The Dirt on the (Dirt) Mile

 - by Alan Mann

I figure that at this point, it's time to just concentrate on the races.  We've discussed the many questions surrounding this year's Breeders' Cup to death.  Yes, it's the first synthetic Breeders' Cup, but, as I've noted on my blog Left at the Gate, it's certainly not the first one tinged with doubts that cut to the very legitimacy of its status as World Championship races.  And though, in my opinion, the Breeders' Cup can't possibly be bashed enough over the pointless renaming of the Distaff and, especially, the absurd scheduling of championship races on a day and time when only the truly committed will even make an attempt to watch, I suppose it’s time to move on and do some gambling.

Lost in all of this however is the exacerbation of what I've always considered to be the biggest drawback of the whole concept of the Breeders' Cup - the fact that there's too much on one day for the mainstream press, and thus, the general public to digest.  Other than the Classic and perhaps another race or two of particular import, the culmination of an entire year's worth of divisional races are inevitably reduced to a footnote at the bottom of a newspaper or web page.  This year, we're up to nine races on Saturday; and add to that numerical dilution the fact that four of Saturday’s races are relatively minor events that should not be grouped with the main events.

14 races in all, and I gotta tell ya, it's too much for me too.  Consider how long one can obsess over a single race - say, the Kentucky Derby - and that many Breeders' Cup races have significantly more angles and nuance to ponder.  Perhaps if I was doing this full-time as a paid gig, I’d have the time, but….

So, I'm going to try to keep it as simple as possible.  For one thing, when I printed out the past performances for Saturday's card, I started with Race 3.  I don't particularly care for mile and a half marathons or turf sprints under any circumstances.  Seriously man, drop me a note next week and let me know who won these two totally superfluous and unnecessary additions to the menu.  Secondly, I intend to concentrate on the races which I can actually handicap with the usual basics of class, pace, and speed (and perhaps even tote), rather than to guess (other than to the extent we all will be regarding the Pro-Ride surface) about horses stretching out for the first time, going grass to "dirt” (or vice-versa), or Racing Post Ratings and the bereft European past performance lines that accompany them.  So, to start at least for now, I'm also putting aside all four juvenile races as well as the Mile and the Turf.  Come race day, the tote board will be my guide to finding value in those.  But, as far as serious handicapping goes, I'm now down to a more manageable six, and there's potentially plenty to be made (or lost) in those.  Of course, to each his/her own, but this is how I’m approaching the event.

The Dirt Mile may be the most eminently handicapable race on the program, so let's start there, and take a look at those that I consider to be the contenders.  With Colonel John poised to represent WinStar and trainer Eoin Harty in the Classic, Well Armed is set for what serves for many horses as the Classic-for-the-Distance-Challenged event.  Having lost by a mere neck to Go Between in the mile and a quarter Pacific Classic, we can't say that about this gelded five-year old son of Tiznow; but this two-turn mile event should suit him fine as well.  He's refined his game of late, showing the ability to rate in his last two efforts, and comes off a workmanlike, though not dominant, win in the Goodwood.  He has the speed figs, the tactical diversity, and the experience over the track to be the clear horse to beat.  (And he worked a half in 46 1/5 on Monday.)

Lewis Michael has raced only twice this year due to an ankle problem, but seems to be coming up to the Dirt Mile in fine fettle for trainer Wayne (38%) Catalano.  This son of Rahy seemed to really blossom at age four last year, at least until he ran into the Monmouth muck and mire which we definitely won't be seeing this year.  He's shown the ability to handle various surfaces and distances.  He stretches to two turns off his perfect-trip win in the seven furlong Pat O'Brien, a pattern which resulted in his dominant Washington Park Handicap win last year.  You can watch his most recent workout here - seven furlongs in 1:25.60 at Keeneland.  Definitely a contender, though I am concerned about his light schedule, and believe he may be overbet.

Albertus Maximus is one of several California-based horses on the Breeders' Cup program that we've seen undergo a dramatic uptick in form after a change of barns - he switched to trainer Vladimir Cerin from Gary Mandella over the summer, and has put in two excellent efforts since.  Most recent was a third, beaten less than two lengths, to Well Armed in the Goodwood, a race in which he conceded a good three paths to the winner turning for home.  Other than Tiago, this four-year old son of Albert the Great closed fastest of all despite the lost ground, earned a career high Beyer, and looks like a live one at what could be a square price.

Slew's Tizzy is another one who has turned things around for a new barn; Doug O’Neill took over training duties over the winter, and the four-year old son of Tiznow responded with a sharp second in an excellent allowance race which also featured next out stakes winner Giant Gizmo, the consistent graded stakes runner Tropic Storm, and graded stakes winning Warning Zone.  After seven months off, he returned with a front-running allowance win, at a mile, over the Pro-Ride last month.  He set a slow pace that day, and is unlikely to be afforded that luxury here; and it concerns me that the Turf Sprint was his first choice.  But his recent sharp form is worth mentioning.  Full brother Slew’s Tiznow is also slated to start.  O’Neill took over this one from Patrick Biancone, and gee, isn’t Biancone about to once again grace the game with his presence?  Jeez, we get rid of steroids, and now pick up thisssssssss.

Two Step Salsa returns to synthetic land after an unsuccessful journey out east, and could find himself in front with a good post draw.  He has superior Moss Pace numbers even to Well Armed when that one was running on the lead.  However, he could find himself being hounded by My Pal Charlie, who is a bit interesting coming off his Super Derby win.  Three-year old son of Indian Charlie earned a career best Beyer that day, but benefited from a perfect inside trip (despite having to wait momentarily for room), and he’s never been on synthetics.  But he does have some of the best pace numbers in the field, and could also be a factor early should he handle the surface.

In conclusion (and I’ll revisit the race after the post draw): Albertus Maximus is on the improve and has an excellent race over the track.  Well Armed has speed, stamina, and consistency, and looms strictly the one to beat.  Slew’s Tizzy has improved dramatically and has won at the distance over the track.  Lewis Michael could blow these away in the stretch if he runs back to peak form from last year.

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