Today, I made my first venture back to Hawthorne after the winter hiatus. It feels so good to be back at my home track — and it feels so good to get to do some handicapping with a paper program, instead of PDF PPs. Let the live racing begin!
That said, here are some thoughts and observations on each of the nine races on the card.
Race 1: $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, N3L, 6f on the dirt
In this race, Wild Command is likely to be the early speed; he’s the only one in the field of six who seems to ever want it. His last work was pretty sharp. He has ran a smattering of races between 6 1/2 furlongs and 1 1/16 miles, so he’s dialing back in distance. The switch to 6 furlongs should help him here. C. C. Banjo is the closer in the field, and has also hit the board all four times since switching form $7500 claimers to $5000 (4-1-3-0). He has probably found his level here. Diver is a bit confusing after the precipitous drop in class between last summer and last fall; he won a $5000 N2L after dropping in for this tag, but has performed poorly in all three at the $5000 N3L level. However, the winter break may have freshened him up, and if he can regain his four-year-old form, he should do well for this field.
Race 2: $5,000 claiming, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, non-winners of 2 since August 23, 2013 or N4L, 5.5f on the dirt
In this race, there are just too many horses who have shown a glaring inability to win without getting right on the early speed: My Place Or Yours, Queen Of Heat, and Da Nella. Rock Hard Legacy is a speed horse, and prefers being on the early speed as well, but in her last win (a $5000 N3L at Hawthorne on November 13, at 5.5f) was able to be on the lead with multiple horses through some snappy fractions, and emerge victorious. She has also posted two works in the new year, including a bullet 5 furlong work on February 14th. She’s my pick here. If the race were any longer than five and a half furlongs, I would probably look to Shes Got To Run to run them down, since she can stay a handful of lengths back, but she may likely run out of distance; she does her better running at six, six and a half furlongs. She’s likely to hit the board as the rest of the early speed fades, but I doubt she’s going to catch Rock Hard Legacy here.
Race 3: $27,000 maiden special weight, three-year-olds and up, 5.5f on the dirt
I can only suspect that the racing secretaries had to do some interesting things to fill the field here, since it’s not often you see four out of eight horses in a maiden special weight coming up from racing in maiden claimers. Do Not Enter comes in as the 6-5 morning line favourite, and the price is only likely to go down from there. He is one of only two horses in the field who raced through the winter, hitting the board in two Florida-bred MSW races at Gulfstream in January with speed figures that compare extremely favourably to the field. To add to that, Timothy Thornton (who had five wins and three seconds in eight races Friday, and then two wins and two seconds in his six races yesterday) has the mount. The only major drawback to this one is that he does not even have a published work at Hawthorne yet, so there’s no real information about how he will handle the local oval.
Four-year-old Keep On Shining is the most experience horse in the field — he has raced nineteen times so far, and the other seven horses in the race have raced nineteen times combined. Even though he’s the only other horse in the field who raced over the winter, a fact I would usually count in favour of a horse in a maiden race like this, he screams professional maiden.
Giacomo Strap and Just For Papa, the two other four-year-olds in the field, seem the best choices with which to attempt to beat Do Not Enter. Giacomo Strap is coming off a nine-month lay, but has been working rather consistently through the winter. Just For Papa flopped his last out, dropping from MSW to maiden claiming company after an eight-month lay, but has three decent works posted through the winter. However, I can’t say I love either of their chances to beat Do Not Enter.
Race 4: $8,000 maiden claiming, three-year-olds and up, 5f on the dirt
Totee is an enormous wild card here. Normally, I would like a horse who finished second in MSW company in an $8000 maiden claimer, but one of those races was in December of 2011, and one of those races was in November 0f 2012. he was on a ten-month lay from December of 2011 until October of 2012, and then this race is his first off a lay since December of 2012. He is the morning line favourite at 7-5, and has been working relatively well (compared to his company) at Hawthorne over the last month, but is is hard to like a horse who has had so many layoffs — even in an $8000 maiden claimer.
I like Hush My Mouth here best out of an extremely weak field. Though well beaten, he has hit the board in his last two races at this level: one at five furlongs, and one at six. He didn’t race through the winter at another track, but his recent works here at Hawthorne are the sharpest of the bunch, including a bullet 3 furlong work in 36:40 on February 8. Other than him, I like Voodoo Spell a bit today, too. He shipped over from racing through the winter at Fair Grounds. He started racing on turf, but has switched to the dirt. His last race, he stalked the pace but faded in the end; he is cutting back from 1 mile 70 yards to 6 furlongs here, against a weaker field. He could graduate today.
Race 5: $25,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, N2L, 5f on the dirt
With the scratches of Ib’s Mystery and (particularly) Battle Creek Lady, there’s a little less early speed in this race than there otherwise would be. However, expect to see Mnmssweepinbeauty, Foxie’s Beauty, and Virginia’s Joy at the head of the pack early — and likely throughout. Virginia’s Joy, after having run most of her races on either turf or all-weather, has seen some success on the dirt. She finally broke her maiden on the switch from the Arlington all-weather to the Hawthorne dirt, and finished third beaten just a length last time out. She should like the five furlong distance. Foxie’s Beauty is coming off a neck loss at this level last out, and if she races like that again, she will contend here. Mnmssweepingbeauty has been on layoff since May of last year, but broke her maiden first out at the Hawthorne spring meet last year, and followed that up with a second and a third in AOC races at Prairie Meadows. She had early speed in both of those, but was outfinished — suggesting that cutting her distance back to five furlongs may help. She may be rusty due to the long lay, but if she rounds back into that form, expect her to be a contender at this level. Any of these three horses has a decent shot to win this race, and I will likely exacta box them.
There are a few other horses in this race who race off the pace, but none of them are likely to catch these three. Velvet Kay is probably the biggest question mark — she is switching back to dirt for the first time since last spring. Her outings on dirt earlier in her career were not successful, though, so unless there is something major that her connections see that I don’t, she looks like a relatively clear pass. I would say a class drop on turf would help her a lot more than a surface change.
Race 6: $4,000 claiming, four-year-olds and up, non-winners of 2 races in 2013-14 or non-winners since April 23, 2013, 5.5f on the dirt
Even though Hawthorne didn’t slot $4,000 claimers last fall, just about all of these horses are familiar — they all raced at the $5000 level last meet at Hawthorne except for River Of No Return, who last raced at last summer’s Arlington meet but did race at Hawthorne last spring. Probably the two best horses in the race, Tsunami King and One For Biscuit, are likely to be hampered by the five and a half furlong distance. They both have liked to come from off the speed, though One For Biscuit raced from near the lead in his last race, and has garnered all four of his career wins that way. I am not sold on him winning, but anticipate he will at least hit the board.
The only two horses in this field who have won a five and a half furlong sprint are Come On Man and Todi Bee. Come On Man is a likely contender here; all six of his career wins are at Hawthorne, so he clearly has an affinity for the track, and his speeds compare favourably with the field. Todi Bee, on the other hand, is not likely to do particularly well here. He absolutely hates dirt, and only turns in decent performances on the synthetic at Arlington. I’d consider him for a race at this level there, but on the Hawthorne dirt? No.
Race 7: Allowance Optional Claiming ($50,000), three-year-0ld fillies, non-winners of a race other than maiden/claiming/starter or N2L or $50,000 claiming price, 5f on the dirt
The pace of this race will likely be fast. Not only is it a very short sprint, but none of the horses in this race have ever won a race without being right on the early lead. Gabio, at least, managed to cross the wire second beaten 3 1/4 lengths by Richies Sweetheart last out, in an AOC over a sloppy track here at Hawthorne last December, while staying a few lengths off the lead. The cutback in distance may help her, and I like her best here. Pistols Drawn looked confusing at first glance, but seems like she may be a decent play here. Her best work has been in route races — but also, her best work has been on her only two dirt races. She didn’t run well in her sprints on the all-weather at Arlington, but her route on the Hawthorne turf wasn’t so great, either. She appears to have found a better place on dirt, so I can’t blame her connections for trying a dirt sprint to get an idea of what distance she may run best at. Doc Galore is the morning line favourite, and is attractive because she raced twice over the winter against tougher company at Gulfstream. She tried the turf last time out, but switches back to the dirt here. However, she failed to hit the board in both races at Gulfstream, and anything near here 2-1 morning line is an underlay. She’s probably worth using in boxes or multi-race wagers, though, because of the class drop.
Race 8: Allowance ($29,000), Illinois-bred, three-year-olds and up, non-winners of $8,800 or a state-bred race other than maiden, claiming, or starter, or N2L, 5.5f on the dirt
I really like Gita’s Mahal here. He lost by just a head last out at this distance, and his recent speeds are great compared to the rest of the field. Even though he’s taking a jump in class compared to his last few races, he is in a great spot since he is one of the few horses to race through the winter, and he has never missed hitting the board at five and a half furlongs. Another horse I am interested in seeing here is Sweep E Prado. He won his maiden race at this distance at Hawthorne in November, and then stretched out to a mile and a sixteenth last out for the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity. He came in 4th, but was only beaten 3 lengths. I like seeing him at this distance, and even though he is only three years old, he was big and strong looking enough even at two that if I’d give any local horse a shot against older company this early in the year, it would be this one. One other horse who may be interesting in this race is Azeg. He cuts back sharply at distances here — his last out was a six furlong race, but before that, he was running routes. He won a 6f $22500 claimer at Hawthorne last out, and his speed compares well with the field. Even though he is moving up from claiming to allowance company, so is much of this field, and he has a shot. My only worry is the relatively pokey works he has been putting up on the board lately. It gives me some pause, but his recent races imply he deserves a shot here.
Race 9: $17,500 maiden claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 mile and 70 yards on the dirt.
Here we are, finally: the first (and only) route race of the day. None of these horses raced through the winter; they all last raced during the fall Hawthorne meet. Also, none are on the drop from MSW to maiden claiming company, which is always one of the best angles to take. A few of them, Wedding Trifecta, Mutually Exclusive, and potentially A Unique Lady, are flirting with career maiden status; A Unique Lady is making enough of a class drop here, however, that it may help her, especially since she has hit the board in her last two attempts in higher maiden claiming company, after switching back to dirt from turf. A dirt sprint may be just what she needs. Speaking of horses on the class drop, Sweet Jess drops from a third place finish as this same distance in $25000 maiden claiming company, and is coming off a bullet work here on February 14. She’s another good choice here, though the price on her is bound to be terrible.
That’s all for now — time to head to the paddock. Good luck!