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Saturday Handicapping

Thoughts on the races occurring today around the racing world:

  • I'm not going to waste time handicapping either the New Orleans Ladies Stakes or the Santa Margarita - sometimes it's better to just sit back and watch greatness perform.  Nevertheless, here's something that I find truly remarkable about Zenyatta when I look at her past performances: she is one of the most consistent horses you will ever see run at the track.  Check out the final fractions from several of her races over the last two years:

    Breeders' Cup Classic: 23.30 (1/4)
    Lady's Secret: 29.90 (3/16)
    Hirsch: 28.48 (3/16)
    Milady: 29.71 (3/16)
    Ladies' Classic: 11.73 (1/16)

    Every single race she runs her race regardless of what's happening in front of her.  If it's a slow pace, Zenyatta charges hard to lead in the stretch.  If it's a fast pace, Zenyatta charges hard to the lead in the stretch.  It really doesn't seem to matter.  I suppose one of these days the pace will be slow enough and one of the front runners talented enough that Zenyatta won't be able to cover enough ground to win...but I don't know that I'd bet against it.  And honestly, other than Rachel Alexandra, is there a horse in this country that Zenyatta couldn't run down in the stretch?

    Speaking of Rachel, I didn't even pull the past performances for her race this weekend because I seriously doubt that there's any information in the race record of her four rivals that could convince me that this race won't unfold in any way other than Rachel breaking on top, grabbing the lead, and running the other fillies into the ground.  The New Orleans Ladies Classic is essentially a 8 ½ furlong workout for the reigning Horse of the Year.

  • Heavy rain fell in Florida yesterday causing Gulfstream Park to cancel their card after the fourth race due to an unsafe track.  Tampa Bay Downs was able to get their entire card in but had to take all races off the turf.

    If there is any turf racing in Florida today (and that's a big "if") the grass should be much, much softer than we've seen lately, especially at Gulfstream where speed has been very advantageous.  
  • If Tampa does keep their races on the turf course tomorrow I'll be keeping an eye on 4-Cure for Sale (ARG) in race 8, the Grade 3 Hillsborough at 1 1/8 miles.  This six year old mare has won races over turf courses labeled "GOOD" and "SOFT" in her career, and on February 13th finished 2nd over a "YIELDING" course at Tampa. 

    The morning line favorite in the Hillsborough, 7-Mushka, has tried a "GOOD" course twice in her career and each time she ran an even race, at best.  In my mind she becomes a bet against if the course does not come up "FIRM".

    The 6-Liberally (IRE) will probably take a little more action with a softer turf course primarily due to her experience racing in France and Great Britain.  And while normally I like the Euros when the conditions are soft I don't think Liberally is a very good play in this race for two reasons.  First, he class appears to be just a touch behind what she'll see here today.  Second, I think this race is too short for her; Liberally tends to run her best races when going 1 ¼ miles or more.
  • Before yesterday's rain hit Florida I thought that She Be Wild was an absolute bet against in the Florida Oaks at Tampa.  The possibility of a MUDDY or GOOD track cements this notion even further.  I didn't like how this filly handled the Gulfstream course at all in the Forward Gal and I'm not sure she's ready to improve just by shipping over the Tampa.  She Be Wild usually shows a great deal of interest early on in a race, although she's not a "need to lead" filly by any means.  However, in the Forward Gal she just looked to be spinning her wheels the entire way around the track and appeared to me to be a filly that wasn't running on her preferred surface. 

    Once you get past She Be Wild, I think Diva Delite appears to be the filly with the best shot to take home top honors.  This three year old daughter of Repent has won four straight races, and five of her last six, with her last two races both coming over the Tampa Bay Downs main track where she's a perfect two-for-two.  She has a versatile turn of foot, one of the top jockeys on the ground in the irons, and she appears to be in the best form of any filly in the field.  At 4/1 on the morning line, Diva Delite looks like a great bet to upset She Be Wild.
  • The 9th race at Oaklawn today is an Optional Claiming / N2X Allowance event open to horses aged four and up.  One of the sharpest looking entries on paper is the 7-Follow the Leader, a son of former Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones.  Follow the leader debuted at Oaklawn back in March of 2009 where he just missed in a Maiden Special Weight race.  After that effort he didn't appear on a race track again until February 11th of this year, indicating that he suffered some kind of injury in that debut race.  He seems to be in fine condition now as he's won his last two races (a MdSpWt and an N1X Allowance) and notched a 91 Beyer each time. 
  • If you have the ability, check out the replay of his last race on February 25th (race 9) and notice how easily this colt engulfed the field coming into the final turn; Calvin Borel had him on cruise control the whole way.

    Follow the Leader won't offer much on the tote board as he's pegged at 6/5 on the morning line, but he might be a colt to keep an eye on going forward.  The older male division is pretty weak right now and it wouldn't take much to become a player by the summer.
  • And finally, how tough is it to succeed as an owner in the sport of horse racing? Take a look at the 7-Maumelle in the 11th and final race at Oaklawn Park to find out. 

    The night cap in Arkansas is a $10,000 Maiden Claimer for three, four, and five year old colts and geldings.  Maumelle was purchased for $140,000 at the 2008 Fasig Tipton Kentucky July sale.  $140,000.  The colt has run eight times without a victory and has earned $1,717 in his career.  Simple math tells us that the owners are in the hole over $138,000 with this horse.  The actual number, however, is even greater than that when you factor in training fees, food, vet bills, and everything else that it costs to own a horse.

    While this example illustrates how difficult it can be to succeed in the sport it is also a terrific reminder as to why this game is so great: having lots of money doesn't hurt, you can't just buy a championship like you can as an owner in other sports.  Well, I guess that's not entirely true, you can buy yourself a champion, but buying a horse after it's already proven its greatness is a little bit different than buying a horse in the sales ring before it has ever run a race.