She Sells Sea Shells by the Sea Shore…oh, wait, wrong sentence with a ton of S’s in it. Still, in preparation for this weekend’s Danonymous Racing handicapping contest (the first of them that I have entered), I have had my nose buried in PPs. There are ten races in the contest. Five of them I puzzled my way through tonight; the other five I shall attack tomorrow night.
This was my first attempt to handicap using PDF PPs instead of a paper program at a track. It’s nice to handicap before race day (if nothing else, it means I will have a bit more sleep on Saturday before I wander out to watch the races!), but I felt like it took significantly longer to gather my thoughts this way than it does to mark up a program. I’m such a luddite; if I am going to make a habit of handicapping from places other than the track, I really need to buy a cheap printer so I can have paper PPs to scribble all over. Alternately, I may consider buying a tablet and a stylus, but even then I think I would prefer just paper and pen.
Also, it is the first time in a while that I have gone through the race handicapping process with so many unfamiliar horses. I hung around Arlington and (especially) Hawthorne so much this year that by the end of the Hawthorne fall meet, it was rare to see a race in which I wasn’t at least somewhat familiar with at least half the field. Today? I knew a few horses here and there going in, but that was it.
Okay, enough with the meta-rant about the handicapping process, right? You’re probably far more curious about my opinions about the races, so here those are:
- Santa Monica Stakes (GII) – Surprise, surprise: I like Teddy’s Promise and Heir Kitty in this one. I like Teddy’s Promise a bit more, as she clearly loves this track, and I am afraid Heir Kitty could easily bounce after her La Brea win. That said, they’re just the classiest horses in the field by a good margin. Lexington Pearl’s last two races were of the type that makes sense in this company, so it’s not a surprise to see her there, and she is the most likely spoiler in this race. However, there’s still a question as to whether those last two were an anomaly, or that’s how she’s going to race. Passing on her in the contest format, although if I were actually at the track, she would go in my exacta box.
- California Cup Turf – This race is wide open…there are plenty of horses I think have a legitimate shot of winning it, and then some who just don’t. Summer Hit is the favourite for a reason, but I don’t exactly like him at what’s destined to be a mediocre-to-rubbish price running the longest race of his career save the Awesome Again, which was at the same distance as this. He could do well, but I don’t love him enough to take that price. Instead, I’m looking to Jules Journey or Stoney Fleece. Jules Journey’s last two races after a long lay have been at a mile; he has been closing and gaining on the leaders, but run out of distance. Looks like he may want a bit more, and the jock change may be exactly what he needs. Though this is a clear jump in class for Stoney Fleece, his speeds rack up favourably with those in this field, and he’s got some experience at this distance.
- California Cup Derby – For fantasy league reasons, I really want to see Tamarando do well here. If he does well, he’s probably staying on the Derby trail, and more than likely staying in my stable. If he flops this one, there’s a decent chance I’m giving up on him. He has some quality wins, as well as some not-so-great outings, so how this will go is anyone’s guess. However, for handicapping contest reasons? There are two other horses in this field who I like just as much in this race, and I’m going to get way better prices on for the contest. One is Lucky Views, who has only raced twice so far…but looks good in a race without a lot of decent early speed. If he can keep the pace reasonable and hold on as a frontrunner, he has a good chance at this one for what’s likely to be a nice price. Another is Aotearoa. Even though he has never raced on dirt, he’s a solid horse, and when he’s running well he can probably smoke anyone in this field. Furthermore, it’s a bit hard to count out Gary Stevens (who is riding Aotearoa) on the Santa Anita dirt. California Chrome, on the other hand? He’s got “vulnerable” written all over him. He’s the morning line second favourite, he ran poorly his other time on the Santa Anita dirt, and he has bounced massively after both his wins. I wouldn’t bet a penny on this one.
- John B Connally Turf Cup (GIII) – So many horses in this field left me scratching my head as to why they were running a graded stakes race. Most prominent among the head-scratchers we find Arthur’s Court — if he cannot win an N1X, I cannot fathom why he belongs here. But, since the goal is to pick horses that have a shot at winning this thing…I really think this race is Admiral Kitten, King David, and the rest nowhere. The Kitten is the fastest of the bunch, and has been comparing favourably to much classier horses than this as of late. King David, despite being two races back from a long lay, looks pretty good; his last out in the Diliberto wasn’t so hot, but he had a last-minute shoe replacement in the paddock. I doubt he can beat Admiral Kitten, but he’s the best of the rest. Vertiformer has shown a bit in the past, but it has been a while, and he’s coming off a yearlong lay. There’s also Marine Patrol, who is in a legitimate position to try a GIII (especially this relatively weak one), but he’s going to run into a much stronger closing-style horse in Admiral Kitten.
- Houston Ladies Classic – Rose to Gold looks to be the classiest of the bunch, though it’s precarious. Her last two races back after a long lay have been less than good, but they were also both on turf — her only two races on it. This time, she’s going back to dirt, a surface on which she’s proven, and not facing a particularly tough field compared to the ones she’s faced in the past. She tends to win her races with early speed — like every decent horse in this race tends to win her races with early speed. Unusual Way likes early speed. Awesome Flower is positively screwed if she doesn’t get and hold the lead, though if she gets a good run on the lead, she’s going to dispatch even Rose to Gold, at what’s likely to be a better price to boot. Moon Philly can maybe hit the board if she’s not early speed, though all her wins have shown it. And Why Not is the closest thing this race has to a closer (which is sometimes enough, case in point Lakotadreamcatcher in the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante — the second dumbest bet I didn’t make this year!) , but she’s a career N1X who is in way over her head here. So, I’d probably say Rose to Gold or Awesome Flower, but this one’s wide open, and if it’s weren’t a contest I’d either keep my money in my pocket or end up picking at least half the field if it were a leg of a Pick-N.
And, there are my thoughts on five of the ten contest races on Saturday. Sometime tomorrow night, I will post a similar entry for the other five, the races at Gulfstream and Laurel.