last weekend’s handicapping contests!

Last weekend I played two handicapping contests: the one at Danonymous Racing, and the one at Public Handicapper.  There were eight races in the Danonymous contest and four in the PH contest, though with the overlap of the El Camino Real in both contests, it meant a total of eleven races I had to handicap between the two contests.  The formats were a little different in each: Danonymous Racing allows a win/place on one horse per race with two choices in case one scratches, whereas Public Handicapper allows a straight win bet only on each chosen horse, but three choices in case the first two scratch.

Unlike last weekend, I actually picked a couple of winners this time around.  Not as many as I’d like (then again, isn’t that always the case?), but I’m quite pleased not to be on a streak of two zeroes in a row.  Without further ado, here are a few words about each of the races from last weekend.

Saturday, February 15

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

This race was part of both contests.  In the Danonymous Racing contest, Tamarando was my first choice, and Enterprising was my second.  In the Public Handicapper contest, I had Tamarando first, Enterprising second, and Dance With Fate third.  Since he raced, I had Tamarando in both contests.  I was nervous to be so doubled down on Tamarando for the reasons I discussed in my preview — that the pace wouldn’t likely be so great for Tamarando’s deep closing style.  However, the combination of Tamarando’s love for the synthetic track and Russell Baze’s beautiful ride on him got him up and past Dance With Fate just in time.  Though he came from the back, he didn’t come from so far back as in any of his previous route races; he was never more than five lengths off the lead.  That was key, given the slower early fractions set by I’ll Wrap It Up.  Speaking of that, I was not expecting I’ll Wrap It Up to be the early speed in this race — I was expecting that from Dance With Fate, almost by default.  Dance With Fate stalked, pushed ahead of I’ll Wrap It Up coming into the stretch, and then got nabbed by Tamarando just before the wire.  Enterprising stalked closely throughout, clearly his preferred racing style.  He just didn’t have quite as much in the tank at the end as Tamarando or Dance With Fate did; he finished third by 2 3/4 lengths.

This was the only race in which all my selections managed to hit the board, though that did not come as a large surprise because they were pretty clearly the class of the field.  Craftsman, the most intriguing of the horses I didn’t select, stalked the pace until the far turn, but then faded badly to finish behind everyone but I’ll Wrap It Up.

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

In this race, I had Dame Marie as my first choice, Aigue Marine as my second choice, and Inimitable Romanee as my third choice.  Since she raced, I had Dame Marie as my contest horse.  I didn’t get Inimitable Romanee quite right: I thought she’d be a speed horse in this race, though she had won previously from off the pace before, as well.  I noted that I’d want to use her in exotics, that she had a good chance of hitting the board, but probably wasn’t going to win today — given that her last-out win in the Long Island was her first since July of 2012, and she only had three career wins in 20 starts leading into The Very One.  Instead, she didn’t set the early speed, she had a nice stalking trip, and she held up to win gamely.  Dame Marie, who I thought would be a live long shot, just didn’t fire.  (Ironically, Inimitable Romanee went off at a better price than Dame Marie did — which makes no sense at all, as Dame Marie was on a class jump, but Inimitable Romanee won a Grade III last out.)  Dame Marie wasn’t distanced — she was never more than about seven lengths off the lead — but she just couldn’t sustain the run she was trying to mount coming into the stretch.  Aigue Marine, my second choice, had a much better time of things.  She stalked the pace a few lengths back, as expected.  She ran strongly near the end, getting up there for the place, but just couldn’t catch Inimitable Romanee.

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

In this race, I had Suntracer as my first choice and Twilight Eclipse as my second choice.  Since he did not scratch, Suntracer was my contest horse.  I knew he was a risk of sorts: both because Twilight Eclipse is a fast horse with stamina from here until forever, and because Suntracer seems to like races longer than the 1 3/8 miles of the Mac Diarmida.  However, I figured Twilight Eclipse would be bet down a lot given that he’s the world record holder at a mile and a half; sure enough, he went off at 1.4-1.  I also thought there was some bounce risk, since he was coming off the win in the McKnight.  That wasn’t a huge risk, given that he was the class of the field, but it made him worth trying to beat if I saw a decent priced horse up to that bill — I thought that horse was Suntracer.  Suntracer didn’t win, but he didn’t win a bad race.  He finished fourth by a narrowing 2 1/4 lengths behind Twilight Eclipse, Amen Kitten, and Slumber.  Although that did me no good in the contest today, his race gives me something to look forward to in the Stars and Stripes and the American St. Leger — two even longer turf races that I plan to attend in person at Arlington this summer.  As for the winner, Twilight Eclipse got caught way further back at the beginning than I expected — six lengths back half a mile in.  However, he slowly gained ground through the backstretch, powered past Alpha through the far turn, and stayed in front.  Amen Kitten ran the closing style that his past performances suggest, and closed strongly to place.  Slumber, just behind Twilight Eclipse for almost the entire race, got up for the show though he never quite looked like he was going to get into first.  Unlike Twilight Eclipse, Slumber was exactly the horse I expected to see about five back, and then try to come up later.

Alpha, the horse whose mere presence in the race fascinated yet confused me, set the early fractions, with Bingo Bango Bongo right on his tail.  I surmised that it would be these two on the early lead, and that was correct.  Still, though, I’m not quite clear what Alpha was doing in a 1 3/8 mile turf race.  We’ll see where he goes next, but the Mac Diarmida did nothing to get us closer to the question of where Alpha races best.

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

This race was postponed, just like everything at Laurel on Saturday, due to the weather.  Therefore, it was scratched from the competition.  However, it has been redrawn, and will be run this coming Saturday with a slightly different field.  In the original field, my first choice was My Wandy’s Girl, and my second was Centrique.  We shall see how they end up doing this weekend; both of them are in the redrawn Barbara Fritchie field, as well.

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

In this race, I had Right To Vote as my first choice, Stealcase as my second, and Mavericking as my third choice.  Since he ran, Right To Vote was my contest horse.  (My second choice, Stealcase, did scratch.)  I got quite a bit right about this race, including the winner.  I thought it would be Right to Vote and Jaguar Paw wanting the lead, and those were the two who went up to the early lead.  Jaguar Paw faded, Right To Vote held on and won the race by half a length.  I thought Street Spice would be a few lengths off, and that’s exactly what he did.  I considered picking him as one of my horses, but I talked myself off of him because I thought being high on him was a question of my bias toward horses I know from the Chicago circuit.  He had a nice late run, though, and almost picked off Right To Vote.  Voodoo Storm came in third; he ran in from the middle of the pack, made up ground up to the far turn, but didn’t quite have as much as Right To Vote or Street Spice.  That said, he ran the style I expected, but a lot more strongly than I expected him to.  A horse who did not run as well as I thought he would was Mavericking.  He was bumped at the start, but just didn’t have anything.  Seeing him near the back of the pack early was no real surprise as he tends to close, but he just didn’t fire at all.  He only finished ahead of Win Willy, who I correctly expected would not be in such good form.

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

In this race, my first choice was Picko’s Pride, my second was Alsvid, and my third was Bull Dozer.  Picko’s Pride was my contest horse in the race, though Bull Dozer did scratch.  It was almost a coin flip as to whether Picko’s Pride or Alsvid would be my first choice; I though they both had the capacity to run strong stalking races.  I went with Picko’s Pride because he has historically handled outside posts better than Alsvid has.  Picko’s Pride did have the sort of trip I was guessing he would, at least to start; he spent much of the race just off the pace, but just faded badly in the stretch.  Alsvid, on the other hand, was strong coming down the stretch, and finished second to Apprehender by just half a length.  Apprehender, the winner of the race, came as a surprise.  He was running in good form last year, but the King Cotton was his first race back since pulling up injured in last year’s Count Fleet.  He does like this distance, but I wasn’t willing to gamble that he would be the same horse first time back out after his injury.  Turns out, he had enough in him to make a five wide move through the far turn, and hold the lead through to the wire.  He ran a solid one, period, which is particularly impressive given that it’s his first back after the layoff.  Black Bear, who finished third, had a decent run despite not getting the kind of trip  he would have wanted.  He got caught in the crowd, but found his way to the head of the rest of the pack to cross the wire third.

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

In this race, Ondine was my first choice and Fiftyshadesofhay was my second.  Ondine was my contest horse; Fiftyshadesofhay was a relatively late scratch.  I wasn’t expecting Iotapa to shoot straight to the lead; she did just that, and wired the field.  I expected her to hit the board, but wasn’t expecting her to be fast enough to hang with Ondine (or Fiftyshadesofhay, pre-scratch), especially since it looked like she generally ran better on synthetic than dirt.  I was wrong; Iotapa proved best, simple as that.  Let Faith Arise had a stalking trip; she didn’t make up much ground from where she stalked, but showed enough ability to stay the distance to hold the place.  Even though she had been sprinting before the La Canada, her second-place finishes in both that race and this one show that she has some promise at routes.  Stanwyck did run from the back of the pack and attempt to close; she only had enough time and space to get up for the show.  This I got right; I figured the pace wouldn’t be great for a closer.  It wasn’t, and Stanwyck is a pretty pure closer.  My pick Ondine stalked the pace, and was only a couple of lengths back going into the far turn, but she couldn’t make up any ground and faded to cross the wire fifth, 6 1/4 lengths behind Iotapa.  Running just off the pace was her more common racing style, and probably the smarter one to try given the likely pace scenario.

Monday, February 17

Aqueduct: Hollie Hughes Stakes (6f on the inner dirt, restricted to NY-Breds)

In this race, I had Mine Over Matter as my first choice and Notmyfirstime as my second.  Since she did not scratch, Mine Over Matter was my contest horse.  I was right that Freudian Dilemma and Marriedtothemusic would want to get up front early, and that Notmyfirstime would hang back.  I expected to see Mine Over Matter a few lengths off as well, but instead he got caught way back, and a little wide.  He fired on the stretch to claim third beaten 5 lengths, but couldn’t catch up to Be Bullish or Marriedtothemusic.  Notmyfirstime, my second choice, was a few lengths back to start, but he just didn’t fire, and lost ground to the rest of the field.  I was probably wrong in assessing that he was ready for this jump in class.  The winner of the race, Be Bullish, I just plain discounted.  I did notice that he specialized in this distance, his barn (Drawing Away/David Jacobson) was very hot at the meet, and his jockey (Taylor Rice) has been, too.  However, I thought he was going to need the lead, and just not be fast enough compared to the rest of the field to keep it.  Instead, Be Bullish came from a few lengths off the pace to win.  I underestimated this nine-year-old gelding’s versatility, and his ability to channel some of his old form against this field.  Marriedtothemusic, the second place finisher, I avoided mainly because I thought I’d get a terrible price on him — which, I would have, as he went off at 0.85-1.  I was right to try and beat him; I just picked the wrong horse.

Laurel: General George Handicap (GIII, 7f in the dirt)

In this race, I had Well Spelled as my first choice and Service for Ten as my second choice.  Since he did not scratch, Well Spelled was my contest horse.  I got some things right about the shape of the race; I was certain that Smash and Grab would be the early speed in the race, and he was.  However, he didn’t hold as far as I expected he would, and was passed by most of the field come the finish line.  My second choice, Service for Ten, didn’t run a terrible race.  It wasn’t too surprising to see him that far back early, since he won the six furlong Dave’s Friend last year from ten lengths back early.  However, the fractions were a little slower here, so the horses closer to the lead may have had more left in comparison.  He got as far as third, beaten 4 1/2 lengths by Bandbox and only half a length behind Tenango.  My first choice, Well Spelled, was a complete bust.  I thought he’d run a good one second off the five-month lay, but he just didn’t.  He hung out on the rail throughout, and completely failed to fire.  Bandbox, the winner, was hardly on my radar.  He hasn’t won a race since 2011, and this was his second race back from a seventeen-month layoff.  I usually like the second-off-the-lay angle, but I thought the extreme length of the lay was enough to override that second-off factor.  His first race back from the lay was against weaker company than this, and he finished third beaten 2 1/2 lengths.  However, the way he won the race — coming in from a handful of lengths off — was at least the shape I expected he liked, so I got at least one tiny thing right about Bandbox.  As for the second-place Tenango, I was just…lukewarm on him.  He fit the field just fine, he wasn’t racing poorly, but there wasn’t anything that stood out about him.  He’s one I thought had a great chance to hit the board, but not to win, given his failure to string together two consecutive career wins combined with the fact that he won last out.  I did correctly identify a vulnerable favourite in Palace — he went off at 1.1-1, and I wasn’t in love with the fact that he hadn’t won at a distance longer than six furlongs in over a year.  Sure enough, he faded a bit down the stretch in this longer race, and finished off the board.

Oaklawn: Southwest Stakes (GIII, 1 1/16mi in the dirt)

In this race, I had Ride On Curlin as my first choice and Paganol as my second.  Since he raced, Ride On Curlin was my contest horse.  My first choice, Ride On Curlin, finished third: good enough for fantasy league points, but not quite enough for points in the contest.  I already wrote quite a bit about Ride On Curlin’s trip on Monday night; the long and short of it is that I wasn’t surprised that he stayed near the front, but I would have liked to see a closing trip more like the Champagne.  Ride On Curlin was able to stave off the rest of the field — save Tapiture and Strong Mandate.  Tapiture, the winner, was clearly a strong contender.  In the Southwest, he got a very similar trip to his Kentucky Jockey Club win: hanging just off the lead, pulling ahead through the far turn, and being clear down the stretch.  (As an aside, it will be interesting to see how Tapiture handles getting a different trip.)  Despite drifting down the stretch, he still won by daylight over second-place Strong Mandate, who was switching leads down the stretch but still running fast enough to stay ahead of everyone but Tapiture.  I expected Strong Mandate to be either on or just off the early lead; he was a few lengths off, which given this field and the length of the race was a wiser move than if he had bolted right in front.My second choice, Paganol, I had expected to see hang off the early lead and overtake them (or, at least, come near overtaking them) late.  Instead, he stayed a few lengths off the lead as long as he could, but faded badly coming into the stretch — finishing a disappointing tenth, beaten 17 1/2 lengths.

Santa Anita: Buena Vista Stakes (GII, 1mi on the turf, fillies and mares)

In this race, I had Egg Drop as my first choice and Moone’s My Name as my second.  Since she ran, Egg Drop was my contest horse — and one of two horses to put me on the board in the Danonymous contest.  I expected Tapicat and Egg Drop on the lead early; instead, it was Miss Serendipity right on the early lead, with Egg Drop, Pontchatrain, and then Tapicat behind.  I had been expecting to see Miss Serendipity just off, maybe near where Tapicat was early; having her on the early lead like that was a surprise.  Egg Drop, as usual, ran a solid race; on the distaff side, there’s not a more consistent turf miler than Egg Drop.  She was just off the early lead, stayed up around the front, and held the place gamely.  My second choice, Moone’s My Name, couldn’t really rally her way out of the middle of the pack.  She bobbled a bit going into the far turn, and just couldn’t muster what she needed to in order to make ground.  She finished sixth, beaten five lengths.  The horse I could not have gotten more wrong was the winner, Pontchatrain.  I did not think she was going to like the mile as much as some of these horses in the race who were more accustomed to it.  She had won an allowance at 1 1/16mi at Del Mar last year, but had not faced a field of this kind of class at a route distance — only at sprints, which she had been owning as of late.  All of this, combined with all those sprinters in her pedigree (War Front, Dominica, Housebuster…) led me to think that she’d be outclassed at a mile, and better off going back to six and a half furlongs.  I was not right about that, at all — Pontchatrain had plenty in the tank, pulled ahead coming into the stretch after being caught three wide out of the far turn, and showed some serious class in the Buena Vista.

And, that’s what happened with the races I picked for last weekend.  Next stop: this weekend!  There will probably be another slate of Public Handicapper contest races; these are usually announced Thursday, and I will likely handicap them Thursday evening.

Furthermore, live racing at Hawthorne resumes this Friday, which is the best news I’ve heard since Illinois renewed ADW.  I can’t make it there on opening day, but I will be at the track on Sunday, and will discuss my picks and bets for that card.  I cannot wait to get back to Hawthorne; it has been dark since the end of December, and I miss going to the races on the weekends.  I miss hanging out in the paddock.  I miss seeing the horses run right in front of me.  I miss chatting face to face with people as excited about racing as I am.  I miss everything about it, and I am looking forward to returning to what is fast becoming my home away from home.

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