I hope all of you are enjoying a very Happy Thanksgiving with plenty of good food and (hopefully) some winning tickets if you partake in any betting action this weekend.
There are a bunch of really good graded stakes races on the horizon but I want to take a look at two of the bigger one: the Cigar Mile at the Big A on Saturday (Post time: 3:20pm Eastern) and the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Friday (Post time: 5:35pm Eastern). Let's take a look at each race starting with the Cigar Mile.
|1||Praetereo||D. Cohen||D. Jacobson||30/1|
|2||Forty Tales||J. Rosario||T. Pletcher||10/1|
|3||Clearly Now||J. Lezcano||B. Lynch||5/1|
|4||Groupie Doll||R. Maragh||W. Bradley||3/1|
|5||Laugh Track||M. Smith||M. Casse||12/1|
|6||Capo Bastone||I. Ortiz, Jr.||T. Pletcher||20/1|
|7||Saratoga Snacks||J. Ortiz||G. Sciacca||12/1|
|8||Goldencents||R. Bejarano||D. O'Neill||7/2|
|9||Flat Out||J. Alvarado||W. Mott||6/1|
|10||Verrazano||J. Castellano||T. Pletcher||8/1|
|11||Private Zone||M. Pedroza||D. O'Neill||15/1|
Now that's some kind of good, deep field. Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Groupie Doll looks to avenge her nose defeat in last year's race when she faces off against a very good field of 10 rivals. Typically, avoiding horses that ran big races at the Breeders' Cup in their next start is a good plan but Groupie Doll ran big after her 2012 BC victory so it's really hard to toss her aside.
If we're looking for a horse to toss following a big effort in the Breeders' Cup, it has to be Goldencents. If he was, say, 5/1 or 6/1 on the board, maybe he'd be worth a shot. But 7/2? No way. I don't think he'll run a bad race (his only flops were the Derby and Preakness, races probably a bit too far for his tastes), but I see him running a race more in line with his effort in the Pat O'Brien and I don't think that level will get it done against this field. Plus, Verrazano and Private Zone to his outside? Yeah, that's not a recipe for success.
Verrazano. Yikes. Those last two races were just awful, awful awful. I don't think they have much choice as to what to do with him strategically in this race - he's got to be up front early. If he's a couple lengths back after the first call, I'm not sure he'll be anywhere near the front when it comes time to roll towards the judge. If, however, Castellano can get him up front early (and he'll have to battle Goldencents and Private Zone in order to make that happen), he might have a shot. Unfortunately the horse to his outside, the very speed Private Zone, is unlikely to yield the early pace to any horse.
In terms of pace, this race looks like it's going to set up very nicely for Groupie Doll but I wonder if a horse from the rear of the field might pick up the pieces in deep stretch. There are two horses that really intrigue me in an off-the-pace winner scenario: Forty Tales (10/1) and Capo Bastone (20/1).
I'm fairly surprised that Todd Pletcher hasn't run Forty Tales at a mile a bit more often over the course of the year as there are plenty of opportunities to run in one-turn miles (which I think suits him quite well). He'll get his shot today and if the pace is strong, he should have plenty of late kick to run down the field in deep stretch. His last few efforts look a bit dull in terms of finish position (2nd, 4th, 5th) but he's an ultra-consistent colt and has the "grinder" style that could play nicely in this spot on Saturday.
I've never been a big Capo Bastone fan but if you think this pace is going to be fast and you're looking for a colt from the complete rear of the field to make a run, Capo Bastone fits the bill. He flopped badly in the BC Turf Sprint but that was an awful spot for him and he really had little chance to do much of anything. The likelihood of this colt winning that race in his first try on turf (and, obviously, his first try on the Santa Anita downhill course) was slim to none, yet the connections decided to go that direction. Returning to dirt, and a one-turn mile with a ton of pace, should be a perfect fit.
Turning to Friday's Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs featuring a field of nine led by Will Take Charge and Game On Dude:
|1||Game On Dude||M. Smith||B. Baffert||8/5|
|2||Finnegans Wake||J. Leparoux||D. Romans||20/1|
|3||Bourbon Courage||C. Lanerie||K. Gorder||8/1|
|4||Golden Ticket||R. Albarado||K. McPeek||9/2|
|5||Prayer for Relief||R. Santana, Jr.||S. Asmussen||12/1|
|6||Easter Gift||J. Rosario||C. Brown||12/1|
|7||Will Take Charge||L. Saez||D.W. Lukas||9/5|
|8||Our Double Play||F. Torres||P. Bauer||20/1|
|9||Jaguar Paw||S. Bridgmohan||S. Lyster||20/1|
If Game On Dude is going to bounce back from his second consecutive stinker in the Classic, this is probably as good a spot as any with just Our Double Play as the main pace threat in the field. Game On Dude has shown he can run big if left (relatively) alone in the early stages. Where he struggles is when he won't settle
Will Take Charge has been as consistent as he can be over the last four races and is a length and a nose away from four straight graded stakes victories. He had a real tough go of it during the Triple Crown series but has clearly taken that next step forward to become a force within the Classic division as he continued to mature and develop as a race horse. The Clark is a perfect spot to assert his claim as the top three-year-old colt in the country
Here's an interesting reality: if Will Take Charge were to win the Clark and solidify his status as the top three-year-old colt in the country, we would be looking at the winner of the Eclipse Award having finished 8th, 7th and 10th in the three Triple Crown races. A quick look back at recent Eclipse Award winners reveals very few horses to win the title of top three-year-old colt without Triple Crown success. The last such horse was Tiznow in 2000, the first of two years he would win the Breeders' Cup Classic. But other than Tiznow, and Holy Bull in 1994, it's rare to find a recent champion three-year-old colt that was shutout in the spring classics.
The Clark isn't nearly as deep as the Cigar Mile and, in turn, I have a hard time seeing a horse other than the top two coming up with the victory. Will Take Charge's current form gives him the edge in my book, even though the pace situation probably won't be as favorable as he would prefer. Still, it's hard to get away from a colt that has run good race after good race, regardless of whether a fast or slow pace develops in front of him in the early stages. Given the relative weakness of the rest of the field, 9/5 or 2/1 would be quite generous for a horse of his quality. At the same time, there is a bit of a concern over a sub-par performance coming out of the Breeders' Cup. That risk might make this race a bit better to watch than to wager.