shall we play a game?

As usual, I have some picks and analysis for stakes races this weekend.  However, things are a little different this week — for an exciting reason!

Andrew Rideout invited me to play the Turf vs. Tech Challenge on America’s Best Racing this week!  I’m taking my best shot at bearing the standard for technology folks against Lee Davis from the Esquire Network show Horseplayers!  For this contest, I had to handicap three races, the Rebel Stakes, the Santa Margarita Stakes, and the Honey Fox Stakes.  In addition, though, there’s a bit of a twist there that I don’t normally do here: each competitor constructs $100 worth of bets across the three races, best return wins.  So, in addition to posting my race-related thoughts, I constructed a few tickets as well!

Coincidentally, the three races for Turf vs. Tech were three of the four races in the Public Handicapper contest.  That leave one race to discuss here:

Tampa Bay Downs: Wayward Lass Stakes (1 1/16 miles on the dirt, fillies and mares, four-year-olds and up)

All of the legitimate contenders in this race like to be either on the early speed, or stalking close to it; especially since they tend to rate even if they don’t get that early speed, there’s no clear indication that this race will set up for a lone speed or for a closer.  The other  difficult thing about this race is that the two horses who look best for this race are both coming in off of long lays.  Montana Native has won three of her last four races — the only loss in those coming in the Alabama (GI), in which she finshed fifth beaten fourteen behind Princess of Sylmar.  Two of her four wins are at this 1 1/16 mile distance.  However, her last race was the Remington Park Oaks on September 29; this is the longest lay of her career.  She has been working regularly and relatively sharply at Payson Park. The other is Sheer Drama.  On November 30, she fired a clunker in the Comely (GIII), and has been on layoff since then.  Before that she ran three straight solid races at maiden, allowance, and stakes levels at this distance or longer.  This is a jump in class from those three races, but if she comes back in the same sort of form she was in before the Comely, she could contend.  However, she has been working neither as regularly nor as well as Montana Native.

Another horse worth looking at here is Giant Cats Eye.  She comes into this race off a fourth-place finish in an allowance race on January 30th.  Giant Cats Eye switched into a new barn four races ago, and has been running significantly better since that move.  She has been running in allowance company during these last four races, but looks ready to try stakes company for the first time since her new barn.  Even though all of her races have been generally stronger since she switched barns, those races have alternated between relatively stronger and weaker.  If that pattern holds, she’s due for a stronger one, which would be likely to at least hit the board in this company.

Given this field, I like Montana Native despite the layoff.  Her class and her affinity for this distance are likely to carry the day.

All handicapping aside, there will be one situation in which I’ll be just fine if things go nothing like I expected — and that’s if Liberated wins.  Do I think she has much of a shot, logically speaking?  No.  She has never won past a mile, and even though her pedigree suggests she can handle this distance, her PPs scream that she doesn’t like longer than a mile.  However, not only is Curlin her sire, but Colonial Affair is her damsire.  His run in the Belmont twenty-one years ago has stuck with me through the years, and I like seeing his progeny do well out there.  If she somehow finds something that I can’t find in her PPs, and defeats my choices?  Good on her, and I will be one very happy fan.

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