Thursday, February 3, 2011
The Nomination Is In: February 5, 2011: The Donn Handicap Grade I
Gulfstream Park is a place that the Ol' Turk likes to day dream about when the snow is flying and the temperature is frigid. The Turk was honored to handicap one of my favorite races of the year, The Donn Handicap for the Thorofan website and their Handicappers Corner. Take a swing by and see if their fancentric organization is right for you.
I'm a fan of horse racing in general, but when forced to articulate my feelings I'd tell you my true passion is older horses on dirt and turf. I'm a numbers handicapper; I soak up the data on the past performances and the race charts and older horses offer more information to scour over a longer period of time, and well, the past is usually prologue.
The Donn Handicap is named after the Donn family that owned and managed the track for sixty years, starting with James Donn, and then James Jr and finally Douglas. The 2011 edition of the race mirrors the state of the older horse division nationally as well: A dearth of established stars but a deep bench of horses where at least a few of them can become real fan favorites. Nine horses will enter the gate and at least seven of them have what it takes to become force in the older division and just haven't been able to be consistent or healthy enough to create a buzz.
Let's get after it!
Race 10 Gulfstream Park: The Donn Handicap Grade I; 1 1/8 Miles on dirt for 4 YOs and Up.
As always, get your information and your past performances before you sit down to handicap. Weather.com gives you hour by hour information and is invaluable when trying to sort out what track conditions will be like. Weather does not appear to be a factor here. Get the scratches and changes as well. For me, I like Daily Racing Form Formulator PP's with works mixed in with race lines, fractional running times and full jockey/trainer stats. One thing I skip is morning lines. Build your own opinions and ignore the morning lines until after you are set in your outlook. If you don't always play the particular track where the race is, take some time to familiarize yourself with the track website to see what information you may gather. And while this isn't something you can get and start using right away, an Equibase Track Bias Report, available from Equibase for $3, packs an incredible amount of information onto several pieces of paper: You'll find the past four days worth of races condensed down to which post positions were winning, what running style was winning, and where the winners were at first call. The past twelve month statistics by race surface and general distance gives you the information as was predicted pre and post race. The report is dense but once you get use to it, and it took me several weekends, it does unlock a window into how the track plays.
At first glance, it appears that Morning Line and Rule will provide the pace. Stalking this group will be I Want Revenge, Square Eddie and Eldaffer, and closing speed will be provided by Giant Oak and Fly Down. Everyone else, I don't know what they will do and I'll assume they are mixed in 3-6 lengths back.
No particular strong chalk jumps off the page either which is fine from my perspective as several horses will receive betting action and keeps the odds from being too depressed on someone very good. What I do think I see is two separate layers, a current ability line if you will, which I denote with color in chart breakdown. The horses in blue I expect will W-P-S, in what order, well that's still debatable. The horses in yellow I don't think can win but have the ability to get up for place possibly, but most likely show or fourth, and the horses in red are the dreaded tosses that will inevitably sneak up and ruin your day on occasion. Handicappers have to be like cornerbacks after getting burned for a touchdown: Let it go and move along!
When I see these ability levels appear strong to me I start thinking superfecta. Superfecta to me is a matrix, like boxing except I'm selectively picking and choosing who is in and who is out in spots 1-4. These types of bets can become pretty expensive and are not to be trifled with unless you feel pretty good about your experience and skill level. My rule of thumb is if you can't string exactas and trifectas together then don't bother with the Super. The same logic goes with Pick Sixes, save em' for the whales and work the Pick Three and Pick Four and keep your financial exposure reasonable. Don't be scared off by heavy chalk when you are looking to build an exotic bet: There's nothing wrong with having one spot singled as long as you think there will be some volatility in spots 2-4 but again, be careful of your bet size and don't try to cover everyone, this is gambling after all. Worse than losing a bet from a prestige perspective is winning a bet that only returned half of what it cost.
For my chalk, I'm banking on Rule. Rule returns after a tune up in the one turn, 1 mile Hal's Hope. The son of Roman Ruler returns with Castellano up for Trainer Todd Pletcher (pictured above). This is Rule's second effort after a being shut down after failing to close out the Florida Derby last year as the chalk. Pletcher wins 26% of his second efforts off >180 day layoffs and he and Castellano win 32% of the time at Gulfstream.
Take some time to watch Rule and Morning Line dig in on the stretch run. The effort was four weeks ago and I think it will really make him sharp here. I like where Rule is with his form compared to some of his rivals who are just getting going after long layoffs. Expect him near the front or on the lead from early on and it will come down to if he can hold off the closers in the last 1/16 of a mile.
The Hal's Hope Grade III
Fly Down is a horse I have overlooked to my own detriment several times. Trainer Nick Zito is off to a fast start at Gulfstream, winning 24% of the time this meet, a bright spot when contrasted against his graded stakes win percentage of 8% over past 48 chances. A fine string of consistent efforts now going back six races to last year's Grade II Dwyer. He'll be closing fast at the end and with any closer you just wonder if he will have a clean trip to the wire and if the speed on the front end will carry.
Morning Line is an impressive son of Tiznow; 7 of 8 in the money lifetime, three straight 100+ BSF and training very sharply since the Hal's Hope. A loss by a head bob cost him the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He'll be trading strides with Rule from the get go and I'm betting against him to win but I expect he will be in the top four. I type this and it's a bit of dilemma for how to place Morning Line, as on paper he's very similar to Rule and they both exit the same race with the same sort of effort and finish. Both are starting their ninth races and both have almost $900,000 in earnings and both have identical lifetime best 104 BSF. From a class perspective I think Morning Line has the edge and his Tomlinson's support that with a race best 410 at the distance and a race best 439 on the slop. Reminding again, this is gambling and you can't be too wishy-washy in your selections as this isn't T-Ball, no ties and someone will win. I'm shading him down here and covering him in the superfecta matrix up and down the finish order. Take a stand and live with it.
Those three horses are the top talents in this race but the next group back of them are dangerous and capable. Giant Oak doesn't win very often, only one win on fast dirt in 11 tries,12 of 23 in the money and 1 of 6 at the distance, but the 5 YO son of Giant's Causeway seems to have turned the corner since returning to dirt at Hawthorne and then at Churchill Downs. Trainer Chris Block wins 28% of his won last start efforts and both he and jock Bridgmohan are looking for their first win of the meet.
Eldaafer is the six year old gelded son of A.P. Indy. One win at this distance and 4 wins on fast dirt , 14 of 24 lifetime in the money . Two straight Grade III wins, perhaps a bit slow but game enough over distance to crack the top four. A Breeders' Cup Champion at the marathon distance. Trainer Diane Alvarado and her jock, Edgar Prado have little race history together. The horse has never placed in 24 tries.
Square Eddie and I Want Revenge both offer uncertainty: Square Eddie flies in from California after winning a comeback 6.5 furlong N2X. Only his second start on dirt. I Want Revenge has been training nicely since mid December and takes to the starting gate for the first time since August, when he was rambunctious in the starting gate and lunged skyward. The race world is still waiting to see the explosive form he displayed at Aqueduct while becoming the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby two years ago.
As my chart shows, I've built two $1 dollar superfectas, one valued at $64 dollars and the other valued at $20. You get what you pay for and the $64 variety offers more choices in the third and fourth spots, where I see the uncertainty coming. The $20 variety puts skin in the game but things have to break exactly like I see it pre race and I'm not Nostradamus. Play with your own matrix and perhaps the answer is somewhere in the middle, like adding back in Morning Line to win and paying around $42.
Good luck and have fun with it. Check out the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance home page for more analysis from some of the top racing bloggers in the business.