In horse racing we remember tradition. While we may have inserted corporate names in front of our famous race names, we have, for the most part, resisted forgetting the past. E.P. Taylor is a man who should never be forgotten, and his influence in North American racing is almost impossible to underestimate. His stallion, Northern Dancer, has left a legacy of influence not only in North America but also Europe, as the Sire of Great Sires and we remember him constantly at this blog through our respect for Storm Cat, Deputy Minister, El Prado, and Danehill.
The four race series I've selected today are not for the faint of heart but that's why we call this gambling. Let's get after it!
Woodbine Race 8-11
When you handicap turf racing at the highest level in North America, you have more homework to do than usual. You will be faced with horses who have never raced in North America, placed on drugs that help with bleeding but also give a good boost to performance, with past performances that deny you the type of information you are use to having, and then the people factors: Why did the connections send this horse? What are they thinking? Is he better than it shows on paper? Did he race better left handed or right handed? Was there a significant performance difference over different turf conditions? You really need to watch the big Grade I races and get a feel for how these races are contested. The Turk loves dirt and embraces it as the surface of American horse racing tradition. That said, I love the grass and the challenge of handicapping these races, with big fields, lumbering fractional times and smoking hot final 1/8 miles.
As always, start your homework with track conditions and scratches/changes. With turf, it's often the weather over the past several days you have to consider, so hunt for the best information you can find.
Race 8 is the Nearctic, 6 furlongs on the turf and returns last year winner, Field Commission. Winless in six starts in 2010 and he adds blinkers today. The Turk's very tepid chalk is Amico Fritz (Ger). With Mike Smith, up, the Grade II winner to me represents good value and a legitimate shot. Serious Attitude is a 4 YO filly with Gomez up and taking lasix for the first time should be even longer and a little less live, but still intriguing. Fatal Bullet and Grand Adventure will give honest efforts and Bridgetown will attract bettors interests but I'm looking elsewhere.
This is a pretty solid field of runners and I will back four in this race and hope to be alive coming out of this first race when I'm done. Dubious, but that's the plan!
Race 9 is the E.P. Taylor, a 1 1/4 mile turf affair with 10 starters that also returns last year's winner at 44-1, Lahaleeb (Ire). Two stronger home track runners are here from the Roger Attfield stable, Mekong Melody (Ire) and Miss Keller (Ire). They are faced with a very strong contingent of European runners led by Shalanya (Ire), Reggane (GB) and Contredanse (Ire) . I'm backing Miss Keller, the winner of the Grade II Canadian at 1 1/8 miles over a good Woodbine turf track one month ago. Attfield is clipping along at 29% winners of Won Last Start runners and he has Castellano up. Arkarlina (Fr) is a Grade III winner who may be peaking.
In the big event, the Grade I Canadian International, I'm expecting the bettors chalk, Redwood (GB) will continue to impress. Winner of the Grade I Northern Dancer on firm turf at 1 1/2 miles here one month earlier, if he keeps his form he'll need it as he's facing a more impressive group here. He'll be pressed by Grade I winning Chinchon (Ire), who shocked me with his very impressive turn of foot over firm Monmouth turf in the Grade I United Nations. A very impressive "Zenyatta like" swing wide to the outside from dead last at the top of the stretch and just bury everyone. He's bouncing back off a dull race in France on soft going in September. Al Khali and Marsh Side are both honest horses who will run solid but I expect them to be near the bottom or off any tickets. Joshua Tree (Ire) is slightly intriguing and you have to wonder why he's here and what he's capable of and the Attfield runner, Simmard is running his second off a longer than 180 day layoff and looked sharp coming back against Al Khali and Winchester at 1 3/8 on firm Belmont turf.
The Pick Four ends for me with a $12,500 Maiden Claimer. The 13 and 14 horses, Hazards of Love and Disclosure with Da Silva and Husbands up, offer a chance to take chalk and keep the Pick Four bet size a bit smaller, and the 9, Danish Spirit, represents some good value.
Tough races for sure. Build your own handicaps, read drivel like this only after you make your own tickets up, and above all else, have fun handiguessing the best sport on earth. Turk out!