The worst case scenario; With five weeks to go until the Breeders' Cup, this weekend's fantastic slate of Graded Stakes was for me the start of my Breeders' Cup handicapping. With the rains impacting Belmont's surfaces, but really, smallish fields in the Kelso and Beldame, I'm going to just be a horse racing fan today for Super Saturday and instead be a bettor at the Great Race Place, Santa Anita. Sure I can still gleen something from Belmont today, but it won't apply the first weekend in November, the weather is going to be beautiful and the track fast and turf firm (dear God, please give me this :-) )
It's not every weekend you get the lineup of stars we have today: Stay Thirsty, Jersey Town, Jackson Bend, Uncle Mo,Royal Delta, Life at Ten, Havre de Grace, Euroears, Blind Luck, Zazu, Coil, Awesome Gem, Game on Dude, Cambina(pictured above), Malibu Pier and Harmonious to name my favorites today.
Some would argue (including this idiot Internet hack at times) that the sport doesn't have stars. I'd argue we have plenty of stars, it's the trainers(who in my equally dubious and most likely ill informed opinion) don't do enough to market the sport by not running them more frequently. Before I go off ranting about the state of horse racing and the black hole of a discussion on how to fix it, let me just stop and say that there is alot of good in horse racing, evidenced last night at Charles Town, where race one was named after a good friend, and one of the sports great grass roots ambassadors, Tim "Tiznow" Reynolds. I put a You Tube video up of Tim handicapping the Derby just to give you a flavor for the wit and intellect, as well as the race educated passion. Tim will be missed and his loss sits like a great void, as he often was the catalyst that got many a great race conversation going. As us humans are known to do, after we lose someone we pick ourselves up and we keep going, one foot in front of the other, never forgetting our dead, but life must be lived.
Speaking of the Tim Memorial race, The Little Turk does it again, hoping on one of my toss outs, J.J. Devil to win the race at $42.60. The Little Turk is about to test for his black belt and yes I am afraid; He's got ice in his veins as a 'capper and feet of steel. Pretty soon this will be the Little Turk and the Turk blog.
If you're still reading and haven't bailed out of my blathering yet, let's get after today's work!
In typical fashion on the West Coast, and most likely in search of the almighty simulcast bucks, the races don't unfold on the card like they would on the East Coast. You can whine about it or just embrace it, and I'm long past whining about it. I didn't see a Pick 4 option and I don't waste time on Pick 6, so I assembled a Pick 3 out of The Lady's Secret, The Goodwood, and a nice N1X on the turf, and then I'll take a a few races off to eat the lamb shanks I'm preparing for dinner and come back for the 10 furlong Grade I Yellow Ribbon. This is a good day's worth of horse racing but if I could digress just a bit, it seems to me horse racing misses an opportunity by not having a Super Saturday and a Super Sunday 5 weeks before Breeders' Cup and I don't see why Belmont couldn't have put even a better card together today and then had Santa Anita bring it home tomorrow with stacked lineup of Grade 1 action. Anyway....
In full disclosure, I handicapped late into the night last night and with the week I've had, I'm not sure I'm at the top of my game. I've learned as a handicapper, but really as a bettor, that what works for me is repetition and discipline to my techniques and methods. While I may feel a bit "emotional" still about the loss of Tim, or feel a bit stressed by my job which is very demanding, I've done my handicapping and followed my usual approach so I will push aside any anxiety I may have and follow through on the betting. How many of you had your best days when you thought you were going to suck? Do your business, bet consistently and over the course of time the results will become consistent.
The Lady's Secret is delectable field of seven and I think five of them legitimately could hit the board. When I'm faced with parity I'll often step back and ask myself what I think the trainers ultimate goal is with his mount:Is he there to win this race or is he looking to sharpen the knife for the next effort. Of course you can do both, but when you're stumped never forget to ask yourself as you review each horse on the PP's "Why is he/she here?"
Why is Blind Luck here? Is it to win the The Lady's Secret or is it to be sharp next month; unraced since she nosed out Harve de Grace in mid July, working strongly, but Hollendorfer is 10% off the 60-180 day break, clearly his mindset in general is to sharpen for the real prize. Now usually I'll ramble like this and Blind Luck will go out and win by 7 lengths, and that could happen, but I think today she'll hit the board and really be tuning up more than anything. Another oddity, Hollendorfer and Go Go have yet to win at SA after 10 races in past year.
I love Blind Luck and its like a holiday to me anytime my favorites are running.
I'm backing Ask the Moon tentatively. I'm a layer handicapper and I'm not that hung up on the exact finish, but I am a value bettor and I'm thinking Ask the Moon would provide good value to the P3 and the Superfecta I'll assemble if she finishes on top. She comes in off a 10 furlong effort at SAR at the end of the meet, coming off a very impressive Ruffian Grade 1 win at the beginning of the Saratoga festivities. The six year old has really responded to Trainer Wolfson since coming to his barn and for a horse that was claimed for $75K not five months ago, what a return she's made for her new connections that believed in her. Maybe she steps back after those exerting efforts, again "Why is she here and where is she in her form cycle?" We'll find out.
Zazu seems primed for the second half of the race year: 3 of 3 in the money at SA, 3 of 4 in the money at the distance, 3 of 4 on fast dirt and 6 of 6 in the money in 2011. She's working bullets at 6f in 1:11 2/5ths.
Ultra Blend? Nothing fancy, just reliable. She is an incredible 12 of 12 in the money from 2010 through 2011. No reason to believe she won't fire into the top four today.
The Goodwood Stakes is always a race the Turk looks forward to, except when it was run on the fake dirt and i just didn't care much about it, but its back on dirt and I'm thrilled. I expected to see more wins for trainer Baffert in the Goodwood but unless I miscounted he has two, including last years at Hollywood with Richard's Kid. He had a little horse called Silver Charm that did pretty good in this race too! I like his chances to make it three wins with both Coil and Game On Dude in the gate.
The Haskell winner Coil was abysmal in the Travers. I just have to let that go and I'm expecting a bounce back but as a three year old I'll defer to his older stable mate, Game On Dude: The Big Cap winner is 5 of 6 in the money in 2011, his only out the money finish being his last effort, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar where he stalked and couldn't finish. That was a deeper and more classy group than is running here and I think he looks pretty good in this spot.
With Acclimation defecting off the dirt, a wise choice in my opinion, I like the combo of Miss Match, the fields lone lady, and the veteran Awesome Gem to press for the top four. Miss Match won at the distance on this surface, or at least what was this surface before it was tinkered with again, back in March, a big upset of Switch. The Little Turk is on Awesome Gem today, so be warned. I'm curious about Mandella's Preamble. the distance may be an issue but 3 wins in 3 starts on dirt and 3 of 4 at Santa Anita who has Espinoza up. Mandella/Espinoza combine for 26% winners at SA on 27 starts over past year.
I'll keep the P3 reasonably covered without going overboard. After handicapping it appears that these are more fan races than betting opportunities, but that said, we've set the table, we will serve dinner!
The allowance race, an N1X, is a bettors black hole often. I'm a big fan of Allowance racing though, its like the gateway between graded stakes, my typical domain, and the lower depths. You have a greater mix of classes, rising and falling, and you really have to ask the question "why are they here" when you handicap these races. The "Super Trainers" and the "Super Jocks" padded those gaudy stats against lesser foes in these events, but if you can hop off of "bad money magnets" and find value, these races can offer just beautiful payouts. I like Carla Gaines Irish Art and Make Me Believe. I have no idea how the bettors will respond to these runners so I've built my base handicap but my betting will be influenced by the tote board.
The Yellow Ribbon is like hair of the dog, in case you haven't had enough, dive in again. Cambina (Ire) seems primed by Trainer Jeff Bonde. a very strong late run by the 3 YO in the 9 furlong Del Mar Oaks, up against older ladies here, she's trained sharply and I like the 10 panel win two efforts back in the American Oaks at HOL.
Speaking of Carla Gaines runners, Malibu Pier is a Turk favorite. a two time Grade 2 winner, 2 wins at 10 furlongs, 7 of 9 in the money on turf and a stalker that will at least be in the action the last few hops to the wire.
Cozi Rosie comes in for trainer Sadler who is 22% of 30-60 day breaks. Distance may be a concern here, winless in two tries, (but two Places) for the the four year old daughter of Pleasantly Perfect (now that was a horse!) 7 of 8 in the money on turf.
This is a fun race! You got Harmonious, Turning Top (Ire) , City to City and Dubawi Heights (GB) all ready to pounce if any ofthe above falter. Really good stuff here.
Have fun friends. Turk Out!