Spiral weekend!

This week, the Public Handicapper contest features four races: two at Turfway (a track I’ve never handicapped before…), one at Oaklawn, one at Santa Anita — and all for three-year-olds.  There’s no need for too much jibber-jabber.  Let’s just dive into the races!

Oaklawn

Gazebo Stakes (three-year-olds, 6 furlongs on the dirt)

It’s never fun to pick a race apart only to realize that the only horse you want anything to do with in the race is going to be complete chalk.  Alas, this was what I found in this race full of three-year-old speedball sprinters.  Some are coming up from the maiden ranks, some are dialing back in distance from longer stakes attempts, and they all have one thing in common: they’ve done their best work either on, or no more than a length or two off of, the lead at all times.  They’re not all going to get all the way up there, so to win this race, a horse needs two things: to be able to contend if he’s not the one horse who gets the lead to start, and to be able to go six furlongs faster than anyone else in the field can.

Only one horse in this field has shown speeds that consistently excel with this field, combined with the ability to win from a few lengths back.  That’s the 2-1 favourite, Boji Moon.  I will be surprised if he’s not bet down to odds-on by post time, but in a win-only handicapping competition, I would want a horse who has a shot to win.  If I were playing an exacta, I’d consider filling that second rung out with Dunkin Bend or Kendall’s Boy.  Dunkin Bend is coming in off of a two and a half month lay, but the cut back to his preferred six furlongs combined with the move to a more successful barn at this track should bode well for his return.  Kendall’s Boy is coming off an absolutely terrible run in the Southwest, but has been showing steady improvement in sprint races.  Cutting back to six furlongs here, combined with the experiences against classier competition, could be good for hitting the board against this field.

Santa Anita

Pasadena Stakes (three-year-olds 1 mile on the turf)

This race has an interesting mix of horses: some Derby prep runners who likely preferred the turf all along, some turf sprint runners who are trying the stretch out to a mile, and even a couple of horses coming straight here out of maiden wins.  There isn’t a ton of early speed in this race; the only ones in the field who really prefer to be on the lead are Diamond Bachelor, Quotient, and No Ma’am.  Enterprising is likely to stalk pretty close back from that crowd, and then the rest will be likely to chase from further back, and try to make a move later.

Quotient is fascinating here.  He is one of only two horses (No Ma’am being the other) who are coming into this race from a maiden win.  Quotient broke his maiden last time out (his second career start) at Santa Anita on the turf, hanging just off the lead for most of it before kicking ahead late.  What makes this interesting is the distance of the maiden race: 1 1/8 miles on the Santa Anita turf.  He showed that he’s not only got the speed to hang with this field, but stamina to spare given that this is only a mile race.  He is my prime choice.

Two of the other horses up front, Diamond Bachelor and Enterprising, warrant particular mention.  Diamond Bachelor has had two straight not-so-good races: the Breeders Cup Juvenile last fall and the Robert B. Lewis last month.  However, both of those were on the dirt, and both were at 1 1/16 miles.  He racked up two wins, as well as a 3/4 length second behind Aotearoa, in his three races at a mile on the turf.  The combination of the return to his preferred distance and surface, with the fact that this is his second race off of a three-month lay, bodes well for him here.  Enterprising, another horse who is returning to his much-loved turf miles after a couple of attempts at longer races on the Golden Gate Tapeta surface, has shown some of the best speed of the field.  He drops in class here, and is a definite contender, albeit at what’s destined to be a low price.

If the early pace goes faster than expected and sets up for one of the closers to get his nose up on the wire, look to Puppy Manners.  The outside post isn’t great, but he is helped by the fact that he doesn’t have to get extremely far back to close — so his ability to close isn’t quite as desperately dependent on pace as others.  He likely won’t have too much ground to cover, and may prevail for a share at a good price no matter what.

Turfway

Bourbonette Oaks (three-year-old fillies and mares, 1 mile on the synthetic)

I like Aurelia’s Belle here, a lot; she is my top choice here.  She only has a maiden win to her name, but has hit the board in three graded stakes races since: the Old Hat, the Forward Gal, and the Davona Dale.  She’s returning to the polytrack; her maiden win was at six furlongs on the main track at Keeneland.  She also gets back Channing Hill, the same jockey who rode him in that maiden win.  Getting her preferred spot a few lengths off from the lead shouldn’t be a problem, since she has plenty of speed to do it and is breaking from the four gate.

Cheerful Contender interests me here as well.  She ran her first two career races on the synthetic at Woodbine, winning her second out at 1 1/16 miles by six lengths.  She didn’t have a great time in the Martha Washington at Oaklawn — her first attempt at a stakes, and her first trip on dirt.  She was off a bit slow and never really got up there.  However, in her last start, she won an allowance at 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn.  Here, she’s cutting back to a mile, and is switching back to the synthetic.  There isn’t a ton of early speed here: other than her,  it’s just Zensational Bunny and possibly Sloane Square or Katie’s Eyes.  If she can get up on or near the lead early, a good possibility with only two slower horses inside of her at the start, she could contend.

Spiral Stakes (three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic)

This race is interesting, since there are a lot of speed horses, and a lot of closers.  The end of this race could be a free-for-all between the speed horses who can stay and the closers fighting to get up there.  Two of the buzz horses going into this race are ones who like the early speed a lot: Solitary Ranger and Coastline.  However, there are concerns about the nine furlong distance here, and both of them have tended to lose ground at the end of their mile and a sixteenth races.  Solitary Ranger is also stepping up in class from his last few starts.  They are both talented horses, but I have doubts about whether either of them are going to handle the distance.  I’m going to look elsewhere.

He is going to be very chalky, but I do like Tamarando here.  He has never run a bad race, and all four of his career wins are on synthetic tracks.  Furthermore, he is one of only two horses in the field (the others being Asserting Bear and Smart Cover) who has even run 1 1/8 miles, which he did in his El Camino Real Derby win.  This is his first time shipping out of California, but he has shipped between the northern and southern California circuits, so the ship should not be a huge issue.

Another horse who interests me a lot here is All Tied Up.  The question here is whether he will like synthetic; all of his races so far have been on the turf.  However, trainer Todd Pletcher tends to have success moving horses from the turf to the synthetic, and he retains Luis Saez, who rode him in his most recent win.  His two career wins have been in routes, 1 1/16 miles.  He has been gaining on the field near the end, which suggests he may handle the extra half furlong well.  Also, he has shown success from multiple race shapes, either a close stalking position or by closing from further back.  All Tied Up is stepping up to stakes company for the first time in his career, but assuming he likes the move from turf to synthetic, he’s a live longer shot here.

Smart Cover’s morning line is 20-1; he doesn’t seem a sure shot to win, but 20-1 seems like a significant overlay.  Sure, there are a few things going against him.  He has never run on the synthetic: he has been on the turf twice, and the dirt twice.  Last out, he had a terrible run in the Palm Beach Stakes at 1 1/8 miles: he stumbled out of the gate, and then didn’t fire on his closing run.  However, there are some explanations that suggest he could run better here.  The Pam Beach was his first race off of a six-month lay, since his second-place finish behind Cleburne in the Iroquois.  That race was at 1 1/16 miles, and he only lost by a fast-closing neck.  This suggests that he has the distance in him.  If he improves with this being second off the lay, he could spring a surprise here.

fantasy stable: week 1 postmortem

Week 1 of points races for the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy horse racing league is in the books.  I can’t complain about where I’m sitting at the moment.  The Holy Bull netted me four points, since Conquest Titan closed well enough to cross the wire second.  I got nothing in the Forward Gal — but neither did anyone else in the league, since none of us had any of the fillies who ran it.

Here are my thoughts on the horses I’ve got, as of this weekend’s action:

  • Conquest Titan – I was high on this horse going into the Holy Bull, and I’m still high on him coming out of it.  Even though he was a clear second best in that race (no one was catching Cairo Prince there…), he made a strong run from far back to finish second.  It’s pretty clear coming out of it that closing is his preferred style — he ran his first few as a frontrunner, but these last few races as a closer have been strong.  I’m looking forward to seeing where he points next after this race…and hoping that it just so happens to be one of the races that gains me points in the fantasy league.
  • General a Rod – Originally the word was that he was pointing at the Holy Bull, but he wasn’t entered.  He’s still on the work tab, though, and there’s plenty of scuttlebutt saying he’s pointing toward the Fountain of Youth.  I can go for that; it’s a points race a few days before the claiming deadline, so hopefully he can show his mettle there.
  • Noble Cornerstone – The latest news on him is that he may be pointing to the Risen Star, though he was also nominated to the Sam F. Davis.  He’s active on the work tab at Gulfstream.  I’m interested to see where he goes…either way, he’s pointing to race sooner rather than later.  He was my last-round draft pick, and has a good shot at being my stable’s nice little dark horse.
  • Ride On Curlin – There is no real new stuff on him.  He’s still actively working at Oaklawn, and word is that he is pointing toward the Southwest Stakes.  I see this as a pretty important race for assessing his chances, since all of his wins so far have been in sprints.  He has run some routes, and even run them relatively well (see his third place in the Champagne), but I really want to see a route win.
  • Shared Belief – I wasn’t too worried after the first missed work.  Now, however, I’m getting a little nervous.  After proclaiming that Shared Belief would work last Friday, Hollendorfer didn’t work him, and then brusquely proclaimed that there would be no news for fifteen days.  This pretty well means the Lewis isn’t going to happen.  I’m nowhere near giving up on this horse — he’s staying in my stable for the time being, barring either a complete injury disaster or some disastrous racing when he returns.  I still think he’s legit.  But, for fantasy purposes, it’s frustrating seeing him in limbo like this.
  • She’s A Tiger – There is still radio silence since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.  I have no idea what kind of crack whoever is saying she’s running the Las Virgenes is smoking, but she’s not on the nominations list posted on the Santa Anita website, and has no published works.  There’s no reliable information as to where she’s actually pointing.  Hopefully she will return to the work tab soon.
  • Stopchargingmaria – There’s very little new to update on her.  She still hasn’t raced since her Demoiselle win, but she’s on the work tab at Palm Meadows.  I still haven’t seen any announcements about where she is pointing.
  • Tamarando – I am not sure what to make of this one.  I was hoping for one of two results in the California Cup Derby: either that he would win convincingly and mark himself as a solid contender, or that he would get utterly and completely smoked and get yanked off the Derby trail a la Coup De Grace after the Holy Bull.  Of course, things aren’t that easy.  He finished second in that race, with a nice rally late, but nowhere close to California Chrome.  I’m stuck with him at least until the end of February when the claiming date rolls around, and I really hope he has another race before then, so I can get a better idea of his chances on the trail.

The Holy Bull didn’t put any new colts on my radar; all of the legitimate contenders were already somewhere on my radar.  It answered a few questions about some of them, though for fantasy purposes I’m not sure how helpful that information will be given that most of the horses are already owned by other people in the league.  Still, I’m keeping tabs on all the horses, since there’s no way to predict who is going to be waived (and available for claiming) over the next few months.

From a claiming-period perspective, the Forward Gal may be the more interesting of the two races.  Onlyforyou made a strong showing, though I am not falling in love with her quite yet because that field wasn’t necessarily the strongest.  However, I will be tracking all six of these horses from here on out, and probably keeping a particular eye on both Onlyforyou and Aurelia’s Belle.

As a side note, the fact that I’m tracking all the horses from the Forward Gal may seem kind of weird, since at this point it does not seem that several of them might not have great chances at the Oaks.  However, I would rather spend the extra time researching more horses and keeping them all on my tracking spreadsheet, just to minimize the chance of being blindsided by a horse who might have had a not-so-great run come January, but get her act together come March or April.  As I mentioned in my intro post about the league, I am maintaining a spreadsheet of three-year-olds, with notes about past performances and upcoming races.  It’s a relatively large sheet — currently 161 horses and counting.  The drawback to this method is that it requires a lot of maintenance, and may lead to information overload.  However, right now I am less worried about that than I am worried about missing out on a potentially promising horse.  I am also making an attempt to rank the horses in the spreadsheet; I’m using broad categories for blue-chip prospects, quite good though not clearly blue-chip horses, ones that may be okay, and ones who can probably be ignored barring a major change.  The last list is pretty short now, though it will probably lengthen as time goes by; currently it only contains horses whose trainers have said they are off the Derby trail, or sticking to things like sprint races or turf races.

Anyway, that’s where I stand after week 1.  Week 2’s points races are the Withers and the Busher.  Both of them have been drawn.  I have no shot for points in Week 2, since none of my stable horses are racing in either one.  However, there are a few horses in these races who I already had my eye on and remain unowned in the league, so this week will be interesting for potential future claiming purposes.

fantasy horse racing

If I’ve learned anything over my last few days of reading through statistics and scuttlebutt, it’s that I still have a ridiculous amount to learn before considering myself knowledgeable about horse racing.

Derbyologist is organizing a fantasy league based on the race to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks.  He has defined a list of races that count for points in the league, we draft our initial stables this Friday night, and then once a month we will have chances to bid on horses in what is basically a blind auction for add/drop privileges.  Certain prep races count for a base amount of points, a few very important preps count more, and then the actual Triple Crown and big filly races around the same time (the Kentucky Oaks, the Black-Eyed Susan, and the Acorn).  I’ve never participated in any sort of fantasy horse racing, so this is all new territory for me, but it seems an interesting format and I’m excited to see how it plays out.

Barring any last-minute information about which horses may be pointing toward which races, I just finished organizing my spreadsheet on which I will be basing my draft choices.  The process was exciting, but I felt like I was drowning in data throughout.  Between PPs, charts, replays, and the bits of discussion about which horse is being pointed to which race, there was a lot to go through.  There were times when I yearned for the relative simplicity of handicapping a single race at a time, instead of trying to paint a picture of the entire upper echelon of three-year-old male horses and three-year-old fillies.  (At least, in a single race, there’s no debate as to who has passed the entry box!)  However, I feel like I have spent enough time with the still-muddled three-year-old picture to draft a stable with a decent chance of not completely embarrassing me against my competition, and not so much that I’ve started to overanalyze1 things.

We shall see.

For obvious reasons, I am not posting my spreadsheet here right now.  I will be posting who I end up getting for my stable, however, and following their races here.  And, at the end of the season, I may do a recap where I discuss how my initial spreadsheet came together and how it changed over the season.  I’m sure things will change based on horse performances, trainer decisions, and the evolution of my own knowledge of the sport.  One of the huge reasons I signed up for this league would be to give me a very tangible goal, more far-reaching than a single day at the track, that would get me to practice my racehorse analysis skills.  Hopefully, this will make me more aware of how to tell a good horse from an okay or not-so-good one, and point out some of my strengths and weaknesses in assessing racehorses.

Again, we shall see.

1As I have a terrible tendency toward overanalyzing things, it should come as no surprise whatsoever that Overanalyze was my “I love this name” pick for the Kentucky Derby last year.  I’m still sad he’s retired.