Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Nomination Is In: June 5, 2010: The Manhattan Handicap Grade I on turf at Belmont Park

I’d like to thank the good folks at Thorofan and the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance for inviting me to share my thoughts on today’s race in the Handicappers Corner, The Grade I Manhattan Handicap. The race is the under card to the final leg of the Triple Crown events, The Belmont Stakes, and it will be contested by three year olds and up, carrying assigned weights one and one quarter miles on the Belmont inner turf course.

I’ve read a whole bunch of handicapping books over the years and the one thing I always take away from them, more important then any methodology, is the organizational approach the particular handicapper takes to his craft. Like anything in life, you have to have a plan. I stress consistency to my readers and I strongly urge you to develop the routines you will apply to your own handicapping each race.

My approach is fairly simple, so simple in fact I’m often embarrassed to talk shop with fellow handicappers. Today we are going to frame the event and place it in context, we are going to size up the track condition, the possible weather for 48 hours before and during, we are going to identify any possible scratches and changes, we are going to construct a “base handicap” which is nothing more then assigning a probable order of finish and including and excluding candidates from the top four, and with all that we are going to complete the final two steps, identify what type of betting we will engage in and then build the bet. I apply that approach to every race I handicap and often it is that consistency that allows me to stay ahead of a negative ROI.

The Grade I Manhattan Handicap will go to post at 5:36 Eastern Time and is currently scheduled for 11 runners in the starting gate. Last year’s winner Gio Ponti is in the field as are six other Grade I winners. There are no Fillies or mares entered, as well as no three year olds. The heaviest handicap will be carried by Gio Ponti at 122 pounds while the lightest load will be 114 pounds by Pinckney Hill. The race is on the inner turf course. The turf’s condition is something you must take into account, as while it is listed as Firm right now, a review of the weather makes that questionable. There is a chance of significant rain in the early morning hours of Friday and then a very good chance of rain Saturday morning and into the afternoon. I’m left with little choice but to expect something less the firm and hopefully no worse then soft come race time. Because of the magnitude of the event I won’t plan for the event to be placed on the main track but that is a possibility with turf races you’ll face and you should plan for that possibility.

So we have framed the race conditions, the surface, and the weather. Come post time of the first race go ahead and check for scratches and changes . In these high level Grade I races equipment changes are not very common, nor is jock changes, but scratches can impact the bet strategy and the quicker you see them the better.

With the basics sized up its time to analyze the Past Performances and build a base handicap. I prefer Daily Racing Form Deluxe PP’ but again I am comfortable with them and for consistency sake I know what I am getting.

Belmont Park Race 10: The Grade I Manhattan Handicap; 1 ¼ mile on Turf for 3 YOs and Up.

I view races in terms of stratification layers. Ok Turk, what do you mean? I see divisions of talent in each field and I try to draw a line between the layers of talent. I don’t denote this line until I place the horses in a predictive order of finish and often it seems the line just draws itself. For a Grade I race like The Manhattan, the talent is deep and the divisions of talent are fewer. The best three horses are color coded in Blue. While I view them as essentially equal I’m also not an intellectual baby who won’t take a stand so the Turk is placing chalk on Just As Well, owned and trained by Jonathan Sheppard. The rest of the talent pool at the top includes Court Vision and Gio Ponti.

This is Just As Well’s third effort back after a hard trip to Japan in late November. In his last time out, the Grade II Dixie on Pimlico Turf he closed significant ground in taking Place behind another runner today, Strike a Deal. Just As Well will most likely be the best price of the three horses I placed in the top grouping so I’m looking for value as well as a reasonable chance. Trainer Sheppard (pictured above) wins 27% of the time in Graded Stakes with 67 tries over the past year, second only in this race to Chad Brown who has far fewer attempts. Just as Well would like it a bit firmer but ran a fine Place in the Arlington Millions last year on turf listed as good.

Court Vision’s PP is not one you will see often: This will be his twelfth straight Grade I event. He should be able to handle whatever turf conditions are present, maybe even better then Just As Well and his last race was a strong performance on yielding turf taking Place by a neck. Trainer Rick Dutrow wins 22% of his Turf races and he has R. Albarado up for his sixth time back with the 5 YO son of Gulch.

A huge wildcard in this race is Gio Ponti. This horse is looking for his first win in five tries but he lost by a length to Zenyatta at the Breeders’ Cup and a nose before heading to Dubai and turning up flat. He missed some work but then ran a five furlong :59 3/5ths this past week. At the classic distance on turf that most likely will be soft will require top condition and even Trainer Clement has questioned his condition but not his health. I was half tempted to drop this champion right out of the top four but I think the team deserves the benefit of the doubt, as Clement wins 21% of a staggering number of turf starts and his 24% win rate in 2010 coupled with Ramon Dominguez’s 27% rate in 2010 is a mark of supreme quality. Gio Ponti is 6 of 6 in the money with 4 wins across Belmont Turf and won this race last year with a 106 BSF on yielding turf. Let’s roll the dice and place him in the top four for sure and hopefully top three.

The next layer down for me includes Grand Couturier (GB), Take the Points and Strike A Deal. Grand Couturier has had great success on soft and yielding turf including a Grade II turf event at Belmont late last fall. Trainer Ribaudo reteams the horse with Alan Garcia today. Take the Points will need his best effort today to get any higher then Show but he is more then capable of hitting the ticket. This is also his first race back since Dubai but he has trained regularly and well since late April at Belmont. Strike a Deal comes in off a Grade II win in mid May and is 13 of 19 in the money on Turf and Trainer Goldberg has a gaudy 30% win rate in 2010 and places G. Gomez up today.

My final grouping includes some fine quality horses but this isn’t 9 year old’s playing baseball when everyone gets to first base and we all get trophy’s, you only have so may spots on the ticket and you’ve got to exclude some nice horse flesh and hope it unfolds the way you predict. I see Jet Propulsion flying through 7 furlongs and fading to the back. I like Winchester quite a bit, especially on off turf. Trained also by Clement, the five year old son of Theatrical (Ire) is on a five race progression of slower BSF and will have to reverse that trend. His last three digit Beyer was on yielding Belmont turf last September. 8 year old Interpatation won here on yielding turf last October, his only win in past nine starts. Again, the condition of the turf may loom large in the final results.

So what to make of all of this and what are we betting? I think the sane thing to do is realize two things: Whoever is the post time chalk, most likely Gio Ponti, will enter the gate 2-1 and is very vulnerable and that the uncertainty of the turf has the chance to create some real big payouts if you can construct the wacky results that may come to bear. The first thing you must do before establishing a bet strategy is establish your bet budget. If your budget is less then 40 dollars I’d suggest stringing together some various exacta combinations and some win bets on value horses like Just as Well who was a morning line 10-1. An alternative is the affordable 10 cent Superfecta’s that you can box 4 horses in for $2.40.

With the base handicap built I like to wait until a few races before until I place my bets and sometimes just before post time, but the good folks at Thorofan most likely don’t want to wait that long so let’s get after it.

My base bet will be a $2 trifecta. I am going to place the 6,9 (Just as Well and Court Vision) over 1,6,9 (adding Gio Ponti for Place), over 1,2,5,6,8,9 (adding in for Show Grand Couturier, Take the Points and Strike A Deal) for $32 dollars. Putting Gio Ponti into all three spots bumps the bet to $48 so you have a feel for the parameters. I think $48 is too rich for this bet that loses value if Just As Well doesn’t finish first and if Gio Ponti does finish in the top three but this is gambling after all. I’ll keep it at $32 dollars and use the remaining $8 of my budget to assemble four $2 straight exactas with some of the B group over the A group for value. It’s hard to ignore the results at Belmont on yielding turf that some of these horses had just last year.

Good luck to everyone. I hope you enjoyed reading but discount my picks and instead think about your approach to the races and build consistency in your own handicapping if you wish to really move forward.

Thanks to Geno from Equispace for all the hard work he does marketing this sport. Turk Out!

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