Friday, May 12, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Ruffian Stakes (G2)

There will be a Rainbow and Pot of Gold at the End of this Muddy Ruffian Stakes

By: Michael Amo, ThoroFan Chairman

Some say Ruffian was the greatest racehorse ever to run. From May 21, 1974 to June 22, 1975 she ran in ten races and always found herself in the Winner’s Circle. The one time she didn’t she broke down and didn’t finish the race. The ten race string included eight graded races including the Acorn Stakes (GI), the Mother Goose Stakes (GI) and the Coaching Club American Oaks Stakes (GI) which earned her the 1975 Triple Tiara ---- a triple crown feat for fillies. It is easy to see that a race for fillies and mares would bear her name.

This weekend will be the 42nd running of the Ruffian Stakes inaugurated in 1976, the year after she died. Like last weekend’s Derby heavy rain is predicted for Saturday at Belmont Park. Rain is forecasted beginning at 6:00 a.m. and raining progressively harder through the day.  So our handicapping needs to factor this muddy track variable into our equation.

Some great horses have won this race; among them are Lady Secret (Twice- 1985-86), Bayakoa (1989), Sky Beauty (1994) and Cavorting (2016). Although this year’s race lacks that level of talent, it is an evenly matched race. Here is the field for 2017 Ruffian Stakes:

    1.   High Ridge Road (Quality Road) is the Morning Line favorite with a nice win in the grade one Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park while pulling away in the 7 furlong race. Jockey change to Jose Ortiz is a positive move. Linda Rice has a 23% win rate with Jose up. Distance should not be problem. She is a legitimate favorite, but not the likely winner.

    2.   Verve’s Tale (Tale of Ekati) has not yet won a grade two race, but performed well at the grade three level. Has some difficulty finishing over a wet track, but worked a bullet in the mud at Belmont in April. Although not the fastest out of the gate, she likes the lead when she can get it. With serious improvement expected, she is an upset possibility.

   3. Highway Star (Girolamo) has won two grade three stakes races and is working nicely for this race. She is 3 for 3 over the Belmont Park surface earning her “horse-for-course” status. She won her only mud race, although it was at the Maiden Special level a year ago. She will be a factor.

    4.   Indulgent (Bernardini) has yet to win a graded race with no experience over the wet going. She is the main early speed, but may have a distance problem. She has yet to try a muddy track. She is not a likely threat.

    5.   Bar of Gold (Medaglia d’Oro) has performed well at lower graded levels. She now tries the grade one company. Return to jockey Rosario is a positive. With a 5 for 5 win ratio over a muddy track this lady will be doing the rain dance all Friday night long. She will be dangerous in the stretch, if she can get her footings.

Verve’s Tale is likely to take the lead down the backstretch in this one-turn-mile race. She may be speedy enough with the skillful guiding by Paco Lopez to keep it all the way.  Her running style on a muddy track offers two problems for the other four ---splash-back and closing traction. The small field may mitigate against the former, but perhaps not the latter. She could be pressed by the favorite, High Ridge Road.  However, depending on the amount rain that falls, the rail may be the last place to be. Highway Star could stay close, clear of splash back and attack in the stretch.  If Bar of Gold can replicate her effort over the muddy Belmont track on October 16th she will be the one most likely to win.

All in all, Verve tale will be up front for most of the race while being pressed by High Ridge Road and Highway Star through three-quarters. As they enter the stretch, Verve’s Tale with a clean face should be leading. However, Rosario should guide Bar of Gold into contention and make a move ---the winning move.

Here is how the race should finish:
    1.   Bar of Gold (5)
    2.   Verve’s Tale (2)
    3.   Highway Star (3)
    4.   High Ridge Road (1)

Handigamble ($100)
$20 to win on Bar of Gold (5) --- ($20 wager)
$10 Exacta Box: Verve’s Tale (2), Highway Star (3) and Bar of Gold (5) --- ($60 wager)
$10 Exacta Box: Verve’s Tale (2) and Bar of Gold (5) ---($20 wager)

Gold Luck, but keep the day job.

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