This weekend, I was skunked again in the Public Handicapper contest. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. Out of the four races, my top two choices made up the exacta in two of them. However, in both of those races, my second choice horse finished first, and my first choice horse finished second. From a win-only contest rules perspective, it was extremely frustrating. However, from a perspective of gaining some confidence in my handicapping skill, it was nice to come that close in those races.
Aqueduct: Gotham Stakes (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)
In this race, Uncle Sigh was my first choice, Samraat was my second, and In Trouble was my third. Since he raced, Uncle Sigh ended up my contest pick. I figured there would more than likely be another duel between Uncle Sigh and Samraat, as there was in the Withers, and I was correct that they would duel. It ended up even closer in the end between them (just a neck in the Gotham versus a length in the Withers), but even with the six extra pounds on his back Samraat managed to get his neck in front down the stretch, and keep it there at the wire.
What I wasn’t completely expecting was how In Trouble ran. I expected him to be very good if he came off the lay sharp, and he was very good. However, I was expecting him to come from just off, be closer to where Samraat was through the course of the race. Instead, it was In Trouble who set the early fractions, with Uncle Sigh just behind, and Samraat stalking. To be fair, this wasn’t as much of a surprise as if In Trouble had been way back and tried to pull a closing run, but it was a little unexpected to see someone other than Samraat or Uncle Sigh set the fractions.
Financial Mogul, in fourth, didn’t run the race I expected to see. I expected him to try and come up from further back. Instead, he started from more of a tracking position, lost some ground, and just barely managed to stave off Harpoon’s closing run to hold fourth. Given the relatively slow fractions, it wasn’t likely that any closer was going to catch those top three. However, I was expecting it to be Financial Mogul trying to make at least some sort of a closing move, not Harpoon.
Gulfstream: Palm Beach Stakes (GIII, 1 1/8mi on the turf)
In this race, my first choice was Storming Inti, my second was Patent, and my third was Pleuven. Since he did not scratch, Storming Inti was my contest horse. This race was extremely difficult from a handicapping perspective; as I mentioned in my preview, it felt wide open, with a lot of the longer shots looking on paper like they had a decent shot. There is a good possibility that I was just missing something, and need far more experience handicapping either three-year-olds or turf races, but I felt like the difference between the horses I chose and the first few horses I didn’t choose was almost nonexistent.
Storming Inti, as expected, took the lead and ran well with it. However, he wasn’t able to get too loose on it, and just didn’t have enough to hold off everyone behind him all the way to the wire. He finished third, beaten only three quarters of a length in total. It was, however, a game third; he wasn’t badly weakening. He was caught Gala Award and Mr. Speaker. Gala Award ran the race shape I expected, coming from just off the pace. I worried about his lack of experience, his only previous races having been maiden specials, but did notice that the speed figs he was putting up looked good for this field, and that he’d probably like the mile and an eighth distance. Turns out, the jump from maidens to winners was no problem, and Gala Award did the job. Mr. Speaker surprised me because of how far out he was early in the race. His run couldn’t properly be described as a deep close because he made it from a dozen back to midpack relatively early, but he definitely managed to pull a strong late move to nab Storming Inti and come close to Gala Award.
As for Patent, I thought he would possibly be able to find the speed to hang with this field. The long and short of it was, he didn’t. I don’t think the distance was necessarily the problem, but he just didn’t have the same ability to keep up with the quickening fractions as the rest of the field. My faith in him was misplaced, and it looks like he needs to go back to allowance company. Pleuven, only a length off coming into the stretch, just didn’t have enough kick down the stretch to get up to that lead. He didn’t fade, but he didn’t make up ground either, and crossed the wire fourth. He’s running with the right level company.
Oaklawn: Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes (6f on the dirt, Arkansas-bred)
In this race, I had Goods Gone West as my first choice, Valid Commander my second, and Shady Creek my third. Since he raced, Goods Gone West was my contest pick. This was the second of my two races in which my first two picks were the exacta in the wrong order. I thought Valid Commander was going to need the early lead to win this race; instead, he stalked the pace around the backstretch, made up ground, and nabbed early speedsters Humble Smarty and Road to Saleeta late. I identified him as a very live long shot, but underestimated his versatility. As for Goods Gone West, he didn’t run a bad race; he just didn’t quite catch Valid Commander. He was hanging in the middle of the pack as I expected, gained on the lead into and down the stretch, but fell short. That validated the concern I had that maybe Goods Gone West likes a bit more distance than six furlongs, but also the thought that he had a pretty good race in him. I also pegged his pace perfectly.
Humble Smarty ended up finishing third in the race. My choice for a third horse (in case Goods Gone West and Valid Commander both scratched) was close between him and Shady Creek; I ended up opting for Shady Creek. Humble Smarty ran better than I expected with the blinkers. He was right near the lead most of the race; he started to tire a bit down the stretch, but ended up third beaten three lengths. That was, at least, his best recent showing with the blinkers. As for my actual third pick, Shady Creek? He just didn’t find the speed he needed to get the lead he liked. He managed to make up a bit of ground from his mid-pack position, but got caught wide on the turn, and couldn’t catch up to the leaders. He crossed the wire fifth, beaten five lengths.
Tampa Bay Downs: Turf Dash Stakes (5f on the turf)
In this race, I had Berlino Di Tiger as my first choice, Hold On Smokey as my second, and Spring to the Sky third. I was very unhappy to find out Berlino Di Tiger scratched, just because of the timing. I made a check on Equibase for scratches, was satisfied that none of my choices (or horses who would affect my choices, pacewise) had scratched, and submitted them. Then, a while later, I needed to check the race information to verify a detail for my preview writeup. Lo and behold, in that period of no more than an hour, Berlino Di Tiger scratched. This meant I had Hold On Smokey, who did race, as my contest horse.
Hold On Smokey did not have a good day. He was not right on the lead, where he likes to be, but he was running with the pack, not too far off. Going into the far turn, he dropped back abruptly. I’ve watched that part of the race so many times to figure out why, but I’m still not exactly sure what happened. He just checked hard, and before he could get his stride back, he has lost at least four lengths on the pack. There was a jockey’s objection that Hold On Smokey’s jockey lodged against the jockey on Stormy Rush. Stormy Rush was just to the front and outside of Hold On Smokey; my guess is that the objection had something to do with that. The objection was denied. Hold On Smokey did gain some ground back down the stretch; he crossed the wire eighth, but only 5 1/4 lengths behind the leader.
My third choice, Spring to the Sky, was up near the lead going into the stretch; he was tracking in second for almost the entire race. However, he just emptied out in the stretch, lost ground to the winner, and got passed by two strongly rallying closers. I was right that he would be bet down, though at 2.1-1 he wasn’t bet down nearly as much as I expected he would be. The big reason he was not my top choice (despite his class advantage) is that he can be so inconsistent, and he showed that here.
The actual winner, Ancil, was a horse I threw out early as a real winning prospect. Looking at his PPs, I found him to be inconsistent as well as unlikely to be the fastest of the bunch even if he were having a good day. Not only did he have a good day, he had quite possibly the best day of any horse running five furlongs on the Tampa Bay Downs turf. He got on the lead quickly, kept it, and set a new five furlong track record of 54.88. Pyrite Green came from off the pace as expected, and was storming up late to claim second. I had noticed he had never strung together two wins before (he was coming off an AOC win), though he didn’t normally fire a total clunker after a win. I liked him to hit the board but not win; that bore out. If this had been something other than a win-only contest (or if I were actually betting), my eyes would have squarely been on Pyrite Green as a good bet for lower rungs of exactas or trifectas. Third was Tell All You Know, who ran from a few lengths off as expected. He couldn’t quite catch Ancil’s record pace, but he gained ground late, and ran better than expected.