The final claiming date has come and gone, and it was the toughest claim of all to plan. I had $295 of my $500 worth of funny money, more than any other stable, and I needed to figure out how to maximize it in light of the four points races remaining: the Belmont Stakes, the Acorn Stakes, the Woody Stephens, and the Easy Goer. Last month was a bit easier since the Derby Trial draw was out. I could handicap the Derby trial, and try to grab a free horse with a chance. That was exactly what I did, and I was handsomely rewarded when Embellishing Bob won. On top of that, the Derby field was pretty well set, so I knew who to focus on there.
However, this time around, the only race of the four with a particularly set field was the Belmont. A few Belmont horses were open for claiming: contender Wicked Strong, and longshots Matterhorn and Matuszak. We had nominations out for the Acorn, Woody Stephens, and Easy Goer, but I wasn’t privy to much good scuttlebutt about who was going to run in those. So, I had to make my best guesses.
My big bid was easy. The Belmont is a big point race, and Wicked Strong is a legitimate contender. The next highest amount that another stable had was $229, so $230 of my claiming budget was going toward making it a mathematical impossibility that anyone else could get Wicked Strong. This was a risk, since someone could possibly not claim him (as happened before the Derby, when everyone fought over Danza instead!), but since it’s the last chance, it was a risk I was willing to take.
The lower bids were more difficult. I don’t think much of either Matterhorn’s or Matuszak’s chances in the Belmont, so I wasn’t going to go for either of them. This left taking chances at the other three races. Even though the Acorn is worth as much as the Belmont, all of the actual contenders who solidly appear to be pointing there are owned already. Therefore, I looked at the other two. I decided to focus my second-biggest claim attempt on Top Fortitude, winner of the Laz Barrera earlier this month. The Arizona-bred was dazzling in his maiden win last year, and found his stride second off the lay by defeating Tonito M. last out. Tonito M. was the other one I considered for this slot, but I thought someone else would be more likely to pay top dollar for him — something I was already doing for Wicked Strong. So, I bid $58 on Top Fortitude. Why $58? There were a couple of stables with $50 and $55 left, so I wanted to outbid them in case they decided to throw their entire modest cache at a good Woody Stephens prospect. I upped it by a couple dollars just in case someone else with a lot of claiming money left had that same thought, and bid $56 or $57. However, that still left me with enough money to counteract the sorts of $5-or-less bids that haven’t been completely uncommon in the league.
This left me with $7 for one last flyer. That went on Life In Shambles. There has been no clear indication of where he is headed next, though he is nominated for both the Woody Stephens and the Easy Goer. I liked him best in the Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard, and he was beaten just a head by Class Leader. He is trained by the excellent Christophe Clement. I was willing to take my last few bucks to gamble on two things: that no one else would bid much for Life In Shambles, and that he would go to the Easy Goer and not the Woody Stephens.
The decision for who I would drop was quite easy, given that this is the last hurrah. Ride On Curlin is clearly pointing to the Belmont, and has a legitimate chance to at least hit the board there. She’s a Tiger and Stopchargingmaria are both nominated for the Acorn; even though neither is clearly going, they are both strong enough horses to keep in case they go. Embellishing Bob and Conquest Titan are both nominated to the Woody Stephens. There has been some scuttlebutt about Embellishing Bob pointing there, and Conquest Titan has been working so well that I want to keep him just in case he is actually pointing there. Hence, I had three slots.
General a Rod was my first drop, since his connections have made it clear that he is not pointing toward anything in New York. He has been an excellent asset to my fantasy stable, and been part of it since the season started. However, since he is not going to New York, he was a very logical drop. Empress of Midway was nominated to the Acorn, but after her abysmal performance in the Angel’s Flight at Santa Anita, it’s hard to imagine she’ll stand a chance in the Acorn even if Doug O’Neill sends her. Sugar Shock, also nominated to the Acorn, would have a better chance. However, she is slated to run this weekend in the Panthers Stakes at Prairie Meadows, suggesting that she wouldn’t wheel back from that to the Acorn in just a week. Sugar Shock was my lowest-priority drop; if one of my claims didn’t go through, she seemed like the best hedge.
The claims this time around went about as well as I could have expected. No one dropped their entire fortune on Wicked Strong, but there was a $202 bid on him — making my $230 bid seem perfectly warranted. No one else bid on Top Fortitude, so technically I overpaid by bidding $58. However, there was a $208 bid on Tonito M — making my hunch that the big bucks would go on him and not Top Fortitude to be a completely correct one. Finally, no one else bid on Life In Shambles, so he was mine for the paltry sum of $7.
So, welcome Wicked Strong, Top Fortitude, and Life In Shambles to my fantasy stable! May they all run well, and may they all hit the board!