The Turk is honored this week to be writing this handicap for The ThoroFan, a thoroughbred racing association that gives fans a voice.
The Metropolitan Handicap, better known as the Met Mile, is one of the Ol' Turks favorite races each year. When you live in snow country as I do, Memorial Day is the traditional start of warm weather that will end, well, right about Woodward Stakes Day. Non horse people may have said Labor Day, but passionate folks, people who gravitate to organizations like ThoroFan most likely think all year of the next big stakes day. If you are reading this I'm sure you understand what I'm saying.
This edition of the race, with the mid week news that expected chalk Morning Line was scratched by trainer Zito with a foot issue, is pretty wide open. The eleven runners have a combined one grade one stakes win, that by the handsome five year old son of Speightstown, Haynesfield, who has five Belmont Park wins as well, only one less than the rest of the field combined. We still seek someone to step forward and take the mantle as best older horse in training in America.
It's an oddity to me that races contested at one mile are not the most competitive in the United States, and you only need to look at this year's Kentucky Derby to understand how few horses are true classic distance runners in training right now. 8 furlongs with speed is what we seem to have bred. Imagine the gag fest in a few short weeks when the classic distance challenged amongst us add another 1/4 mile to the effort. Some failed runners over the past few years would have been so much better off just running the mile distance. I still think last years winner of the Met Mile, Quality Road was miscast and should have been a Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile contestant. He should still be in training too but I digress.
This is also the first Breeders' Cup "Win and Your In" race of the year, and the winner receives entry fees and $10,000 in travel expenses, as well as possibly a rub down and peppermints, but let's keep that on the down low, what happens in the stalls at Churchill Downs really should stay at Churchill Downs.
Let's get after it!
Belmont Park Race 10: The Met Mile
The spreadsheet shouldn't necessarily be viewed as the predicted order of finish: I slot the horses into ranges from the win spot to out of the money, and then I take post position, expected pace factors, track surface conditions and build my bet. My preferred betting plan these days is a Pick Three or Pick Four multi race bet, with superfecta and trifecta betting within the races. I like to handicap the races at least the night before and use the time leading up to the windows going closed to adjust my bet based on scratches and changes, trusted paddock reports but most importantly how the track is playing.
It's important to understand the track configuration as well; Belmont Park has big sweeping curves, and outside runners can bring speed into those sweeping corners and explode onto the stretch. Typically Belmont at this distance favors stalkers, but that's a generality and you should look for races the day before and on the undercard at the same distance and see what happens with the speed.
After building my handicap I made a decision to give Haynsefield my tepid chalk as I expect him to bounce back from a dull effort in the Grade III Winchester at Belmont on 30 April.
Haynesfield is six of seven in the money at Belmont. Two races back in the Cigar Mile he posted a career high 111 Beyer in a game second to Jersey Town. This is his second effort off a long layoff. There is no heavy chalk, and with morning line of 7-2, I think it's realistic he'll slip to 4-1 and I'll take stand with him at that price.
After Haynesfield, I see a group of four horses capable of winning and most likely three of the four will be in the money.
Aikenite is a horse I never thought much of as a three year old. A year can make a big difference and I was impressed by his effort in the Grade II Churchill Downs. He's quietly strung three 100+ Beyers together for Trainer Pletcher and this is his third effort in his form cycle and its not inconceivable to run another big race. Currently at 9-2, I see him slipping to 7-2 in my fair odds table.
Caxia Eletronica starts for the 42 time, a staggering number by today's stake race standards. He's a hard knocker, winning 13 times, 27 of 41 in the money, 22 of 34 in the money on fast dirt and 7 of 13 in the money at the distance. Yup, hard knocker. he had a perfect trip in the Winchester and the Repole Stable runner is a four legged Roy Hobbs. A sharp :59 1/5th at 5f a week ago signals continued good health and form.
Tizway ran a solid show in this race last year. He looked wonderful winning the 1 mile Kelso at Belmont last October, and while he hasn't won in 2011, he's been placed in some tough races and ran against some solid competition. He's game and he'll finish well.
I really like the four year old Empire Maker son, Soaring Empire. Training very sharply, the fresh runner hasn't gone to the gate since March. He'll be flying at the end.
After these five there are a few dangerous runners. You can't cover everybody and one thing I've learned as a bettor is to build the handicap and bet the handicap. OK Turk, what do you mean? I handicap the race and then when I go to bet I don't toss in one more runner just to be safe. The next three my handicap are all good enough to win, but I've shaded them down. Only four horses will fill out the superfecta, someone will be on the outside looking in. It's not personal, some of the uncovered I may like, but you have to have conviction and then you got to let it ride.
Tackleberry concerns me: On lasix for the first time, trainer Olivares has been quoted as saying he's breezed with lasix and looked good on it. I expect him to bring the early heavy speed and I'm banking on him faltering out of the top four but all it takes is a neck into a blanket finish to foul the works. A Grade II winner, what the gelding gives up in class he makes up in guts. I like Tackelberry but I'm not covering him here. This is gambling after all.
Ibboyee is a force in state restricted affairs and he's in deeper waters here. I'd like him more if he had at least one win at Belmont or one win at the distance or if his last win wasn't at Finger Lakes.
Kensei has been sharpening nicely for Trainer Assmussen but he has not run well at Belmont with the exception of the Grade II Dwyer in 2009.
I've tossed from consideration Stormy's Majesty, Yawanna Twist and Rodman. All of them have the potential to find the top four spots but you'll drive yourself nuts if you don't take a stand and eliminate from contention some entrants.
The Superfecta bet isn't something you are going to hit every time and if you can't consistently pick winners and identify a group of six horses that the top four are a part of, take a step back and look at the exacta and trifecta. Losing money isn't fun and I only place these bets because I have a multi year history I can draw on that tells me I can do a bit better than break even and occasionally when I get some longer prices into the top four I can hit a signer. It's not a bet to chase with heavy chalk and smallish fields. The 10 cent variety will give newcomers to the bet and casual bettors a chance to be competitive without risking the mortgage money. Bet responsibly.
Have fun with this friends and remember true spirit of Memorial Day. I appreciate the opportunity to handicap for the ThoroFan and I thank the wonderful Sarah K. Andrew for use of the fantastic picture of Haynesfield.
Have fun, Turk Out!