Race 4: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles for three year-olds
Update [10:38 am]: Old Upstart was scratched. I’ll keep an eye out for him next time.
Well this is a doosie of a race, isn’t it? I could spend an entire blog entry discussing each horse’s merits as there are many ways to go. I’ve chosen to discuss two of the runners in detail, but I couldn’t argue with any number of options in case you have a different opinion.
I suppose it makes sense to start with the favorite, Bay of Plenty (#10). After an encouraging effort in his sprint debut he was stretched out to two turns for his second start. One would expect improvement routing since he is sired by Medaglia d’Oro and is a half-brother to Fortify, who placed in the Grade 1 Champagne. However, things didn’t quite go as planned. (Watch the replay.) He was slowly away from the gate and was immediately put into a difficult position as the field dropped over on him heading into the clubhouse turn. Joe Bravo was forced to steady multiple times as Bay of Plenty tried to run up on horses’ heels. He was then moved outside down the backstretch before commencing a four-wide run around the far turn. He stayed on decently, but tired to finish fourth behind next-out stakes winner Ring Weekend.
While it’s safe to say that Bay of Plenty has run the best races of anyone in this field, I’m not sure I want to rely on him as the favorite. He’s broken slowly in both career starts and if he does so again today he could be forced to endure a very wide trip.
As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of intriguing alternatives, but the one I found to be the most interesting is Old Upstart (#4). While I freely admit that I have no idea if this horse possesses any real ability, I think there’s reason to believe that the many changes he’ll be experiencing this afternoon could have a positive impact on his performance. Old Upstart met a nice field in his debut, which included next-out stakes winner Ami’s Holiday, but lost all chance at the start when he was squeezed back to last. He broke much better in his second start and showed good speed before backing away on the turn. He didn’t give up, however, and stayed on fairly well to only be beaten by 2 3/4 lengths. He then moved to Brian Lynch’s barn and put in a dull effort going seven furlongs after enduring a very wide trip.
What intrigues me most about Old Upstart is the switch to dirt. He is by Offlee Wild out of an unraced daughter of the excellent racemare Darling My Darling, who was second in both the Matron (G1) and Frizette (G1) as a two year-old before winning stakes at three and four. Darling My Darling only raced on dirt during her career and was bred to dirt sire Fusaichi Pegasus to produce Old Upstart’s dam. Old Upstart, until now, has only raced on Woodbine’s Polytrack, which often favors horses with pedigrees that are more turf-oriented. There are no real turf influences in his pedigree so it’s reasonable to think that he could move forward in his initial dirt start. Additionally, he is bred to stretch out in distance so today’s two turns should pose no problem.
I know that David Duggan does not sport very good layoff statistics, but Old Upstart has put in a couple of quick works coming into this race, including a bullet half-mile from the gate two weeks ago. Considering the speed he showed in his second career start coupled with today’s addition of blinkers, I would not be surprised to see him sent to the lead in a race that lacks a clear frontrunner. It’s also possible, but not a certainty, that he’s a new gelding for this race since he was listed as a colt last time. I’m making an educated guess, at best, with this horse, but I think this is a race that calls for some creativity.
$10 Win 4
$5 Exacta 10-4
Race 6: Claiming $12,500 at six furlongs
There is a lot of speed on paper—so much so that it’s hard to imagine even this group of jockeys preventing a fast pace from developing. Most will probably flock to Verbosity and Chasing Moonlight as their preferred closers, but I have problems with taking either of them at relatively short prices. Verbosity had been a decent closer prior to the layoff that took him out of action for the majority of 2013, but since returning he has not shown the same aptitude for passing horses late. I know that he got hung out extremely wide last time, which is a legitimate excuse for his performance, but I still have not loved the way he’s been finishing off his races.
Chasing Moonlight is perhaps more logical given the likely pace situation. He is typically the type of horse I love since he had a major excuse last time chasing three to four-wide on the turn on day that featured a strong rail bias. They’re basically giving the horse away today in hopes of getting an elusive win, but it’s become difficult to trust these connections, especially since they usually insist on giving opportunities to lower tier riders. Chasing Moonlight does not appear to be the easiest horse to ride and he could be in for another very wide trip here. Perhaps I’m being stubborn, but Chasing Moonlight is not the type of horse I want to rely on when he figures to pay single-digits in the win pool.
Most horseplayers will see this race as not being filled with other great closing options. However, I see two other horses who could potentially pick up the pieces late and are worthy of closer investigation.
Tiny Predicament (#6) is one of those horses, and while it may be fair to question his current form, I would attest that he has not, until today, been placed in a realistic spot by new trainer David Cannizzo. I’ve been saying for a few months now that David Cannizzo does especially great work with older claiming sprinters and the numbers support that notion. Since he’s taken out his trainer’s license, he’s started 30 older horses in claiming dirt sprints. Five of them have won for an ROI of $3.99 and 16 have been in the money despite the fact that the median odds for horses in that sample is just over 8-1. What that tells me is that Cannizzo’s runners often outperform their odds in these situations.
Tiny Predicament never had a chance when he ran first off the claim two back in a tough $25,000 claimer against classier in-form horses Bellamy and Hackleton. The early pace was extremely slow and he was forced to race four-wide for the entire run around the far turn, which took away all of his late punch. (Watch the replay.) Then last time they tried to stretch him out, which he clearly does not want to do. I like the turnback today and I also like that he’s almost guaranteed to get plenty of pace to run into. Tiny Predicament needs to get back to his very best efforts to have a shot, but I don’t think that’s an unlikely scenario given Cannizzo’s propensity for overachievement with these types of runners.
I’ll also take a shot with an even wackier horse in Straight Fax (#5), whose odds should be astronomically high. If this race had been run a year ago, Straight Fax would have been one of the favorites. Something clearly went wrong through the spring as he just lost any desire to even be competitive in his races and was basically pulling himself up after a few furlongs. Much like what the Patrick Quick barn did with Sensational Slam when that one went off form last spring, they gave Straight Fax an extended break. I’m not saying that Straight Fax will necessarily duplicate his stablemate’s success story, but I do think it’s encouraging that they even tried to get him back to the races. I also find it encouraging that, while he didn’t put forth his best effort last time, he did actually finish the race after apparently bouncing off the rail on the far turn. He could have needed that effort and if he’s going to step up and get back to his prior good form, today might be the day. At the price, I’ll take my chances.
$15 Win 6
$10 Win 5
Race 7: Optional Claiming $50,000/N2X at six furlongs
Much like the sixth, this race contains all the ingredients for a pace collapse. Green Gratto and I’m Stoked are both need-the-lead types and it would seem likely that a heated duel is going to take place up front through the early stages of this race.
While those two aforementioned runners are certainly talented, neither figures to be a very generous price so I think this is another good spot to look for a closer. Maleeh is the most obvious option as he ran very well early in his three year-old season before missing nearly a year while on the sidelines. Kiaran McLaughlin brings him back here and adds Lasix in a race where he should get plenty of pace to set up his late run. He can win, but he feels almost too obvious to me and I wonder if he’s going to end up being an underlay. Therefore, I’ve gone in a different direction.
Speaking of the aforementioned Sensational Slam (#1)… here he is. You can make a pretty convincing argument that he is (right now) the best closing sprinter in the race. They tried graded stakes company with him a couple of times this winter to no avail, but he now finds himself in a much easier spot. I won’t say that this is a huge jockey upgrade since Able Castellano, Jr. did ride this horse very well all winter long, but it’s nice to see Cornelio Velasquez take the mount and he should work out a great trip in a race where there should be plenty of separation early. Sensational Slam’s morning line odds of 15-1 seem like wishful thinking as anything over 9-2 would be a fair price on this contender.
$15 Win 1 (WINNER; Payout: $93.00)
Race 8: The Excelsior (G3) at 1 1/8 miles
Long River (#1) and Romansh (#1A) are the two most likely winners of this race and definitely deserve to be favored. However, this entry is the type of wagering proposition with which bettors tend to go overboard. They deserve to be favorites, but do they deserve to be 1-5? I don’t think so and yet I do believe that those are the odds at which they are likely to go off. This basically means that the five other horses entered will all be overlays, but that only matters if you can actually make a case for one of them. Fortunately, I can.
Dawly (#5) has been a revelation since stretching out around two turns. I know it’s been difficult to grasp that Dawly could show such improvement after hitting a plateau in his development while battling a bad case of seconditis for the better part of a year. However, it’s about time that we all give Dawly some respect. This horse has been in the money in a remarkable 15 consecutive races. Regardless of the level of competition, that’s quite an achievement. Until recently, most of those efforts have not resulted in wins, but ever since being united with new jockey Angel Arroyo, he’s won four of his last five. Arroyo has no preconceived notions of Dawly and therefore rides him with a great deal of confidence as was the case in his impressive win last time. (Watch the replay.)
An analysis of Dawly’s pedigree begs the question of why his connections had focused on sprint races for his entire career. He’s by stamina influence Awesome Again out of an unraced Tiznow mare. His second dam is Serena’s Sister, a full-sister to the great racehorse and broodmare Serena’s Song. Serena’s Sister herself has been a decent broodmare as she produced Doubles Partner, a multiple graded stakes winning turf router who earned over $680,000. Another half-sister to both Doubles Partner and Dawly’s dam produced a stakes winner at the demanding distance of 1 5/8 miles in Australia.
This stamina-laden pedigree would have you believe that Dawly should excel at today’s nine-furlong distance. He needs to take another step forward to beat both favorites, but given the way he’s been improving with each start this winter, perhaps that’s not out of the realm of possibility. I also feel like he’s a horse who could get lost in the wagering as the betting public focuses in on Percussion as the primary alternative to the entry. I’ll bet Dawly to win provided that he’s at least his morning line price of 8-1 and will use him underneath the entry in the exacta.
$15 Win 5
$10 Exacta 1-5
Race 9: Claiming $12,500N2L at six furlongs
Ten Items Or Less can certainly win at a short price, but I don’t trust him. He’s dropping in class after throwing in the towel very early in three straight races. Perhaps the softer competition will wake him up, but he still has to contend with other speed types early and will need to show more fortitude in the late stages of this race than he has displayed recently.
I prefer two closers, Patriotic Duty (#2) and G W’s Hammer (#6). Patriotic Duty is already making his seventh start of the year, but has maintained some of the best form of his career so far in 2014. He had a couple of excuses last time as he may just not want to run long, but he was also three-wide around the far turn on a day when you had to stay on the rail. G W’s Hammer was away very slowly last time and actually put in a very good late run in a race where he was certainly second best. (Watch the replay.)
Both Patriotic Duty and G W’s Hammer have run prior races that are good enough to make him them major factors here and the presences of both Ten Items Or Less and the often overbet Rap d’Oro should make these two bettable prices. I’ll bet them each to win and will box them in the exacta.