Does racing get any better than this weekend? Seven grade I's from Santa Anita. Five from Belmont. Eighteen graded stakes around the country. Eleven Breeders' Cup Challenge races in two different countries (would have been 13 if the Pilgrim and Miss Grillo weren't moved to next week because of weather). Great stuff.
About the only hiccup in what promises to be an exciting racing weekend is the heavy rains in New York. It's not exactly clear if the turf races will remain on turf, but either way, the complexion of all the races will change. Of course, all eyes will be on the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Curlin's attempt to break Cigar's earnings record.
Let's take a look at some of the big races, starting with the Gold Cup:
As we saw in last year's BC Classic, Curlin doesn't have any problems running in the mud. If he is on the top of his game he should handle this field. But...
His Woodward was far from impressive. Is the long year beginning to take its toll? I'm not sure, but it would still take a lot of guts to bet against Curlin here, so I think the best way to go is to play exotics. Mambo in Seattle proved me wrong in the Travers, but he still didn't make a believer out of me yet, especially at 7-2. If you're going to play Curlin at odds-on, you have to take a stand against Mambo to get a decent price.
I like Wanderin Boy to run a big race here. He is very classy. Over the past two years he has run second to Invasor, Bernardini and Lawyer Ron. And his Woodward wasn't bad at all last out. Two years ago he won by seven in the mud at Belmont. Last year he romped in the mud at Churchill. I'm not sure how much the old man has left, but I'm willing to throw him in all of my exotics, especially at 10-1 or more. I'll also include A.P. Arrow (20-1), for no good reason other than he has shown a liking for an off-track and he is certainly due, and Timber Reserve, who seems to be in his best form of the year.
The pick: $20 exacta box (5) Curlin/(3) Wanderin Boy and $5 exacta box (5) Curlin/(7) A.P. Arrow, (3) Timber Reserve. I'll also play a small across the board bet on (3) Wanderin Boy.
We discuss the race further in this week's edition of That Handicapping Show. Plus, don't miss Cary's Equiform picks. He was 3-for-3 last week and continues to stay red-hot. He gives his picks for the Ancient Title and another race from Santa Anita.
The Pro-Ride at Santa Anita has gotten good reviews so far, but it will get a real test this weekend. You would have to assume that the horses that run well over it will have an advantage Breeders' Cup weekend. In the meantime, it makes handicapping that much harder in the short term. Nobody, even the trainers, have any idea how their horses will handle the new surface.
Tiago won last year's Goodwood by a nose, but has been very average since then. I'm going to pass. Spirit One makes his first start off turf and should be near the lead, along with Well Armed and possibly Zappa. The early pace might set up well for Surf Cat, who has a first and third at this distance and despite finishing sixth in the Pacific Classic, didn't give a poor showing. Or it might be a prefect set-up for Mast Track, who has run three straight Beyers over 100 and turned in a great work over the surface on Sunday. The outside post concerns me though.
Also working well over the surface is Albertus Maximus, who is my longshot play here. He is a 4-year-old who seems to be on the rise, he gets Garrett Gomez and turned in a career best speed figure last out when winning the Windy Sands. Vladimir Cerin recently took over the training of the son of Albert the Great, who might be ready to take it to the next level.
The Pick: This is a super, but tough betting race. I can see any of seven or eight horses finding the winner's circle here. In the end, I settled on Surf Cat (6-1), who I'm hoping has one more big run in him. I'm hoping he'll get a nice stalking trip under David Flores and he'll show that finishing kick that he did April. His work on Wednesday indicates he likes the track. I'm going to key him in an exacta box with Albertus Maximus (8-1) and Well Armed, who has done nothing wrong this year - $10 exacta box 4/6,7.
In the Yellow Ribbon I like (2) Vacare, who is very classy, and in the Oak Leaf I think (10) Black Magic Mama will improve in her second start. I'll box her with Will O Way. In the Vosburgh, which is not a "Win and You're In," but still a great race, I'll go with Fabulous Strike. Todd Beattie says he is back to 100% and ready to roll.
Let me know who you like. Good luck this weekend!!