Since I tend to handicap several races each weekend, I thought I'd jot a few lines about each of them this week with the idea of practicing my contest play. As I usually play two entries in handicapping contests, I will make two picks in each of the races with an eye toward value. Picks will be mythical $2 Win/Place wagers as required in the standard NHC format. Races are organized by post time. Play along and let's see who has the bigger bankroll at the end of the day!
Leg 1: Monmouth 8, 80k Allowance, 6 Furlongs, Post: 4:20. Shape = Fast
When I handicap sprints that have fast paces, I always have to think pretty hard about whether or not I am going to play the early speed or try to beat it. Usually, the favorite's placement among that speed influences the decision. Here, I am actually going with one horse that doesn't even rate in the top five in early, middle, or late pace - the #4, Iron Countess, trained by Anthony Dutrow. It is an angle play. Iron Countess is coming off a 6-length maiden victory, and Dutrow is 23 percent or better in three different angles. My second contest entry goes to the best closer in the bunch,the #5, Charmingmegan, who is also third off the layoff and has shown a liking for the distance.
Leg 2: Hollywood Park 9, The Gamely (G1), 1 1/8 miles on Turf, Post: 5:07. Shape = Honest
An inscrutable race, wouldn't you say? I envision six of the seven horses hitting the wire within four lengths of each other. Remembering that this is contest play, I won't look for a horse under 5-1, which eliminates three horses immediately. My Entry 1 choice is the #5, Well-Monied, third beaten a length and a half two starts back and freshened last out, while 3-for-3 in the money at Hollywood and at the distance. Entry 2 choice is the #7, Princess Haya, a potential distance specialist who you might notice beat Forever Together in Canada two races ago.
Leg 3: Belmont 9, The Vagrancy (G2), 6 1/2 furlongs, Post: 5:17. Shape = Very Fast
Again, a race where the question becomes: will the early speed be able to hold up in a sprint that features three blinding fast horses? And let us not forget, that this is contest play. Looking at the morning line odds, this doesn't appear to be the kind of race where one can hope for serious bankroll building. I don't think either of the 15-1 shots have a chance, so my Entry 1 choice falls to the #7, Saarlight, although it bothers me that Alan Garcia hopped off this one in favor of the pretty strong favorite. Saarlight is nowhere in my numbers, but is 5th in Earnings Per Start. Entry 2 choice is #5, Lady Alexander, one of those self-same 15-1 shots I just said had no chance. But hey, this is horse racing and who knows? And he does have five straight bullets, um, in Tampa....
Leg 4: Monmouth 10, John Reilly 100k, 6 furlongs, Post: 5:20. Shape = Very Fast
What, another sprint with a super-hot pace? Ah, Monmouth. I am loving this meet. Look at this field. Dynamite, and actually a great kind of contest race (now, that I have said that, you know the first and second betting choices are rolling home, one-two!) Entry 1 choice is the best front-runner, by my numbers, in the bunch, the #9, Lucky James. So what if hasn't run in seven months? He has been working regularly, and there is a family connection between trainer and owner, something I never ignore in any kind of stakes race. Also, Lucky James is 10-for-10 in the money at Monmouth (!) and 12-for-12 at the distance (!!). Even with the layoff, 5-1 seems like a real value here. Entry 2 choice is the horse with the best closing figure in this group who is not an E horse, the #11 Hop Skip and Away. Um, so what if he hasn't run in 6 months?
Leg 5: Churchill 10, Dogwood Stakes (G3), 1 mile, Post: 5:29. Shape = Honest
In a one-turn mile that feels like it might play like a sprint, my Entry 1 choice is the #5, Helen Belen, although she clearly doesn't belong on class, which always makes me ask why the trainer would ship in if he thought he didn't have a chance? This is a horse I would probably never play if it weren't for the way contests work. A true shot-in-the-dark front-runner who I hope can luck into soft fractions and wire in a shocker. My Entry 2 choice is more logical, the best closer in the field, #3 Fuzzy Britches, who also ranks second in this field in Earnings Per Start, and has the highest speed figure average (last three races) in the bunch.
Leg 6: Monmouth 11, 80k Allowance, 1 mile 70 yards, Post 5:50. Shape = Very Fast
Now, this is my favorite kind of contest race. A route (the longer the better) with at least three E horses in the field, one of whom is the first or second betting choice. The favorite is the #10, Very Sweet, not an E, but clearly a horse that wants the lead and one that doesn't have good closing figures. The second betting choice, the coupled 1 and 1A entry, will press the pace...which means: possible meltdown. I love these kinds of races when the pace leads you to a good closer that has long odds. Unfortunately, not the case in this race. Entry 1 choice is #9 Banker's Buy, who possesses the best closing figure in the field and may have a liking for the distance. My Entry 2 choice, is the best closer who isn't in the top 5 in early or middle pace, in this case, the #3, Gunslinger Girl, another one coming from far off the shelf, but she has been working regularly, and she has been in the money in all four of her starts.
Leg 7: Arlington Park 10, Arlington Matron (G3), 1 1/8 miles, Post:6:43. Shape = Honest
A tough race with some potential value, as I think both Tizaqueena and Floating Heart look beatable. My Entry 1 choice is #3, AskbutIwon'ttell, consistent speed figures in the last three, two of which were wins, an owner/trainer-in-stakes angle, the best closing figure in the field, three points better than the favorite's, and a 24 percent jockey/trainer combo. Worth a shot. My Entry 2 choice is a bombshell,the #12, Souper Miss at 30-1 on the morning line. But there is some logic to the pick - third best closing figure in the bunch (if only this race had a fast or very fast shape, I would be all over it!), third in speed figure average (last three races) and fifth in Earnings Per Start, and 4-for-5 in the money at Arlington.
So, there you have it. My goal in win/place contests is to score 2.5 times my mythical bankroll (a little tidbit I picked up from Noel Michaels' book on Handicapping Contests), so, in this case, 70 dollars. If either Entry gets there, I will be happy. Regardless, the contest practice has already been worth the effort!