handicap ALL THE THINGS!

Maybe I’m crazy.  Maybe I’m getting too antsy because live racing at Hawthorne starts back up this coming Friday (HOORAY!).  Whatever it is, I’m doing two handicapping contests this weekend: both the one at Danonymous Racing and the one at Public Handicapper.  The Danonymous Racing contest covers four races on Saturday and four races on Monday; the Public Handicapper one covers four races on Saturday.  However, only one of the races (the El Camino Real Derby) overlaps between the two, so that meant that I picked a total of seven races for Saturday.

Golden Gate Fields: El Camino Real Derby (GIII, 1 1/8mi. on the synthetic)

This is the big Derby prep of the day.  There aren’t many in this race who like being the early speed, which makes Tamarando’s deep closing style a threat most to Tamarando himself.  However, Tamarando has performed better on the synthetic than he has on the dirt, and Russell Baze (a jockey who probably knows Golden Gate Fields better than anyone else on the planet) has the mount.  Enterprising and Dance With Fate may go up near the lead for this one; I’d say Dance With Fate would be more likely to be right on the early lead than Enterprising, but they both fall into the “likely to be the early speed by default”.  If one or the other gets there and is able to keep the pace at a manageable level, they may manage to thwart Tamarando’s deep closing style.  Craftsman is a bit of a question mark; it remains to be seen whether he has come into his own, since this is only his second race stateside, after shipping here from Ireland.

Gulfstream: The Very One Stakes (GIII, 1 3/8mi on turf, fillies and mares)

There are enough horses who want to be on the lead early in this one (Seanchai, Viva Rafaela, and likely Inimitable Romanee) that there’s a good chance the pace will favour a horse who prefers to come up from the back, especially in a race as long as this.  If one of the frontrunners in this race us going to take it, it will probably be Inimitable Romanee; she did manage to wire the field at a mile and a half last time out, in the Long Island Stakes (GIII).  I am more interested in someone stalking or closing, though.  Algue Marine looks nice coming into this race, especially given her particular success at the 1 3/8 mile distance.  She has also been in the States long enough to have come into whatever form she’s going to come into after shipping here from Europe.  Dame Marie is an interesting long shot, as well.  It’s the toughest field she has faced in her career, but she has shown enough speed in previous races to be likely to hang with this crowd, and she’s working well at Palm Meadows.  She isn’t a lock by any stretch of the imagination, but she’s a legitimate enough contender in this race that she is bound to be an overlay.

Gulfstream: Mac Diarmida Stakes (GII, 1 3/8mi on turf)

Bingo Bango Bongo and Alpha are going to want the early lead; neither of them have much success in races without it.  Twilight Eclipse is also likely to be either on or just stalking this early pace; among the speed horses, Twilight Eclipse has proven himself to be the classiest, and the most likely to stay on for this distance.  However, there’s enough speed and enough distance in the race that a horse from farther back who can handle the distance is a real threat.  Suntracer is a closer with plenty of experience in longer turf races.  This is the shortest race he has run since last June; though he has not won since the 2012 Carey Memorial, last summer he finished a strong second in both the 1 1/2 mile Stars and Stripes (GIIIT) as well as the 1 11/16 mile American St. Leger last year.  The distance is no worry, and he is reunited with Julian Leparoux, who rode him in the Stars and Stripes.  Another closer who may have a chance is Amen Kitten; he has acted in shorter races like he may want the extra distance of this one.  If he wants that distance, he could be a threat as well.

As an aside, I’m fascinated by Alpha’s presence here.  Alpha has been trying a variety of different mile and route races on the dirt, and took a less than impressive stab at the synthetic at Meydan last year, but hasn’t tried turf yet.  This will be Alpha’s first race on the turf.  He has had some brilliant races over his career, and he has had some flop races, but he hasn’t quite found a specialty.  I don’t know if he’ll fly or flop on the turf, but either way, it will be interesting to see.

Laurel: Barbara Fritchie Handicap (GII, 7f on the dirt, fillies and mares)

There are so many horses in this race who like early speed that I’m hesitant to think that early speed will win this race.  Baragah, La Verdad, Sunlit City, Winning Image…they all want to be up there, and up there early, making it likely that there’s going to be enough of a fight for the lead that it will benefit a horse farther back.  My Wandy’s Girl is interesting here.  She loves the 7 furlong distance, she likes being a handful of lengths off the pace, and if she proves on this second start back after a long lay that she’s the same horse she was before her lay, she’ll be hard to beat here.  Centrique has an inside post position, something she really likes, and her recent speed compares favourably with this field.  She tends to stalk the pace, and she’s fast enough to stalk any of those speed horses and have a good chance to get there.

Oaklawn: Essex Handicap (1 1/16mi on the dirt)

This race does not have much in the way of early speed at all, so anyone who can get there, control the fractions, and have enough in reserve to get down the stretch is going to have a good chance of winning this one.  Right to Vote and Jaguar Paw like the front more than the other horses in the field, though Right to Vote seems to be more consistent than Jaguar Paw is, and Jaguar Paw may be bet heavy because Calvin Borel is riding.  Stealcase probably won’t be right on the early lead, but if he can stay up there and stalk a few lengths off, he’ll be dangerous.  As for horses who are likely to be off the lead…if any of the closers are going to do it, I’d probably go with Mavericking.  He looks to be pretty happy with the turf-to-dirt transition he has made after winning the Buck’s Boy Handicap (a race washed off the turf), but he has been relatively consistent about mustering enough speed to hang with the field, and is likely best among the closers in this field.  Win Willy as a six-year-old would have blown him out of the water, but his form through his seven-year-old year and into this year hasn’t quite been the same.  He isn’t awful, but there has been enough decline in his statistics over the last year or so that makes me think he won’t be who he used to be.

Oaklawn: King Cotton Stakes (6f in the dirt)

Unsurprising for a six furlong sprint, most of this field either wants to be right on the early lead, or right near it.  Two of the horses in this field look primed to run a really nice one: Alsvid and Picko’s Pride.  Alsvid, who finished second in last year’s King Cotton, really likes six furlongs — he is 10-6-3-0 at the distance.  He has been working very well at Oaklawn recently, and even though his last race out wasn’t so great, it was also not at his preferred sprint distance, but rather a mile.  The last time Alsvid cam back from a similarly disappointing effort (a sixth place finish, beaten 6 1/2 lengths, in the May 2013 Honor the Hero Stakes), he smoked the field in an AOC35 at Prairie Meadows by sixteen lengths.  Picko’s Pride has been on a lay since July, but the last time he was on a lay of approximately equal length (about a year ago), he won a 6 furlong AOC65 by two lengths.  He ran some of the best races of his career last year, and if he comes back from that in anywhere near the form he had as he went on lay, he’ll be a threat in this race.

Although the handicapper in me says he’s not going to win, there is no horse in this race that the pure fan side of me wants to see win more than I want to see Wildcat Country win.  Last March he was claimed for $7,500, and claimed again out of his next race for $6,250.  Since then, he has started to race better, and he has won his last two outings: a 6 furlong Starter Allowance for horses who had started for a $7,500 claiming tag or less, and before that a $40,000 claimer at Oaklawn.  Few things make me happier than seeing horses rise through the ranks…and even though I know he is a long shot given this field, I really hope he does well.

Santa Anita: Santa Maria Stakes (GII, 1 1/16mi in the dirt, fillies and mares)

There’s likely to be very little early speed in this race.  The only one who seems to really need the front early is Golden Production.  If she were one of the faster horses in the field, I’d be likely to want to select her.  Unfortunately, she isn’t.  It doesn’t seem to stack up well for a deep closer, but one of the faster horses who generally runs just off the pace is more likely to take it.  Fiftyshadesofhay is consistently fast, but is likely to be bet down a lot despite the fact that she hasn’t gotten her nose across the wire first since last summer.  Iotapa is a solid horse who may like the distance (she has finished second at both attempts at 1 1/16 miles), though she’s probably a little better on the synthetic than she is on the dirt.  Ondine is 4-2-0-2 at a mile and a sixteenth, and is coming off a close call in the La Canada.  Any of these three horses have a decent chance to do well, though Ondine and Iotapa are likely to do it at a better price than Fiftyshadesofhay.

There are four more races on Monday for the Danonymous Racing contest: the Hollie Hughes at Aqueduct, the General George Handicap (GIII) at Laurel, the Southwest Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn, and the Buena Vista Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita.  Later this weekend, I will discuss those four races.

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