.

     8. Impressive Edge (Harlan’s Holiday) is a notch below the top quality in this race, but is working solidly and likes Gulfstream Park with two wins out of three attempts. Combination of trainer Romans and jockey Lanerie has a 20% win rate. Could be in the exotics.
    9.   Battalion Runner (Unbridled’s Song) with bullet works, early speed, high Beyer numbers and Pletcher/Velasquez combination looks like the one to catch and beat. Unfortunately, he’s expected to scratch in favor of the Wood Memorial.

    10. Three Rules (Gone Astray)has raced against some good ones and has held has own. The Fountain of Youth was deceivingly good for him. With a bias toward closers that day he led the charge to about the eighth pole. As closers moved he tried to respond, but was pinned on the rail by Practical Joke who finished second. If the track continues to show tactical bias his chances improve for the win. Last bullet work says he is ready. Watch and then wager.
    11. Gunnerva (Dialed In) has 2 wins and 2 seconds out of five tries at Gulfstream Park. One of the seconds came in the Holy Bull against Irish War over a speed favoring track on which he didn’t close. Is the legitimate favorite, but doesn’t need to win to be in the Derby. His current qualifying points (64) should get him there. An in-the-money performance just guarantees it. Be cautious.

The key this year’s Florida Derby is speed and track bias. Three horses, State of Honor (#1), Always Dreaming (#4), and Three Rules (#10) have early speed and have the appropriate Beyers to make them contenders. Those with tactical speed seem to lack the ability to threaten, perhaps with the exception of the improving Talk Logistics (#2). The lone solid closer, Gunnevera (#11), will be trying to run down the leader in the stretch.

State of Honor (#1) with 22 qualifying points off his 3rd place finish behind Tapwit and McCracken in the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and his 2nd place finish behind Tapwit in the Tampa Bay Derby is a solid 14th on the Derby Leader Board. Any one of the top three finish positions will cement his Derby spot.

Three Rules’ (#10) third place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes legitimizes his contender status. Yet with only 10 qualifying points and leader Board ranking of 30 he needs at least a second-place finish to assure his chances of being in Derby field. Talk Logistics (#2), also, needs at least a second-place finish to make the Derby field even possible.

Looking at the charts for the last couple of weeks of dirt, distance races at Gulfstream Park shows most of the wins were gained with well-placed, tactical speed. If this continues on Saturday, Gunnevera will have a difficult time trying to come from near last to first. In addition, his Fountain of Youth race was a hard-fought win and may take a toll.  Assuming the track is not favoring closers, here is how I see the race ending:

    1.   Three Rules (#10)
    2.   State of Honor (#1)
    3.   Gunnevera (#11)
    4.   Talk Logistic (# 2)

$20 to Win and place on Three Rules (#10) ($40)
$5 Exacta Box #1, #10 and #11 ($30)
$1 Trifecta Key #10 with #1,#2,#11 with #1,#2,#11 ($20)

That leaves $10 for a beverage.
Good luck, but keep the day job.

Handicapper's Corner: New Orleans Handicap (G3)

Backwheel Breaking Lucky in New Orleans Handicap

 By: Reinier Macatangay, Thoughts On Racing, Life and More

Closely matched fields can either work to a bettor’s advantage, or drive him or her crazy. In the $400,000 New Orleans H. (GII) on Saturday at Fair Grounds, the race is so evenly balanced that no horse is shorter-priced than Noble Bird at 7-2. Hawaakom is next at 4-1, while four horses show 6-1 odds on the morning line. 

While Noble Bird sticks out on his best day, he is also liable to throw in clunkers. To start off, forgive the Pegasus World Cup (GI) effort. He had to set the pace with the legendary Arrogate and Neolithic chasing him.

Two starts ago in the Clark Handicap (GI), Noble Bird experienced trouble at the start. Afterwards, he expended energy moving up to the front and faded. The task was difficult because Gun Runner controlled the race.

In contrast, Noble Bird held uncontested leads three and four starts ago. The 6-year-old son of Birdstone converted those easy leads to decisive wins in both starts. It is a concern he needs a clean break and uncontested lead.

If not Noble Bird, perhaps Hawaakom can come from off the pace and grind out the victory. The 7-year-old gelding is a consistent one on paper. Out of his last 10 starts, he only missed the top three twice.

As for the most recent miss, Hawaakom did need to steady in the backstretch of the Clark. Otherwise, the horse is a picture of consistency. But, he seems to fall short in winning graded stakes races. 

The four horses at 6-1 appear consistent too, but none of them stick out. 

Iron Fist won an ungraded stakes race at Sam Houston last time. Who did he face though? Two starts back, he could only manage an average fourth by three lengths against Hawaakom.

Meanwhile, International Star just missed against Honorable Duty in the Mineshaft H. (GIII). Despite owning a couple of graded stakes victories from his solid 3-year-old campaign, he consistently falls short as an older horse. 

Based on the last two starts, the 5-year-old gelding Honorable Duty might be considered more reliable than Iron Fist and International Star. His Mineshaft win came after a bump at the break and going wide on both turns. 

Eagle is the last one out of the 6-1 odds group, and he has never finished worse than fourth in his last 10 starts. His Bel Ali (GIII) win at Keeneland is a nice one, as it came against Noble Bird and Breaking Lucky. 

Still, Eagle was outkicked without a visible excuse in the Mineshaft by Honorable Duty and International Star. 

None of them get the blood pumping as a handicapper. 

In fact, the only horse offering a unique angle in this field is Breaking Lucky at 8-1. Since his form is “dirtied up” because he lost the Pegasus World Cup by 26 lengths, bettors may ignore him. 

Horses with a wide post position in two-turn Gulfstream dirt routes tend to struggle badly. It is not uncommon for a wide post to cost 10 lengths or more in the situation. Breaking Lucky began from Post 10, just inside of the star California Chrome. Both horses ran wide next to each on the first turn, and finished eighth and ninth respectively. 

Watch Breaking Lucky’s Clark effort to see how he responds to an early inside position. He ran well and deserves another chance to redeem himself in this spot, but more likely as a backwheel candidate rather than to win. 

Handigambling ($100)

Trifecta Wheel $2.50 – 3,4,6,9,10 over 2,3,4,6,7,9,10 over 1 ($30 each) ($75 in all)

Exacta Wheel $5 – 3,4,6,9,10 over 1 ($25 in all)