TimeformUS Weekend Plays: The Amsterdam and the Bing Crosby

Sunday Update:

Sunday Saratoga, Race 10, 5:45 pm ET
The G2 Amsterdam, Three-Year-Olds, 6 Furlongs, Dirt

Betting Strategy:  Bet Salutos Amigos to win and key him in an exacta with Declan's Warrior, Forty Tales, and Mentor Cane

The old racing axiom "Pace makes the race" is evident when one studies the results of the Woody Stephens Stakes, which was won from 13 lengths off of the lead by Forty Tales. Meanwhile, Declan's Warrior rallied from deep in the pack to finish second and complete a $97 exacta payout.  

We would love to take a strong position against both Forty Tales and Declan's Warrior today in the six-and-one-half-furlong Amsterdam, as they are the 2/1 morning line favorite and the 5/2 second choice and will now get more credit from bettors than they deserve--due to their recent success.

However, the TimeformUS Pace Projector indicates that both Forty Tales and Declan's Moon will again benefit from a very fast pace in front of them, just not one to the extreme of last time. So instead of tossing these two favorites completely, we will reluctantly use them in exotics.

Asterdam Pace Projector

The exciting and intriguing Mentor Cane is our final exotic use. He was second in his debut, losing to a promising Bob Baffert colt named Flashback after setting an early pace that returned an unbelievably high pace figure. Interestingly, his normally patient and cautious trainer, John Shirreffs, decided to stretch Mentor Cane out in distance to a two-turn route next out. Mentor Cane absolutely ran off around the first turn, posting a 22 1/5 opening quarter mile while fighting his rider and running with his mouth open. He earned another blistering pace figure, but folded up sharply late to finish a distant third.

Mentor Cane was laid off for 189 days after that debacle, before returning in style with a sensationally easy maiden win that earned him a 108 speed figure. Shirreffs is again demonstrating uncharacteristic aggressiveness by stepping this horse up in class to Grade 2 Stakes company off of a maiden win just three weeks ago.

Salutos Amigos was most recently victimized by the gut-wrenching Woody Stephens pace and ran much better than he will get credit for, considering he was beaten only eight lengths despite being eased up at the 1/16th pole. He will benefit from the slight cutback in distance and is much closer in ability to the two favorites than the odds will suggest. Interestingly, Salutos Amigos ran a field-best 116 speed figure when he dusted subsequent stakes winner Zee Bros in his final sprint try in California. Simply put, we think he is flying under the radar and is the best betting option from a value standpoint.

Free TimeformUS PP's for the Amsterdam

Monmouth Park, Race 13, 6:18 pm ET
The G1 Haskell Invitational Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 and 1/8 Miles, Dirt

Like so many editions of the Haskell, this one is fascinating because of its potential to give us answers to questions that were never answered satisfactorily during the Triple Crown chase. For example: Did Vyjack disappoint in the Derby and Belmont because he was compromised by biases and race shapes, or was he simply overmatched? Is Golden Soul the horse we saw in the Derby, or is he the horse his backers wish they had never seen in the Belmont? And best of all: What is one to make of Verrazano, who promised so much in the winter and spring, only to disappoint so many on the first Saturday in May?
We have no such questions about Oxbow. Oxbow is Oxbow, a horse who followed up on his Preakness upset by running a gallant race in the Belmont and now cuts back to nine furlongs after receiving a short rest every second of which he richly deserved.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, Verrazano projects to get a clear early lead in this race. Moreover, the race is projected to be run in a manner that is conducive to the chances of frontrunners. For a horse sporting three speed figures of 114 (numbers his competition has not matched), that is a hearty combination. Combine this with Todd Pletcher's TimeformUS trainer ratings in the relevant categories and there is quite a bit to like here. Unfortunately, his likely odds are not quite so likeable, but Verrazano is our selection.

As far as exotic wagers are concerned, in addition to respecting the obvious, low-odds contenders, we give Vyjack a chance to get involved late and get into the trifecta at a price. 

Del Mar, Race 8, 8:42 pm ET
The G1 Bing Crosby, Three-and-Up, 6 Furlongs, Polytrack

The Bing Crosby has attracted a field of six accomplished horses who will be racing six furlongs over a Del Mar surface that has been strongly favoring early speed in sprints. Most riders--and the trainers who give them instructions--are usually aware of strong biases, of course. Indeed, sometimes they are too aware of them. For an example of this, and its counterbalancing effects, watch a replay of the 9th race run at Del Mar yesterday. In its mass charge out of the starting gate, it had the look of the World War 1 movie "Gallipoli." In any event, players are encouraged to monitor the Del Mar Polytrack today and see how it's playing.
The TimeformUS Pace Projector indicates that Coach Bob and the iron horse Comma to the Top will be competing for the early lead today. The feeling here is that Comma to the Top will put Coach Bob away later in the race. Then it becomes a question of whether he (with a possible assist from the racetrack) will have enough left to hold off the closers. Comma to the Top is as game an animal as we have seen in quite some time. He always fires his shot. He always runs solid speed figures (his last three are 113, 117, and 112). His trainer, Pete Miller, has been hot at Del Mar and is a noted speed trainer who rings up frontrunning victories at an impressive rate and is always alert to anything that affects the chances of frontrunners. As is so often the case, Comma to the Top is a strong contender today, and the toteboard will reflect that.
 At a bit of a price (5-1 on the morning line), Majestic City looks like a decent candidate to pull off an upset. He is fresh off a powerful speed figure of 118, earned at Hollywood Park, and has trained very well over today's surface. He will be making his third start off the layoff for top trainer Ron Ellis.

 Majestic City



Saturday Saratoga, Race 9, 5:12 pm ET
The G1 Diana, Fillies and Mares, Three-and-Up, 1 and 1/8 Miles, Turf

The Grade 1 Diana drew just six horses, three of which are trained by Chad Brown. This morning's scratch of Dayatthespa reduced the field to just five runners. Laughing (12/1 morning line) is going to be the longest shot on the board, but she earned a fantastic 110 speed figure in her four-year-old debut, while winning off a 245-day layoff. Today, she goes second off of the layoff for trainer Alan Goldberg, who has a very good trainer rating with second-off-the-layoff types.


More importantly, Laughing will benefit from the general lack of pace in this race. This is a lightly raced and cautiously handled five-year-old mare who may very well be much improved this season. Yes, Laughing lacks the class credentials of her rivals, but her last race makes her highly competitive and she has a big shot to step forward and pull off an upset in the Diana.

Free TimeformUS PP's for the Diana

Saturday Del Mar, Race 8, 8:42 pm ET 
The G2 San Diego Handicap, Three-and-Up, One and 1/16 Miles, Polytrack

Today marks Paynter's much-anticipated return to stakes competition following a serious illness and a recovery that was quite rousing enough in its earliest stages, became something of a different magnitude when he stepped into the starting gate for an allowance race in June, and became something different still when he promptly ran away from his competition so gracefully that it was as if he were seeking to mock the illnesses that had kept him away.

Paynter PPs

But they say that one is supposed to keep one's emotions out of one's handicapping. Let's see if we can pull that off.

Will Paynter win this race? He figures to have competition for the early lead from Batti Man and possibly Chief Havoc. That's a negative. Two of his opponents, Kettle Corn and Clubhouse Ride, have recently run speed figures that are fast enough to challenge Paynter if he is not at his absolute best today, and these two opponents also figure to benefit if a speed duel emerges. That's another negative. Chief Havoc has a trainer, Pete Miller, who has been winning nearly every race in sight at this meeting. That's another negative. Liaison, like Paynter, is trained by Bob Baffert, who wins graded stakes by the boatload. That's another negative.

So there are plenty of reasons to think that Paynter might find himself on the wrong end of an upset in this race. But one thing is for sure: If he continues to progress as he has been progressing, all of his competition is running for second place.

Free TimeformUS PP's for the San Diego H.

Saturday Saratoga, Race 5, 3:03 pm ET
The G1 Prioress, Fillies, Three-Years-Old, 6 Furlongs, Dirt

The Prioress Stakes is a rare opportunity for three-year-old-filly sprinters to compete in a Grade 1, and the only such opportunity at six furlongs.   A field of seven entered, including the lone Grade 1 winner in the field, So Many Ways.  She took the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga last summer as a two-year-old.

The expected heavy favorite is Kauai Katie from the barn of Todd Pletcher.  While her 103 is the top Spotlight Figure in the field, there is some cause for concern.   She has never won a race from farther back than second position early, and never from more than one-and-one-half lengths behind.  However, this is probably the quickest field early she has ever faced. The Pace Projector predicts her to be fourth early. Then there is the fact that she has never raced in a race with fractions considered fast (coded in red), while two of her wins were earned with the benefit of slow fractions (coded in blue).  Another cause for concern is her last three speed figures: 101, 101, and 103.  None comes close to her career best of 114, or even matches her 105 maiden score as a two-year-old.


So the question is which horse is worth taking a shot with against the likely odds-on favorite?  Only one other horse has recorded a triple-digit speed figure, and that is Ju Ju Eyeballs in her last race.  She appears to be improving rapidly for red-hot trainer Jason Servis since he claimed her for a mere 15k in December at Gulfstream. She has reeled off five wins in a row, all by open lengths, while steadily moving up the class ladder.  She wins on turf or dirt, and taking her off the pace has really helped make her a better runner. More importantly, she should get plenty of pace to run into in this spot and is a juicy 12-1 on the morning line.

Selections:  #3 Ju Ju Eyeballs   #7 Kauai Katie   #4 Lighthouse Bay

Friday Del Mar, Race 7, 10 pm ET
The G3 Cougar II Handicap, Three-and-Up, One and 1/2 Miles, Polytrack

This race brings together an interesting field to run at the infrequently run distance of 12 furlongs. It contains a nice mixture of sharp horses stepping up in class and horses dropping in class after suffering the misfortune of encountering Game On Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I).

Now let's pause for a second to discuss two distinctive features of TimeformUS:

Pace Projector: This is an exhaustively tested device that projects the position each horse will be in after the opening quarter-mile of sprint races and the opening half-mile of route races. This is a notoriously difficult task, to be sure, and for that reason, no claims of infallibility—or anything approaching it—will be coming from here. After all, the Pace Projector is at the mercy of rider strategy, trainer instructions, trouble at the start of races, and a number of other things that can make the best-laid plans come to nothing. However, after seeing the Pace Projector over a massive sample of races, we are very pleased with the results, and we hope you will be too.

Speed figures that are adjusted for pace: Every North American speed figure appearing in TimeformUS has been adjusted for the effect of the pace on the horse's final time. This, too, is a process commonly thought to be fraught with peril, and we have no disagreement with that view either. But we have come to prefer this approach over the alternative: namely, speed figures that are at the mercy of the effect of the pace on the horse's final time.

With that out of the way, let's get to a short discussion of the Cougar field:

The Pace Projector shows Blueskiesnrainbows with a big early lead. Unfortunately (since he will be a very big price), he has been a bit off form lately, and has reportedly been training poorly. We are reluctantly going to dismiss him.

Cougar II Pace Projector

The morning line favorite, at 5-2, is Kettle Corn, and he would be a deserving favorite off of his ultra-game second-place finish to Game on Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup, an effort that earned a terrific speed figure of 125, but he is considered likely to scratch out of this spot in favor of a race later this weekend.

That will probably leave Bob Baffert's Sky Kingdom as the favorite. Sky Kingdom owns a victory at this distance, and, leaving aside an abortive turf try, has seen his speed figures improve steadily over his last several races, culminating in the 118 he ran in the Hollywood Gold Cup after stalking the pace set by Game On Dude. A 118 is a very strong number in a race like this, and Sky Kingdom is a strong contender.

The horse who interests us at a bit of a price is Craig Dollase's Oilisblackgold, who also exits the Hollywood Gold Cup and is proven at this distance and on this surface. He is fresh off a speed figure of 115, and if he gets the expected ground-saving trip from his favorable post position, he could pull a mild upset (or at least get into the exacta). Free TimeformUS PP's for Cougar II


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