Friday, July 20, 2012

The Nomination Is In: The Sanford Stakes Grade 2 at Saratoga

Welcome to The Thorofan Handicapper's Corner, I'm The Turk and today's challenge is the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes, a six furlong race for two year olds over the dirt at Saratoga.

Like a milepost along the thruway, when it's Sanford Stakes time, I know it's finally summer. That handsome fella pictured above is none other than the last great racehorse to win the Sanford Stakes, Afleet Alex in 2004. It's ironic that the "it" Stallion for me right now is Scat Daddy, the 2006 winner. Maria's Mon, the 1995 winner produced two Kentucky Derby winners, Super Saver and the speedy Monarchos. Forty Niner, 1987's winner, is from Mr. Prospector and went on to win the Haskell and the Travers Stakes. No need to point out the accomplishments of Affirmed and Secretariat, the 1977 and 1972 winners respectively. I think the moral is two year olds, you're in good company if you win this race.

While I am a handicapper I am stepping outside my comfort zone with this race: There are 19 starts between the 9 starters entered. A sore subject to be sure, but there are new rules governing the number of starters in juvenile races this year at Saratoga. It's important to understand that applies only to maiden juvenile races and there are differences between sprints and routes. Getting back to my point though, it's a different set of challenges when dealing with young horses, even horses of such class as these. Without 10 races per horse in the past performance and a video history of each runner I feel a bit lost. So what to do, throw darts? Pick by names? No, let's review what we have to work with and then build a realistic bet. I'll leave it to each of you how much investment capital to wager on such unknown quantities, but for me I have a limit and I won't exceed it. We'll build a bet strategy on a not to exceed basis.

The handicapping process still has the same steps and the first thing to do is understand the weather and the expected track conditions at post time. As I'm writing this on Friday, it's hard to say right now how things will be as it looks like there is a pretty good chance of rain this weekend, enough to have running water at the Spa (how novel.) Not surprising, only one horse has run on an off track, Bern Identity, who coincidentally has the lowest wet track Tomlinson number of the field at 360. I think we will have to ignore track condition for now as a handicapping factor. Let's start to collect our information on the people and the horses.

Trainer Stats give you a window, albeit a window with a curtain, as to who is doing well with youngsters and who isn't. Not surprisingly Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher start quite a few 2 YOs and both have won 67 juvenile races over the past year. I'm surprised that Dale Roman's hasn't had more success, not surprised at how poorly D. Wayne Lukas's numbers are and Wesley Ward is stealthy strong as always.

Let's take one more look at this group and see how they are doing in graded stakes races as well as how strong the jock/trainer records are:

How much weight should you put on the information in the past two charts? It's indicative of what you'd expect and quite frankly regular horse players could have guessed who would be better than others in which categories. That said, this is gambling, err, speculative investing on unproven commodities. For me, betting on 2 YOs is about having fun and swinging a bit for the fences. There's not much sense in building elaborate matrix style superfectas like I do for the handicap division because there's just not enough to hang your hat on. Let's figure out a bet strategy and stop chewing our gums:

The most likely chalk is Rose Junction: Pletcher is monster obviously, and the charts above highlight is success. Pletcher is 24% off the layoff and 32% after last start wins, and piling on he's 30% in sprints and 29% on dirt, top numbers with this group. It wouldn't be that fun to pick the heavy chalk so I'm going to be contrarian and Wesley Ward's Handsome Jack; the only gelding in the field (insert lost manhood jokes here) he's been training really sharp over the main track at SAR and ran strong from 3 wide in a close defeat last time out at 5.5 furlongs when he went to post at 8-1.

Bern Identity, saddled by Kelly Breen for the Hall's, with Napravnik up, ran 3F in :34 2/5ths this past week and will press the pace hard. The son of Bernstein who died way too soon for any ones liking blew the doors off last time out, winning by nearly 14 lengths. Things that make you say hmmmmm.

As my chart shows the remainder of the field is in a kinda-sorta exotic slot or I tossed them: Hightail (Lukas), Brave Dave and Good Tickled get to play the role of horse who makes the Turk like foolish. Special Jo, Onetwentyeight and John Gordon get some considerations.

I limited my suggestions to just three: An Exacta that has a 50-50 chance of breaking even or losing money, a 5 Horse 10 Cent Super that doesn't cost much and could do well if the chalk falters and a 6 horse super box that is overkill most likely. I will also watch the tote board right up till post time and look for the 3rd or 4th bettor's favorite and place a small win bet. If you're going to be speculative, might as well be a bit reckless now and then too, after all, this is gambling.

Whatever way you play it, have fun. I'll be at the Spa this coming Wednesday and Friday and then again for the Alabama weekend and the Woodward Stakes. Turk Out!

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