Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Nominations Are In: The Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup and the Grade 3 River City Handicap

Handsome Sanagas, winner of the Grade 3 Sycamore at KEE last time out. With his late moves, the five year old Graham Motion trainee is like a riverboat gambler, a gambler out on the Sanagas River perhaps. I digress.

I know many horseplayers who tune out after the Breeders' Cup and only wake back up during the Triple Crown preps. There's nothing wrong with that at all and I think it is important to take handicappers holidays from time to time. For me to stay sharp though, I have to handicap, even if at a reduced volume. I don't need to handicap whole cards, just enough races to keep me fresh.

As I scale back my handicapping, I try to stay in touch with tracks that I plan to be aggressive at in the future. Clark Handicap day at Churchill Downs is important to me so I've been playing Churchill regularly, and then Hollywood will hold my interest between Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas when the start of the Santa Anita winter meet and Gulfstream will keep me occupied. It doesn't matter what your interests are, but I do think it's important to have a plan, to have a focus on certain tracks.

I handicapped for years without betting a nickel, just picking horses and looking at the results the next day. Have you ever seen Conan the Barbarian? In the movie, Conan is strapped to this wooden wheel, and he walks around and around and around for years, going from a small boy to big muscular Arnold. The idea is that while repetitive and at times boring, it made him big and strong (that and steroids perhaps). Well, all that handicapping for years, whole cards at a time, was my "Conan pushing the wheel in circles" moment. If you are new to the game, first of all I welcome you, I want you to stay, and I want you to get better. The best way to enjoy the game is to break even or win and in order to do that, have your own Conan moments and handicap all the racing you can, especially during this lull in the racing season.

I care about being at the top of my game from July to November, just like the horses in the handicap division, and to get there I have to pace myself, sharpen my skills, and keep it fun. It's been my experience that if I'm not 100% committed to my handicapping effort I'll lose money

Long story short: For the next two months; I'll keep the betting exposure low and just work on my chops. I urge my readers who may have been turned on by the Breeders' Cup and are new to the sport to keep things simple; identify winners. If you can't consistently pick the winner, regards of the odds, out of the PP's, you shouldn't be betting exotics. Try stringing together exactas. Handicap and pick the top 3 but wager no money. Try tossing 25%of the field and seeing how you do with that, another skill you must master. Keep score and be honest with yourself.

This can be a very rewarding mental diversion, don't put too much pressure on yourself by allowing your betting to exceed your experience and skill level.

Let's get after this!

Hollywood Park Race 8 and Churchill Downs Race 9

We'll work backwards: At 7:07 Eastern the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup goes off at 12 panels and firm turf.

My initial thought is I'd love to see at least 3 more horses to make this a 10 horse field but not my call. With seven horses, if even one scratches I'm much less interested as a bettor. Other early thoughts are the race seems to have some real quality on the front end which means prices will be short and the race less bettable unless I find some real value that will hit the top four.

I like Sanagas (Ger), the most likely post time chalk, to win: While a nice win in the Sycamore, the last two turf efforts were willing and confident. 6 wins in his last nine starts and 4 of 6 in the money on turf. Trainer Motion is winning 24% of his Won Last Start starters and 21% of his graded stakes. He places Maragh up, and the two have won 25% of their efforts together.

Norvsky is a late moving horse as well; The five year old gelding won in late October at 9 panels under Bejarano. The distance question should make or break this choice and should also influence the price in the direction I'd like but the question is real as he's never tried the distance but there is lots to like still; 7 of 8 in the money in 2011, 5 of 5 in the money in 2010, 15 of 16 lifetime in the money, 11 of 12 in the money on Turf and 5 of 5 in the money at Hollywood Park.

Bourbon Bay is a dependable runner with six wins in last 13 starts. Last win was a Grade 3 fake dirt effort at Delmar in late July and seems to have struggled slightly since coming back from Dubai although his Beyers are consistent. he just missed by a head as the chalk in the Del Mar Handicap. Trainer Drysdale is a darn good horseman who wins 19% of his graded stakes efforts. Gomez is up and he and Drysdale have had very little success together in the past year, 1 win in 16 tries. More than capable of striking anywhere in the top three.

I think it gets murky after those three with Miss Match and Falcon Rock seeming the best of the bunch. Miss Match (Arg) is also trained by Neil Drysdale, who places Mike Smith up. My recollection in the stands at Churchill Downs was that Miss Match was almost walking down the stretch the last 1/4 mile in the Distaff, a class test that didn't go so well. A nice last move before that in the Goodwood but her two wins in 2011 both came before April. No turf wins, no attempts at this distance, lots to overcome.

Falcon Rock (Ire) has been on the bench since mid July, a break Trainer Callaghan wins 6% of the time. No wins in 6 starts on Hollywood turf, 2 wins in 19 tries on turf, 1 win in 7 starts at distance, the 6 year old gelding looks the part but only has 2 wins in 22 tries but does have 9 Places. Some horses just don't like to win and while I said 1 of 7 at the distance, 7 of 7 in the money at the distance and 12 of 19 in the money on turf. Gomez jumps off here and Flores is up.

In the River City Handicap, Eddie Kenneally is the trainer of Blues Street now, taking over the super trainer after a poor effort by the 7 year old gelded son of Street Cry in a grade 2 affair at Saratoga where his running line reads "folded". Blues Street is my tentative chalk; This is his 30th lifetime start and he's been in the money 19 times. a nice one mile effort where he just missed at KEE in early October.

If he falters, Tajaaweed will be right there: A bullet work early this week, the 6 year old Dynaformer son looks to erase the poor effort in his stable owners Shadwell Turf Mile. He has run sharply at Churchill Downs this year, just loosing to Turk favorite Turallure in July at 1 1/16 miles on firm grass.

Speaking of that the weather should hold out and the track is currently listed as firm.

This race also could benefit from a few more starters but the quality seems pretty consistent and of the two races, this may be a better bettors affair (say that fast three times!) Below my top two I like Allie's Event who should be good value. Breeder/Owner and Trainer Lori Smock had a bullet work at 5f in 1:01 /5ths at TP this week and has seen her 5 year old run consistent efforts since finishing fourth in last years edition of this race.

Gleam of Hope also put up a bullet 5f in :59 flat at KEE. 6 of 9 in the money on turf for the four year old gelded City Zip son.

Cherokee Lord may be poised for a good effort and comes in off a win at RP in mid October at 1 1/16 over firm turf. Expect a stalking effort and see if he fires.

Have fun with it as that's the goal for me today; I'm coming back for serious play on Churchill Downs for Thursday and Friday and then I'll downshifyt again for a few weeks.

Turk Out!


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