Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Nomination Is In: The Sanford Stakes at Saratoga

When I think of emphatic two year old victories, I think of the winner of the 2004 Sanford Stakes, Afleet Alex, the record holder in this race with a time that was about six lengths off the track record set in 1972 by Spanish Riddle, a stable mate of the 1972 Sanford Stakes winner, Secretariat.

I'm off on a tangent as the Ol' Turk is inclined to do, but Spanish Riddle's story is fascinating; incredible speed only to lose part of a leg to amputation, fitted with a prosthetic device and he went on to stud for several years before dying of colic.

Before I go too far, let me thank The Thorofan for inviting me to handicap today. The Thorofan is a grass roots group of racing enthusiasts who are doing their part to bring the game to new fans as well as build a socially inclusive community at the track.

Handicapping two year old stake races in July isn't for the faint of heart; You'll lose, get use to it. But that said, it is gambling, we are capable of making educated guesses and completing analysis, so let's take a look at the field and make some general observations.

The Turk strongly believes in ignoring morning line odds until you've done your own handicapping. If you are going to skip morning lines, I'd also go the extra distance and encourage you to not read the bloggers and old media types telling you who they think will win until you also do your own work. It's not that I don't want you to read my ramblings, I just want you to put aside the bias of other people and build your own handicaps from scratch.

Morning lines or not, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to have your eyes drawn to the six horse, Overdriven. A Team Repole Stables joint, with Todd Pletcher and Johnny Velazquez already combining to put up a 100 Beyer at Belmont earlier this month. This horse will attract heavy betting action so what do we have: A heavy favorite balanced off by a decent sized field of 8. I'm trying not to prejudice my handicapping but right off the bat I'm thinking how do we beat the heavy favorite? The horse is making his second start after all, let's reserve the talk of Triple Crown contender for a little bit and let him earn respect.

That said, you still need someone who can beat him. The Turk is an information handicapper, a Past Performance tea leaf reader who likes to scour the Daily Race Form and Equibase race charts for information. One issue with two year olds is there is just not many running lines to lean on. You got a bunch of potential but not many results. If I don't have running lines to analyze, I'll take the step of studying the way the race has unfolded over a period of time. In this case, I've looked at the last 10 Sanford Stakes for guidance, courtesy of free Equibase historical charts

What did we take away: Six times the chalk won. Seven times the one or two post Placed. Seven wins were by more than 3 lengths. Five times the winner broke from one or two post.

You spend time studying these angles and you can often feel compelled to "apply" the information. I don't think much of the post one or post two horse, Tarpy's Goal and Moonrush respectively. They are babies and who knows what they will become but I don't see it for tomorrow and I am handicapping for tomorrow and not for next year and not for when they stretch out. Tarpy's Goal regressed the last time out, drifting out and coming in Show as a beaten chalk. Moonrush may be on the lead at the top of the stretch and if you are going to take a flyer, take it here for Place or Show. D. Wayne Lucas can't buy a graded stakes win right now.

So what do I think?

I like the closer, Power World from the 7 spot to win. Trainer Neil Howard clips along with 18% 2 YO winners and a 12% overall win rate, and he puts Prado up who clips along at 9% winning. those aren't knock the socks off numbers but I like his improved Beyer in grade 3 company and I like the sire Distorted Humor an awful lot. I'm looking to beat chalk and he looms logical to challenge.

The before mentioned expected heavy duty favorite will be Overdriven. The Tale of the Cat son out of Air France turned a :59 1/5 over 5f at SAR last week off the 100 Beyer at BEL on the first of the month. Trainer Pletcher has some pretty gaudy stats: 28% 2 YO winners, 29% won last start, 28% dirt, 30% sprints and 24% Graded Stakes. The jock/trainer clipped along at 32% of 88 starters at Saratoga last meet.

My next two are trainer by Wesley Ward who is putting up some good numbers himself: 30% 2 YO winners, 28% Dirt winners, 29% Sprint winners but 14% Graded Stakes. Black Rhino switches from the grass, something Ward does very well, but did not look good over dirt his first time out. Bless the Soldier is a Ward homebred who may ship to Monmouth instead so pay attention on race day to scratches and changes.

Finally, Jack's in the Deck has Dominguez up, that's 26% winner on 752 mounts Ramon Dominguez. A Grade 2 winner already, this Maryland bred is piloted from the outside and has a very strong closing kick.

How will the race unfold? Moonrush, Bless the Soldier and Black Rhino will race out the gate and churn out a :22 opening 1/4 mile. Jack's in the Deck will drift to the back with Power World and Overdriven will be rated into a stalk.

I'm gambling for the pure pleasure of it, but with the two year olds, as well as the competition that is present at a prestigious meet like Saratoga, you need to be prepared to lose. You only need to be smart now and then to stay slightly ahead and its my experience that I can do better with older horses at longer distances than I can with spa babies at 6 furlongs, so I'm going to keep my betting action reasonable.

I could go one of two ways. First up, Exacta. If I'm assembling an Exacta I'm only doing it with the chalk either in Place or out of the money and I'm hunting for value. Something like the 7 over the 8 or the 7 over 2 would get your 42 bucks back in buckets. I'd take 8 bucks and put together 4 combinations that don't include the chalk and see what happens.

My first love is Exotics, Superfecta's in particular. The 10 cent variety are available here and for $6.60 I can put the 6-7-8 OVER the 6-7-8 with the 2, 4,5,6,7,8, OVER 2,4,5,7 and 8.

I assume Overdriven finishes no lower than third and I give speedball Moonrush a chance at Show or fourth and I give Jack's in the Deck respect to hit anywhere.

OK, you've handicapped, it's safe now to look at the morning lines and the rantings of bloggers. Build your bets and let the dice fall how it may. Thanks for reading and hopefully you'll do well based on your own opinions.

Have fun, Turk Out!

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