another weekend, another contest.

Another weekend has rolled around.  Since I’m still adhering to my arbitrary rule that I only actually gamble money on horses if I’m physically at the track, and Hawthorne doesn’t start up again until February 21, I’m playing another free handicapping contest as an incentive to keep my nose as buried in PPs as possible.  This one is on, the first week of its prep season contest.

There were four stakes races to handicap for this one, but each of the four had a relatively large field, between nine and twelve horses.  The format is a little different from the Danonymous Racing contest I participated in last week.  In addition to there being fewer races, there is also less room for error — you get a $2 win bet on your chosen horse, and that’s it.  There’s no win/place bet as in the other contest.  You get to submit a list of three horses, but the second and third are only for if the first and second horses scratch, respectively.

Before getting into the actual race analysis, I wanted to say a few completely subjective and completely meta words about the Gulfstream Turf Sprint.  I hated handicapping this race.  I hated, hated, hated handicapping this race.  If there were a “Roger Ebert reviews North” style rant about handicapping a race, you could cut it out and paste it here.  At this point, I am not sure if it is because I found it hard to suss out meaningful differences between a field of what I saw as mostly ho-hum horses lacking distinguishing factors, or if it is because I hate handicapping five-furlong turf sprints.  (Given that I have handicapped almost no five-furlong turf sprints, this is a possibility.)  I only mention this because it was a very strange feeling, the first time I have ever started picking a race and been tempted to launch my PPs across the room in sheer annoyance with the field and conditions (rather than just in frustration by a puzzle that seemed to be too tough a nut to crack).  Maybe this means the race was too big of a puzzle?  We shall see, from these results as well as my responses when I handicap five-furlong turf sprints in the future.

Below are my thoughts on each of the races.  As with last week’s contest, I will reveal my actual picks (and second and third choices) afterwards, accompanied by an analysis of how they did.

Aqueduct: Correction Stakes (6f on the inner dirt)

This is an interesting race because of its pair of beatable favourites.  Delightful Quality, the 3-1 morning line favourite, isn’t a bad choice given the field, but she strikes me as vulnerable, and not the likeliest to win.  She has won one race since she broke her maiden in June of 2012, and seems mostly content just hitting the board.  She seems great for exotics, but suboptimal (both on performance and price) for a straight win bet.  Lion D N A, the morning line second choice at 7-2, is coming off a win in the Interborough and an AOC win before that.  She rose to the challenge in her first stakes appearance since her juvenile year (a 7th in the 2011 Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante, for all you fellow Hawthorne nerds out there).  However, a bounce from her seems likely; she’s strung together two wins in a row a few times, but never three.  With some legitimate other horses in this field, I don’t expect that breakthrough here.

There are multiple horses in this race who have early speed, but the fastest and classiest of the bunch is Baby J.  She’s coming off a 3rd in the Interborough, run at the same distance as this race.  She had the lead most of the race, but just got caught down the stretch by Lion D N A and Fantasy of Flight.  If she can get right on the lead at the beginning, against this field, she has a great shot.  Among the stalkers, Masasi is interesting.  She takes her first crack at stakes company here, but her speed isn’t anomalously slow for this field, and she has a chance to catch the leaders if there’s a speed duel, or they tire.  Expression loves this track — she’s 8-5-1-1 on the Aqueduct inner.  I’m not sure of her chances to win (and therefore, of her use in this contest), but if I were betting an exotic on this race, I’d especially want her on those lower rungs.  I’m Mom’s Favorite is also an interesting question mark in this race — she has been on lay since a disappointing finish in the Test Stakes (GI) back in August.  She has never raced off a lay like this before, and has changed trainers since the Test.  If she runs like she has in the past, she has a decent shot, especially given that she has shown she can win from either speed or closing.  However, it’s hard to know what to expect here.

Gulfstream Park: Gulfstream Turf Sprint (5f on the turf)

Tightend Touchdown stands out for relatively obvious reasons — he hasn’t been off the board in over a year, and he finished a strong second to Mizdirection (in a dead heat with Reneesgotzip) in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.  The flipside, of course, is that price on him will be terrible as a result.  If Varsity gets the lead early, he can’t be counted out.  When he shows up to a race, his speed is good.  This is his second race off of a four-month lay, and his first back was a game second to Partyallnightlong in an allowance.  Wicked Tune was a close third, only 1 1/4 lengths behind the win, in that same race last time out.  However, it is a little worrisome that Wicked Tune has been passed around barns so much lately.  Partyallnightlong, the winner of that allowance, is in this race; the worry, however, is that it was such an anomalously good run given the rest of his career that he stands to bounce, hard.

Berlino di Tiger could possibly be interesting, but I’m not sure he is (or will ever again be) the same horse he was in Brazil — for the most part, he just hasn’t run as well since coming here.  If he were still running that was now, he’d be a strong contender, but there’s no good reason to think he will.

Today, the weather was bad down at Gulfstream, and the races were pulled off the turf.  Those comments above are based on the race being run on turf.  I don’t know whether Gulfstream is running on less than firm turf tomorrow, or if this race will be relocated to the dirt.  Two races back, Tightend Touchdown ran a strong second in the Turf Monster (GIII) on yielding turf.  He has multiple dirt wins, including one on sloppy dirt.  Partyallnightlong also has far more dirt experience than typical for this field, and has won once on a muddy dirt track.  They are the two in this race with the best combination of performance and track record if this race is yanked off from the turf to the dirt.

Santa Anita: Arcadia Stakes (GII, 1mi on the turf)

Suggestive Boy is interesting.  He is the defending champion, but is coming off of a long lay — his last race was his nose win in the Kilroe (G1) last year.  He was sidelined with a splint.  If he comes back the same horse as he was last year, then there’s no question he can hang off the pace and then nab whoever is on the lead.  Winning Prize, the horse most likely to be on that lead, has taken a couple stabs at going 1 1/16mi in graded stakes his last two outs (the first of which, the Shadwell “Turf” “Mile”, wasn’t exactly intended to be such an attempt), but is dialing back to a mile here, which is his preferred distance.  The other horse relatively likely to be on that early lead, Regally Ready, is doing his first stakes-level turf mile, but has the speed to be a contender in this field.  Tom’s Tribute is interesting here, because he has shown he can win turf miles both on the lead as well as in a closing fashion.  This rates among the classiest fields he has faced in his career, but given how he has ran in this last few outings, he’s likely up for the challenge.

One horse I was surprised to see in this field is Unbridled’s Note.  He has only run two races longer than sprint distances, and neither of them went well for him.  He has proven himself to be a pretty good sprinter, but I don’t like him much past 6 1/2 furlongs.

Tampa Bay Downs: Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the turf)

This is a tough one because the weather around Tampa has been bad.  Races were taken off the turf today, and I don’t know yet whether they’re pulling them off tomorrow as well, or whether they’ll be run on less-than-firm turf.  If it’s less than firm turf, there is some interesting information, since several of these horses ran last out in the El Prado, a race run over yielding turf at Tampa Bay Downs.  The only one who handled it particularly well was Salto, who finished 2nd by a head.  Philly Ace, though fourth beaten 5 1/2 in that El Prado, did win a race on yielding turf earlier in his career.  Really, no matter what the condition of the track, both Salto and Philly Ace are legitimate contenders in this race.  The only ones in the race who really like to get up to the front early are Salto and Mellow Fellow; Salto is just a faster horse than Mellow Fellow.  Philly Ace was on layoff from November 2012 to December 2013; the El Prado was his first start back.  If he can return near the form he had pre-layoff, he’s a threat from off the pace.  Seal Cove could be solid as a closing horse, if Salto has anyone trying to run with him on the lead.  He is a bit of a question mark, as he has been on lay since July, but he has been a regular on the Payson Park worktab, and seems ready for a return.

If the race is washed out to dirt, Looking Cool could be interesting.  He has raced most of his career on dirt:  three of his four career wins are on dirt, and two of those three are at this 1 1/16 mile distance.  This experience will come in handy if races are washed off of the turf tomorrow.  He may be a threat if the turf is decent, especially since Julian Leparoux (the jockey from his one turf win) has the mount again, but if the turf isn’t good, he was beaten so badly in the El Prado last out that he’s not a likely contender.

That’s all for Saturday.  Good luck!

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