I usually focus my attentions first and foremost on New York racing, but let’s start today by taking a look at the two major stakes races being run at Betfair Hollywood Park later this evening because I have some opinions in each of them:
Betfair Hollywood, Race 7: The Hollywood Turf Championship (G1) at 1 1/2 miles on the turf
This race really boils down to a showdown between the old guard of the California turf division and a couple of up and coming three year-olds. Bourbon Bay and Slim Shadey have battled each other four times this year in races such as this and each have a pair of G2 wins to their credit. Yet I can’t help but feel that a few of the new shooters make this field a bit tougher than the ones they are accustomed to handling. The three year-olds that I’m referencing are Optimizer and Grandeur. Of the two, I strongly prefer Optimizer (#2), who I have been waiting to bet in a spot such as this for some time now. I have always felt that he could be a successor to his sire as a top mile and a half turf horse if D. Wayne Lukas would focus on sending him down that path. Well it seems that Lukas finally came to his senses and boldly threw Optimizer into the Breeders’ Cup Turf. He failed in that race more because of strategy than anything else. The pace was hot and contested and Optimizer was right up there on it for most of the race, therefore he predictably had nothing left for the stretch. He showed next time out in the River City Handicap that he feels no ill effects from the Breeders’ Cup by running a bang up race to be a close fifth as perhaps the best horse. After being squeezed back at the start, he had to weave his way through traffic to get into position just behind the leaders at the top of the stretch. However, from there on out, he could never find a clear path until the race was essentially over and surely would have challenged for the win under better circumstances.
Now Optimizer is stretching back out to 1 1/2 miles and his pedigree indicates that the distance will be no problem for him. Two swift workouts since his last race signal that he still has some vigor for competition in his 14th (!) start of the year and I love the switch to Corey Nakatani, who should put him in the game early. I think he’s pegged perfectly at that 6-1 morning line and at those odds, I’ll be betting him.
$10 Win 2
Betfair Hollywood, Race 9: CashCall Futurity (G1) at 1 1/16 miles for two year-olds
As a handicapper, the first thing you need to notice about this race is that there is an abundance of speed. Between stretchout sprinters like Really Mr. Greeley and Oxbow and naturally speedy horses like Carving, Title Contender, and Violence, there is almost assuredly going to be a quick pace. I’m focusing on the closers and one in particular I am absolutely married to betting. I put He’s Had Enough (#1) on my “Horses to Watch” list after his brutal trip when finishing a tough luck 11th in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. I don’t usually add out-of-town horses to the list, but this seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I bet him back at odds of 19-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and was denied a huge score by a very game Shanghai Bobby.
He’s Had Enough had his share of troubles in that race as well. Mario Gutierrez secured a perfect early position on the rail off the pace, but found himself stuck down there as Title Contender was backing up around the far turn. He had to steady and lose position before regathering himself to rally in the stretch. Even then, he probably would have won if Gutierrez had not switched the whip back to his right hand thus causing He’s Had Enough to drift back towards the rail. Shanghai Bobby saw him and was emboldened enough to battled back for the win. I know the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile came up a slow race, but He’s Had Enough is a horse who is still improving and should receive an advantageous setup today.
One other horse worth mentioning who will be a huge price is Dirty Swagg (#3). I’m not quite sold on the quality of that Real Quiet Stakes, but he did have to endure a 5 wide run all the way around the far turn and was probably the best horse. He will also benefit from a quick pace, so I’ll throw a few bucks at him as a backup play.
$15 Win 1
$5 Win 3
Now we’ll switch back over to the East Coast to look at the four races I’m interested in playing at Aqueduct today, including the featured Gravesend Handicap.
Aqueduct, Race 1: Claiming $15,000 at six furlongs
Speaking of pace collapses, boy does this race look ripe for one. W. W.’s Lady’s Man, Madman Diaries, and Obviously Tuesday all need the lead to show their best and will have Flo’s Greatness, Settle for Medal, and Lindell A. C. in close pursuit early. Luckily, the best closer in the race happens to be my “Horse to Watch” list member King Rock (#9). His recent form may look a little spotty, but don’t be deterred because he’s had excuses. Firstly, he literally can’t stand up on a wet track, so ignore the effort two back. On September 19th, he was going to win that day if it were not for an unfortunate ride that saw him stymied in traffic for nearly a quarter of a mile (yes, a quarter mile, I kid you not). He doesn’t love to win races, but he should have everything in his favor today, so I’m hoping for a breakthrough. I’ll also play a small exacta with long shot D’ Sauvage (#2), who is not as fast as the main contenders, but is the only other closer in the race and will benefit from a total collapse.
$15 Win 9
$2 Exacta Box 2-9
Aqueduct, Race 3: Optional Claiming $25,000/N1X at six furlongs for fillies and mares
I was debating whether or not to include this race because I recognize that Sacred Success is a very likely winner and doesn’t necessarily need the lead. However, she has a right to be a bit rusty off the layoff and the early pace is going to be very fast with three speeds drawn alongside each other towards the inside. That’s why I’m taking a small shot with Lady Gracenote (#4). She isn’t the best horse in the race, but she has some back class and should get the right setup. I’m expecting her to drift above her morning line of 7-2 and will need Sacred Success or Clear Passaj to take a lot of hitting at the windows as incentive to play this race.
$5 Win 4 (WINNER; Payout: $21.00)
Aqueduct, Race 6: Optional Claiming $14,000/N1X at one mile and 70 yards for New York-breds
Readthebyline (#5) is typically not the type of horse that I want to land on since he is probably going to be the favorite and is trying to do something that he’s never been successful at before. Yet the longer I looked at this race, I just came to the conclusion that his chances of winning are probably over 50% and fair odds on him are around even money. I was also swayed once I looked up his pedigree. I know Read the Footnotes can get a horse to go two turns, but his dam’s side is just chock full of routers. You could make a serious case that his pedigree actually suggests he should be better going longer, so I’m going to bet him here and hope he can wire the field as the lone speed.
I will also make a small secondary wager on Warrior Up (#2), who I feel is the second most likely winner and should be decent odds. He ran decently last time when he made an early wide move around the turn before flattening out in the stretch. He finished in a photo that day with Indy Tune, who came back to win at Parx earlier this week, so I think the race is legitimate.
$15 Win 5 (WINNER; Payout: $29.25)
$5 Win 2
Aqueduct, Race 8: The Gravesend Handicap at six furlongs
Linda Rice has quietly been having a very successful fall and winter since racing switched to Aqueduct and I’m intrigued by both of her horses in here. I ultimately landed on Royal Currier (#2) because I think he is going to have a significant tactical advantage. I know he doesn’t always get the lead, but who is going to be in front of him early here? This is a horse who routinely goes to the half mile in 44 and change and many of his rivals today are not accustomed to running that fast early, especially the turn-backs like Isn’t He Perfect and Saginaw. I’m not going to hold his non-effort last time in the DeFrancis against him because he showed earlier in the year that he can bounce back from a poor effort after not lifting a hoof in the True North (G2). If Royal Currier can shake loose from Hillswick early, this horse usually gets very game in the stretch and I think he will hold them off.
$10 Win 2
[1:35 p.m. update] – King Rock was dull despite getting a good setup in the opener. It’s probably time to drop him form my “Horses to Watch” list since he just doesn’t seem to want to win race. Lady Gracenote ($8.40) got things back on track when she also got a perfect setup in the third race, but was able to capitalize on it and won going away. Also, in between those two races, Long River broke his maiden in impressive fashion under a confident ride from Irad Ortiz, Jr. for Darley and Kiaran McLaughlin. He is probably stakes bound in the near future.