As usual, I handicapped four more stakes races as part of the Public Handicapper contest. On tap this week are two graded races for three-year-olds, and two sprint races for older horses.
Aqueduct: Gotham Stakes (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)
I am dying to beat the pair of New York breds here, Uncle Sigh and Samraat, but I’m not sure I can. They’re likely to get up close to the front, though it may be a bit more interesting than the Withers because there is a good shot that Extrasexyhippzster could get up their with them – though that’s not a given, because the latter has won from either leading or stalking places. However, this is a classier field than Extrasexyhippzster has faced so far, and a longer race than he has ever run. Deceived does like the lead as well, though all signs point to him not quite being able to hang with these three speed horses unless he throws a freak race.
The buzz horse in this race is Financial Mogul, and there is some evidence to support that. He is coming in second off the lay, and has some nice works leading up to the Gotham. He is the classiest of the closers among the field; if the speed horses end up dueling and pushing the fractions too fast, look to Financial Mogul to come pick up the pieces.
One of the two real question marks here is In Trouble. He is coming off a long lay; he hasn’t raced since his win in the Belmont Futurity back in September. He is working well as of late, and if he comes off his layoff sharp, he could come from just off the pace and give the speed horses a run for their money. If he comes off the least bit rusty from his layoff, though, he’s going to have a hard time staying with and eventually catching either Uncle Sigh or Samraat.
The other question mark, who I discussed in relative detail a couple days ago in my Fantasy draft post, is Noble Cornerstone. His Davis was abysmal, but between the blinkers going back on and the return to Aqueduct, he has a chance to run a much better race. He has won one race from the lead, but closed to finish second in the Springboard Mile; expect him to try for more of a closing style here, since he has no chance to hold the lead with this field.
All things being equal, I would probably give a hair’s-breadth edge to Samraat. However, all things aren’t equal. Uncle Sigh will be carrying six fewer pounds than Samraat will be, and with that, I give the slight nod to Uncle Sigh.
Gulfstream: Palm Beach Stakes (GIII, 1 1/8mi on the turf)
This is a tough, tough race, in which even many of the long shots have a chance to win. There’s not a lot of early speed in this race. This is likely to be one of those turf races where one or two horses get near the front, a pack chases, and then there’s a dash the last few furlongs to try and grab that win from the leader.
Even though he’s the morning line favourite, it’s hard to beat Storming Inti here. He is trying graded company for the first time, but is coming off three straight stakes wins — the last of which was on the Gulfstream turf. He has the speed to get the lead here, and there’s no other horse in this field who has shown the real need or desire to get to the lead like Storming Inti. Even though he has never run a mile and an eighth before, he has finished his mile and 1 1/16 mile races with something left, and there’s no reason he won’t be able to stretch out here. Finally, Javier Castellano, who has been riding very well as of late, has the mount. If he runs the way he is capable, he can wire even this strong field.
One of the longer shots I really like is Patent. Even though he has only run a maiden race, his performances betray a preference for routes over sprint races. This is no surprise, given that A. P. Indy is his sire. He showed good speed in his maiden win, and didn’t run poorly in the sprint his last out — it just looked like he ran out of room. He isn’t a deep closer; rather, he likes coming in from the middle of the pack. A deep closer would be out of luck given the lack of early speed in this race, but he could stay close enough assuming Storming Inti doesn’t go too loose on the lead. Patent is returning to his element, he’s adding Lasix for the first time, and he looks like a very live long shot.
Oaklawn: Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes (6f on the dirt, Arkansas-bred)
This race was interesting to handicap since I knew none of the horses who were racing. Usually, the contest races are stakes races that have more national horses, so I tend to recognize most (if not all) of the field, going in. The only state whose state-breds I tend to follow are Illinois, since I live in Illinois. However, it was an interesting challenge to handicap a field of completely new horses; let’s see how it goes.
There are a lot of horses in the field who like to get the early lead: Valid Commander, Mallett, Humble Smarty, and Shady Creek, with Primetime Dreamer likely wanting to join them a furlong or two in. Among these, the horses with the best chances to actually get (and possibly keep) that lead are Humble Smarty, Valid Commander, and Shady Creek. The rest of the field likes to stalk from some relatively small amount of lengths (less than half a dozen) off. There aren’t any consistent closers in this field, though Rock City Roadhog is probably the closest thing this field has to one.
I like Goods Gone West here. He won three races at this distance last year, all for state-breds, including a 5 1/4 length win in the Rainbow Stakes at Oaklawn last year. He spent most of last year on a layoff; this is his fourth race back. He was fourth in his last race, but only beaten two lengths. He has been working pretty sharply, and is fast enough to pick up the pieces if the speed horses tire. Valid Commander and Shady Creek, two horses coming in from a February 14 N1X state-bred allowance race at Oaklawn, look like a couple of live longer shots here. Both of them really need the early lead, but if either one gets it, they may be hard pressed to give it up. Valid Commander recently changed trainers, and has shown improved form since that move. Shady Creek is coming off a bullet work, and this is his second race back from spending the second half of his three year old year on lay. He could improve here.
Humble Smarty is the defending champion, but he adds blinkers here after five races without them. The three races previous to that with blinkers were absolutely awful; I do not know why his trainer is adding them, and it makes him a very vulnerable favourite.
Tampa Bay Downs: Turf Dash Stakes (5f on the turf)
Berlino Di Tiger looked to be the best of the speed of the race — not a bad thing to be, in a five furlong turf race. However, he scratched this morning, leaving the field significantly wider open. Most of the horses in this field, however, do want to be on the early lead, or right near it. The only ones who don’t really need it, and may try to make a move from behind, are Tell All You Know and Stormy Rush. Unfortunately, both of those horses are pretty outclassed here, so this race looks like a question of who is going to get up near the front and sustain that speed for five furlongs.
Spring to the Sky is inconsistent. If he runs one of his really good races, he will be extremely tough to beat here. If he doesn’t, then he won’t hit the board. He is the 7/2 morning line favourite, and may well win if he’s on today, but that may not be the greatest price to take in a win-only handicapping contest with such an inconsistent racer.
Hold On Smokey interests me. He is one consistent horse — he has hit the board in his last eighteen races, a span of over two years. He specializes in short sprints, five to five and a half furlongs. This race is a class jump for him; his last attempt in stakes company was last year’s Turf Dash at Tampa Bay. Mainly, he has been running allowances and AOC races. However, he has shown the ability to run very gamely, and do what he needs to hit the board. He isn’t as shoo-in, of course, but in light of Berlino Di Tiger’s scratch, if Spring to the Sky falters, look to Hold On Smokey to possibly get there for a smashing price.
Tune in tomorrow morning for a discussion of Sunday’s Hawthorne card: I’m going out to the track tomorrow, and just like last week, I’m going to write up my thoughts on the races before they go off.