Okay, everyone have all the Zenyatta/Rachel stuff out of their system?
I didn't think so, but we'll move on to some actual racing anyway.
This weekend's lineup is tremendous, with 16 graded stakes at Churchill, Aqueduct, and Hollywood. I'm especially looking forward to the 2-year-old races, as well as the Cigar Mile and Clark Handicap.
Speaking of the Clark, is it possible to assemble a better field three weeks after the Breeders' Cup than Churchill did for this race? Wow. You have three grade I winners, three others coming off grade II wins, and a bunch of others who are capable of an upset. As added intrigue, Macho Again, Einstein, and Bullsbay may all be battling for champion older horse with a win. Let's take a look at the field.
Interestingly, Macho, Einstein, and Bullsbay--the top three choices on the morning line--all enter off poor starts. But all three are not only proven grade I winners, but love the main track at Churchill.
Macho was no factor in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and had a slight illness that kept him out of the Breeders' Cup. He comes in well rested but will need a decent pace to win. I think he'll get it and would be surprised if he wasn't a major factor. He's won 3 of 5 at Churchill.
I love Einstein but he has several things going against him in this spot. Helen Pitts could not explain his poor showing in the BC Classic, which is troublesome; he drew post 14, which is never good, and he gets a new rider (Rajiv Maragh) for the first time in 30 starts. I wouldn't be shocked if Einstein won--he's a super animal--but I must try to beat him in this spot.
I do like Bullsbay here. Yes, he also comes off a poor showing in the Breeders' Cup. But he proved he can rebound off that kind of effort earlier in the year when he finished 10th in the Hollywood Gold Cup and then went on to pull a shocker in the Whitney. Other than the Donn way back in January, Bullsbay has been solid in every one of his starts on dirt in 2009. I like his running style in this race, as he should race mid-pack and be in striking distance entering the lane. His speed figures and back class make him a big time threat here, and he is 3-for-4 at Churchill with Jeremy Rose getting the mount again.
Three others I like are Etched, Blame, and Giant Oak. Even though he is lightly raced and making a class jump, Etched is a very talented horse capable of knocking off these. Want proof? Look at his final time in the Meadowlands Cup--1:45.93--on a sloppy track no less. He's 5-for-5 in the United States and Kiaran McLaughlin horses are winning at a 25% clip third off a layoff. He'll be near the pace.
Blame also faces his stiffest test but is no doubt an improving horse with a huge upside. He has also run well at Churchill and enters off a good work.
Giant Oak is my hunch play. This 3-year-old has been costing me money all year but he may be worth using on the bottom end of exotics. He seems to be making strides in the second half of the season, turning in two good starts in a row. He was only a half-length back in the Indiana Derby when Misremembered set a 1 1/16-mile track record at Hoosier Park. And Giant Oak wants more distance. Nine furlongs should be much better for him. He had a huge work over the track on Nov. 21 and ran very well here as a 2YO in the Kentucky Jockey Club. He'll be 20-1 or more and could be flying at the end.
The tough part is figuring out how to structure my bets. For now, let's say an exacta part-wheel Bullsbay and Macho Again with Blame, Etched, Giant Oak.
One other longshot to mention is Demarcation, who won the Ack Ack when making his first start on dirt this year. Also a deep closer, he could get a piece.
At the time of this writing, entries have not come out for Saturday races at Churchill or Aqueduct but we can discuss them as the week goes on. For now, let me know your thoughts on the Clark.
And most importantly, everyone have a great Thanksgiving weekend. Remember, it's a holiday--we're not allowed to argue. We might be dysfunctional, but we're still a family!