This is the second of a two-part look at the opening of the 2012/2013 Gulfstream Park meet. Part I is here.
Turning to the opening day card, Gulfstream will host the Claiming Crown for the very first time on Saturday after several years at Canterbury in Minnesota and Ellis Park in Kentucky. The Claiming Crown features several starter allowance conditions for horses that have run for claiming prices of anywhere from $7,500 to $35,000 over the last two years. The feature race is the Claiming Crown Jewel, a $200,000 purse for horses that have started for a claiming tag of $35,000 or less since January 1st, 2011.
Below is a summary post times and conditions of the Claiming Crown races on Saturday's card.
|4||2:09pm||CC Express||$7,500 StrAlw||3up||6.0||Dirt||$100,000|
|5||2:37pm||CC Iron Horse||$7,500 StrAlw||3up||8.5||Dirt||$100,000|
|6||3:05pm||CC Rapid Transit||$16,000 StrAlw||3up||7.0||Dirt||$100,000|
|7||3:35pm||CC Glass Slipper||$16,000 StrAlw||3up, f&m||7.0||Dirt||$100,000|
|8||4:05pm||CC Tiara||$25,000 StrAlw||3up, f&m||8.5||Turf||$125,000|
|9||4:35pm||CC Emerald||$25,000 StrAlw||3up||8.5||Turf||$125,000|
|10||5:05pm||CC Jewel||$35,000 StrAlw||3up||9.0||Dirt||$200,000|
Let's take a look at Saturday's card including the non-Claiming Crown races. There are two rail settings for opening day: Races 1, 3 and 9 will run with the rail at 48 feet. Races 2, 3 and 8 will run with the rail at 108 feet.
Race 1: Maiden Special Weight, 8.0f, Turf, 3&up, fillies & mares
The curiosity horse in the meet opener is 1-Dawn Glory (3/1), a filly owned and bred by Queen Elizabeth II and trained by Christophe Clement. Dawn Glory struggled over in England but ran well in her North American debut in late October at Belmont. She's going to get a little more ground to cover this time out and might be ready to finally break into the winner's column.
9-Toute Allure (12/1) is a first time North American starter after coming up empty in three tries over in France this summer. She weakened badly in all three of her prior efforts but she'll gate Lasix for her stateside debut, a fact that could point to a much improved performance in this spot. Also notice that her two turf tries in France came over ground rated "Good to Soft", both of which she didn't seem to care for. Her other race in France came over a Fibersand (synthetic) surface. There are a lot of changes associated with this filly in this race, and I wouldn't want to take a short price on her in any situation, but she might be worth a play at 12/1 against a field that isn't' overflowing with top-level talent.
Race 2: Maiden Special Weight, 8.5f, Turf, 2yo
The second race on the card is the first of the day with the rail set out at 108 feet and it might provide an opportunity for a price play in the form of 4-Callmeback (15/1). A two-year-old son of Put It Back, this colt ran poorly in both his starts on dirt but flashed some decent early speed before fading over a yielding Calder turf course in mid-October. He should get firmer ground in this spot could grab the lead if he's able to break well and clear 6-Elmutahid (4/1) and 12-Drenched (6/1) in the early stages. I think he's got a good shot to do just that and I'd be willing to take a shot if the odds stay in the double-digit region.
1-Vespato (3/1) makes a ton of sense in this race as he's got a good deal of tactical speed and he should be able to save ground on the rail. If the pacesetters end up dueling in the early going, Vespato should get a clear run at the front when they turn for home.
Race 3: $75k OC/N1X, 8.0f, Turf, 2yo
The third straight turf race to start the card and the season, this optional claimer features a field of 10, with five horses making their first starts over the lawn.
A coupled entry of 1-Undrafted and 1a-Skylander (5/2) earns the status of morning line favorites. Undrafted ran twice over synthetic surface and broke his maiden in his debut at Keeneland last April. He's been on and off the bench since that day, probably due to some health issues (just a guess) and now trainer Wesley Ward decides to put him on the lawn for his first start since mid-June; that right there gives me a little bit of pause concerning his chances, especially at short odds. If we turn to the pedigree side of the equation things don't get a lot more assuring; Undrafted is by Purim (a son of Dynaformer), but while Purim was a successful runner on the lawn his offspring have not fared well in turf races so far.
Like Undrafted, Skylander broke his maiden at Keeneland in the Spring and then seemingly sat on the bench for the rest of the summer. He's making his turf debut and is by Bring the Heat, a much better turf sire than Purim. However, we are still dealing with some poor 1st time turf trainer numbers from Ward and a long, long layoff after a debut win. (Over the past year, Wesley Ward is just 4-for-37 with horses making their first start on the lawn (11% Win%, 35% ITM, $1.02 $2 ROI, $5.60 Median Payoff), but all four of his winners were juveniles.)
Combine the grass pedigree with the time on the bench and the trainer's 1st time turf numbers and you've got a lot of reasons to bet against the morning line chalk in the third race.
Truth be told, I don't really love any horses in this race but I could be tempted to play the likely speed of the speed, 3-Alpha Slew (12/1). This gelding broke his maiden at first asking while sprinting over the turf at Calder on Halloween and now he comes back to stretch out to a mile - his first attempt at two-turns. He's got a lot of speed but the question is ‘can he carry it another three furlongs?' Looking at the pedigree his dam Seattle Showers won a couple of times on the lawn but produced two other foals that didn't do anything but sprint (and not very successfully). However, both of those runners were by sprint oriented sires (City Zip and Exchange Rate) and Alpha Slew is by Alphabet Soup. That might not be enough to overcome the sprint influence of the dam but it could be worth a shot given what could be a pace advantage.
Race 4: Claiming Crown Express, 6.0f, Dirt, 3&up
The first Claiming Crown race on the card features a whole lotta' speed going six furlongs on the main track. Morning line favorite 9-Cover Price (3/1) should get a perfect set-up behind the speed and will be very tough to beat if the race unfolds as it appears it will on paper. If he runs back to that win at Calder the race will be for second.
Race 5: Claiming Crown Iron Horse, 8.5f, Dirt, 3&up
14-Starship Truffles (5/1) drew an absolutely horrible post position for a 1 1/16 mile race on the main track as the chances of her getting hung out wide are quite good. The poor draw is no doubt hugely disappointing when you consider the excellent current form for this filly taking on the boys. In her last start she dominated a field of $25,000 starter allowance fillies at Calder and she's a sparkling 15-8-1-2 in her career, including 3-1-0-2 at the distance.
Looking back at last year's meet at Gulfstream, posts 10, 11 and 12 (there isn't any data for posts outside of 12), were essentially the posts of death for races at a mile or greater on the main track. Starters from post 10 were 3-for-60 (5%), post 11 starters were 3-for-38 (8%), and post 12 runners were 1-for-22 (5%). Of the 228 races run at a mile or greater on the main track during the 2011/2012 meet, posts 1-7 won 204 races (89%).
Race 6: Claiming Crown Rapid Transit, 7.0f, Dirt, 3&up
2-Coosada (7/2) will likely be the strong favorite come post time as he rolls into this race off a win over open company $40,000 horses at Churchill in his last start and he's consistently put up speed figures that match or exceed those of his rivals in this race. Perhaps the only weakness (albeit, very small) is the distance; he's solid at seven furlongs (5-2-1-0) but by no means outstanding.
There may be some value in the 7-Peb Hughes (6/1), a Richard Dutrow trainee with good success at the trip (8-3-4-0) and a win over the Gulfstream main track to his name (3-1-0-0). He's at a big class disadvantage when compared to the favorite but he's coming out of a race that saw the winner return to win against Optional Claiming $40k/N3X company at Parx; this horse has some class in his corner even if it's a bit hidden.
Race 7: Claiming Crown Glass Slipper, 7.0f, Dirt, 3&up, fillies & mares
We are presented with another handicapping quandary in terms of post position in this race. The two best mares in the field, 12-Brandys Secret (4/1) and 13-Tamarind Hall (7/2), have drawn all the way out to the last two spots in the starting gate. While we generally don't think of outside posts in sprints races to be as difficult as those in two-turn races with a short run into the first turn, the numbers at Gulfstream last year are pretty clear as to where you want to be in one-turn races on the main track.
Just like the races at one mile and greater, we only have data for posts one through twelve for one-turn races. In all races under a mile during the 2011/2012 meet, horses breaking from posts one through nine consistently won around 11% of the time. Horses breaking from posts 10, 11 and 12 saw that number cut significantly. Post 10 runners were 6-for-94 (6%); post 11 horses were 4-for-57 (7%); and horses breaking from post 12 were 3-for-36 (8%).
6-Starship Truffles (6/1), a filly that's cross-entered in the 5th race and drawn into the death post of #14, is trying seven panels for the first time but might just get the absolute perfect set-up in this race. As I wrote in the preview of the 5th race, this filly is coming out of a very nice win in against $25k Starter Allowance Company and she's on a very nice run of form over the past year.
I'm going to toss the two favorites due to their poor draw and put my faith in Starship Truffles (if she goes in this race) to run down the leaders in the homestretch for the win.
Race 8: Claiming Crown Tiara, 8.5f, Turf, 3&up, fillies & mares
Another race where the morning line favorite, 14-Silver Screamer (5/2) draws the worst post position possible given the trip. During the 2011/2012 meet, horses drawn in post 12 for races at one mile or greater on the turf course were a brutal 5-for95. Silver Screamer will have to deal with post 14.
I really like a Maker/Ramsey mare in this race, 7-Starsilhoutte (8/1), astonishingly a non-Kitten's Joy offspring. Starsilhouette possesses a feature that I love to see when I'm handicapping - versatility. She's won by closing from well back of the pace and she's run well when up a little bit closer. She tends to not show a lot of speed on the turf, and the 108 foot temp rail generally plays to horses near the front of the pack, but I think there might be enough speed in this race to set up this mare for a strong finish in the lane. Toss in the fact that this mare is 5-3-0-0 all-time over the Gulfstream lawn, along with a 9-3-0-2 record at the trip and an 8/1 ML.... well, I think the value is definitely present. I'll play this mare anywhere at 5/1 or higher; if she dips below 5/1 I might get cold feet.
Race 9: Claiming Crown Emerald, 8.5f, Turf, 3&up
Unlike several of the two-turn races on the Claiming Crown card, the post position draw for the Emerald didn't result in one or two of the prime contenders getting stuck out in No Man's Land. In fact, on paper, the top contenders drew into four of the first five positions in the starting gate.
1-Nikki's Sandcastle ran second to Newsdad in the G2-Fayette over the Poly at Keeneland in his most recent start. His $25,000 claiming qualified race is well in the past when compared to his recent stakes form. Just to his outside is G1-Jamiaca runner-up 2-King Kreesa (6/1), and Jamaica winner 5-King David (4/1).
I'd be very surprised if the winner of the Emerald doesn't come from the threesome of Nikki's Sandcastle, King Kreesa and King David. Those three standout on class and should have little trouble with the more garden variety claiming horses found in this field. If I had to take a shot at beating one of those three it would be with the Maker/Ramsey horse, 3-Major Marvel (6/1). This six-year-old gelding can really close well and has enough tactical speed to keep up with the pace in the early stages. I' not sure if he's got the class to beat the top trio but he's in great form and he's been working like a champ over the last couple of months.
As a quick aside to this race: perhaps the claiming conditions should only go back to January 1st of the current year, instead of two years back (as they do on this card). If the $25,000 starter allowance field was limited to race on or after January 1st, 2012, Nikki's Sandcastle would not be eligible as he ran for a $25k tag on July 3rd of 2011. Just seems like two years is a long time for a starter allowance condition.
Race 10: Claiming Crown Jewel, 9.0f, Dirt, 3&up
Anybody remember Homeboykris from the 2010 Kentucky Derby? Probably not since he finished 16th and over 53 lengths behind winner Super Saver. Anyway, Homeboykris descended all the way back down to the claiming ranks (he won the G1-Champagne as a Juvenile) and actually ran for a $10k tag back on January 8th at Gulfstream. My how the mighty have fallen - a Grade 1 winner running for a $10k tag. [Insert something about the ridiculousness of Grade 1 races for juveniles.]
Homeboykris is cross-entered in Race 6.
Of the races on the Claiming Crown card, I had more lukewarm feelings about the Jewel than any other race. I'm really enamored with any of the horses in the field and gravitated towards 11-Trade (12/1) as a pure price play on a possible speed horse. On the other hand, he's drawn wide and that's just not the place to be a Gulfstream in two-turn races.
Another price play that might be worth a nibble is 5-Dan and Shelia (15/1). He's won over the Gulfstream main track in the past and he's shown the ability to sit just off the leaders in the early going. .
If you are still hungry for some serious gambling action, Gulfstream will be simulcasting five races from Hipodromo Chile after the final race on Saturday's card; nothing says "serious degenerate gambling session" like simulcasting some South American races on a Saturday night.