In the latest Chicago Railbird, I wrote a full preview of the Hanshin Cup (GIII) at Arlington today. However, the scratches hit my picks hard. Two horses have scratched, but they were big ones: top selection Hammers Terror, and frontrunning value play Taken by the Storm. They were the only real speed influences in the race.
This make Hogy very difficult here. Though he will not likely be right on the early fractions, since he can stalk from relatively close and has been in very good form this year, his best should have him well set for a second Hanshin Cup win.
Mister Marti Gras, also originally discussed in the column, remains interesting for undersides. He wheels back from last week — something he has only done once before in his career, with a graded stakes placing to show for it (the 2011 Ack Ack). He does have known speed jockey E. T. Baird aboard, which stands out a bit given the scratches of the two real speed horses in the race. Still, for a horse who has been running that long, a change in style would be a shock; it is hard to actually imagine Mister Marti Gras sending and succeeding.
If the Arlington track stays as speed-favouring as it has been over the last few days, two of the longer-priced horses have increased appeal: Empirestrikesagain and Lahshad.
With Hammers Terror and Takenbythestorm both out, Empirestrikesagain looks like the only horse left in the field who has shown much affinity for the lead. His last-out form was franked to an extent with Crewman’s next-out win, though that should be taken with a grain of salt given Crewman’s wire-to-wire win, and the heavy speed biases of the last two days. That last-out win by Empirestrikesagain came from the clouds, but three starts back at Hawthorne he was on a contested lead the entire time and prevailed by a neck. If he tries that style again, there is a chance he gets the lead, and plays catch-me-if-you-can on a speed biased track. The biggest question is class; he will need to run the best race of his life, even with the track playing this way, to beat these tougher horses.
Lahshad cross-entered at Indiana Grand and Arlington, and opted to stay home at Arlington. He has been in improved form this year, and placed second behind horse-for-course Jessica’s Star in the Jim Rasmussen Memorial Stakes at Prairie Meadows. That was on dirt, but his 10-3-3-0 record on the Arlington poly suggests he has a shot here. His running style should also help, since he can run a good race stalking relatively close to the lead. The biggest issue with Lahshad is the distance; he does his best work going longer than a mile. He seems an undersides-at-best type given the one-turn mile, but with the lack of speed in the race, should have a good chance to invade those exotics.