Last weekend was a wrap for the Public Handicapper prep season, which was the reason why I covered many of the races I did in my weekend stakes previews and recaps. It was the first time I ever played PH, and as difficult or frustrating as the win-only format felt at times, I feel like I acquitted myself well for my first time in such a contest. I ended up in 881st place out of 3154 players for the season, and actually managed to finish ever-so-slightly ahead after submitting picks for every single contest race of the season. I was a few cents in the black leading into the final weekend, and after hitting one out of four winners last weekend (Grand Contender in the Texas Mile), I finished with 11 of 52 winners, and $1.60 in the black. It wasn’t a smashing result, but as only 962 of the 3154 people who played finished the season at zero or better, it was better than most fared, and better than I was expecting to fare.
What’s my prize for this? More handicapping, of course! Between a new season of Public Handicapper starting this coming weekend, the huge Cappers with Causes contest that Danonymous Racing is running through the Triple Crown, and one other exciting yet-to-be-announced handicapping contest I’ll be playing in this weekend, I will have plenty of reason to sharpen my pencils and get ‘capping!
However, before that’s drawn, let’s look back at the stakes races I previewed for this past weekend.
Churchill Downs: Derby Trial Stakes (GIII, three-year-olds, 1 mile on the dirt)
In this race, Bayern was my top selection, Myositis Dan was my second, and Embellishing Bob was my third. Since he raced, Bayern was my contest horse.
All in all, I had this race handicapped really well. I got a lot right about the early pace: Bayern was right on it, with Embellishing Bob right up on him and Laddie Boy trying but not quite being able to get up there. Matador, the other speed horse who ran, just seemed too slow on paper to contend with those folks, especially on the dirt; he was far back early, and never able to contend. Expected stalker Friendswith K Mill was just a couple lengths off the lead, chasing behind Laddie Boy. Spot, who won the Swale from off the pace, was closer up than expected early, but dropped back by the time the field approached the far turn. Myositis Dan, who had done well from either closing or stalking places in the past, made the smart move (given all the early pace in the race) to drop back early, and make one big run late.
The biggest question I had about Embellishing Bob was his ability to go the mile, given that he had never raced past six furlongs going into the Derby Trial. His pedigree suggested he should, but you never know until a horse actually races. That bit of green is why I had him as my third pick, and not my second or first. It turns out that his bloodlines did not deceive; he was right up there, dogging Bayern all the way down the stretch. They bumped, and bumped, and then Embellishing Bob was pushed way out when Napravnik started using the left stick on Bayern, thus pushing him way, way out. As that was going on, Myositis Dan was gaining ground; as the wire approached, he had a huge closing kick and came flying on the outside. It looked like the three hit the wire together; Bayern was a nose in front of Embellishing Bob, who was himself a nose in front of Myositis Dan. However, Bayern was disqualified to second after a jockey’s objection; he came in too much on Embellishing Bob, which was clearly result-altering given the scant nose margin by which Bayern had crossed the line first. I had noted while handicapping that Laddie Boy probably couldn’t win from off the lead, but was showing enough recent improved dirt form to possibly hit the board. Even though he didn’t hit the board, he was fourth just 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner. With the top three so close, that was nothing to be ashamed of.
As one final side note on the Derby Trial, I got the betting action on Embellishing Bob completely wrong. He was 8-1 morning line, and I thought he could stand to drift even better than that come post time. However, he must have been on the radars of more bettors than I thought; he went off at 4.80-1.
Golden Gate Fields: San Francisco Mile (GIII, three-year-olds and up, 1 mile on the turf)
In this race, I had Horizontalyspeakin as my first choice, Pepnic as my second, and Fast Track as my third. Since he raced, Horizontalyspeakin was my contest horse.
None of my selections even managed to hit the board here. My goal here was to beat Summer Hit, who had Russell Baze aboard and multiple graded stakes wins under his belt. Since his synthetic form of late had been better than his turf form, he seemed worth it to try to beat. Horizontalyspeakin seemed to have the speed and the fight to take this race, and he was cutting back in distance. He got up and stalked just behind and outside of frontrunner Summer Hit, and it looked like he just might have enough zip until the final furlong. However, he then emptied out, and faded back to fifth down the stretch, four lengths behind the winner. The winner wasn’t Summer Hit, though. The winner was Pepper Crown, dead on the board at 46.1-1. He had stalked behind Summer Hit and Horizontalyspeakin, just a few lengths off the pace, and then made a beautiful stretch move up the rail to nab Summer Hit by 3/4 length. Pepper Crown hadn’t been completely off my radar, since he had shown his best form on turf, and could stand to improve given that he just turned four. However, even though I saw him as a threat to hit the board, he didn’t seem much threat to win. I underestimated him. Third place went to Hudson Landing, who had been about half a dozen back early. He never seriously threatened either Pepper Crown or Summer Hit, but had enough oomph late to pass the rest of the tiring field along the outside.
Pepnic looked like a threat for much of the race. He was stalking outside a few back early, but came in three wide through the far turn to challenge Summer Hit and Horizontalyspeakin. However, he couldn’t sustain his run, and faded to finish sixth beaten 6 1/2 lengths. Fast Track, my interesting longshot price horse since had had done such things in stakes races before, ran a terrible race. He lugged along more than a dozen back early, never meaningfully dented into that, and finished a distant last.
Lone Star Park: Texas Mile (GIII, three-year-olds and up, 1 mile on the dirt)
In this race, Grand Contender was my top selection, Forest Mouse my second, and Taptowne my third. Since he didn’t scratch, Grand Contender was my contest horse.
Grand Contender lived up to his name. He chased about three lengths behind pacesetter Skip the Pinot and close stalker Smack Ridge early, and moved along their outside in tandem with Taptowne approaching the far turn. Grand Contender got a head in front first, as Skip The Pinot dropped back quickly. Smack Ridge started to fade as well as the field turned for home. This set the stage for a stretch duel with Grand Contender on the inside, Taptowne on the outside. Taptowne tried, but in the last sixteenth, Grand Contender was clearly inching up; he won by half a length. Bourbon Courage, who I noted was a great bet to hit the board and a terrible bet to win, lived right up to that prediction. He was farther back than usual early, but did get into midpack in fairly short order. He kicked in down the stretch, and was closing ground on the dueling pair, but it was too little too late. His run on the outside got him third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Grand Contender but still another 3 in front of deep-closing, fourth-place Stachys.
Somehow, it was Bourbon Courage who went off the 1.6-1 favourite. It’s moments like these that make me shake my head, but that also make me rather grateful. All that money on a horse who hasn’t won a race in almost two years meant I could get 3.5-1 on Grand Contender, a horse who is now a sparkling 7-6-0-0 at a mile. Thanks, bettors!
My second selection, Forest Mouse, didn’t fare quite as well as my others. He was a little further back than usual early, about half a dozen lengths. He made up some ground mid-race, and was only a couple lengths off with two furlongs to go. However, he faded down the stretch, and ended up seventh beaten 5 lengths.
Santa Anita: Snow Chief Stakes (three-year-olds, California-bred, 1 1/8 miles on the turf)
In this race, Alert Bay was my top choice, Tamarando was my second, and Aotearoa was my third. Since he raced, Alert Bay was my contest horse. I considered Patriots Rule a bit as my third choice instead, but decided to drop him out since it was a win-only contest. Though I saw him as a possibility to hit the board, I didn’t think he’s quite get there to win off the jump in class.
Awesome Return, the winner, came as a bit of a surprise to win. I noticed he had never missed the board on turf, but in all but his maiden win, he had come up close (or even taken the lead, as he had in his last race), and then just hung. He never seemed to be able to finish the job down the stretch. I thought the distance may have suited his style, but the fact that he kept hanging down the stretch suggested he may not win. However, he found the run he needed this time. He stalked back a few lengths off the leading pair of Pray Hard and Aotearoa, came wide into the stretch, and was able to sustain a stretch run for the first time since his maiden win. He pulled ahead by daylight, and had more than enough left to get to the line first. Patriots Rule had a big late run, as well. He was dead last down the backstretch, but made an even wider move coming into the stretch. He had the most late run out of anyone, but had to cover so much ground late that he settled for second, 3/4 lengths behind Awesome Return. Alert Bay stalked a length or two off the pace, definitely his preferred trip. He did have some run late, but he was just short of the late speed he’d have needed to fend off either Awesome Return or Patriots Rule. He finished third, 1 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
Tamarando, in his first race on turf, did okay. He was near the back early, but not as far as he has been in some of his previous races: just four or five lengths back. He made up some ground on the lead coming out of the far turn and into the stretch, but Rafael Bejarano lost the whip in the final sixteenth, and just didn’t have as much late as the other closers. He finished a respectable fourth, only 2 lengths back. Aotearoa, my third choice, stalked within a length of the lead from the early going all the way into the stretch. However, he ran out of steam, and dropped back from second to sixth in the final furlong, 4 1/4 lengths behind Awesome Return.