TimeformUS Weekend Plays from Santa Anita and Gulfstream

Sunday, Gulfstream, Race 12, Local Post Time 6:01pm ET
The G1 Donn Handicap, 1 and 1/8 miles, Dirt, 4YO+
By Craig Milkowski

The Grade 1 Donn Handicap will be run at one-mile-and-one-eighth on the dirt at Gulfstream Park.  The field of eleven is highlighted by 2013 Eclipse Award winner and Breeders' Cup Classic runner- up Will Take Charge.  He is pegged as the 9-5 morning line favorite.

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Surprisingly, the big field did not draw much early speed, and that could be a problem for the champion.  While certainly not a plodding type or even a closer, he does prefer to sit in the middle of the pack and try to run down the leaders late.  However, his early speed has improved, as demonstrated in the G1 Clark Handicap last out.  Will Take Charge is clearly the best horse in the race, running 121 and 119 speed figures in his last two races.  Only a poor set up and / or trip can do him in.  The aggressive tactics rider Luis Saez used in the Clark, where he edged out Game On Dude, would serve him well.

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A glance at the Pace Projector shows those most likely to take advantage of the predicted pace scenario.  #5 River Seven, #8 Lea, and #6 Romansh are shown on or near the lead.  

TimeformUS Pace Projector

Romansh is the least likely to take advantage, having never run faster than a 112 and having never won on or near the early lead.  River Seven tried dirt for only the second time in a 13-race career, and he passed with flying colors.  His 117 speed figure was good enough to win the Harlan’s Holiday S. over six other rivals, including three in the Donn field, and he won with ease.  While he won from the middle of the pack that day, he has won on the lead in the past.

Lea, a G3 winner on turf, tried dirt for the third time last out in the G3 Hal’s Hope S., run at Gulfstream Park at the one-mile, one-turn distance.  It was his first try on fast dirt after two tries on a sloppy track.  He sat just off a slow pace set by Csaba, and drew away to win by more than three lengths, with a 113 TimeformUS speed figure.  Two Donn entrants were in his wake that day.  Both were closers who weren’t helped by the pace, but the margin suggests the best horse won.

Another horse of interest in the Donn is Revolutionary.  He ran third in the Kentucky Derby, but few would deny his late run was flattered by the insanely fast pace that day, a 163 early pace figure!  He followed that with a poor effort as the second choice in the G1 Belmont Stakes and was sent to the bench for more than 200 days.  His return in a one-mile allowance race was unimpressive both visually and from a speed figure perspective, 105, but he did get up late to win at 1-5 odds.  Better is expected today, but most likely he will still be an underlay.

Selections:  #2 Will Take Charge, #5 River Seven, #8 Lea, #6 Romansh

Betting Strategy:  Straight exacta: 2-5, smaller exacta: 5-2

Sunday, Gulfstream, Race 11, Local Post Time 5:31pm ET
The G1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, 1 and 1/8 miles, Turf, 4YO+
By Craig Milkowski

The Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap will be run at one-mile-and-one-eighth on the turf for horses four years of age and older.  Despite the G1 designation, only one runner in the field of eight has won at that level in the past.  Boisterous took the G1 Man O’ War at Belmont Park last spring.

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While that would seem to give Boisterous an edge on the field, he tailed off sharply in his next three starts, managing only a weak third in those races, all at short prices.  He was then given time off. Now he returns off a four-month break.  The biggest issue with Boisterous is his firm-track record.  While he has an 11 for 28 career record, a whopping 10 of those wins have come on turf listed as less than firm.  He is 10 for 13 on “off” turf, and only 1 for 11 when it is firm.  So barring a change in course condition, the class of the field looks highly suspect.

Three entrants simply look too slow to win this race.  A TimeformUS speed figure of at least 110 should be needed to win this contest.   Lochte and Charming Kitten have never reached that level.  Nikki’s Sandcastle has run faster in the past, but has not cracked that barrier in four starts since a six-month layoff.  As a seven-year-old gelding, a return to past faster numbers is not impossible, but it is improbable.

That leaves four horses for consideration.  Summer Front is the 5-2 morning line favorite, and Tetradrachm is the 3-1 second choice.  They earned speed figures of 115 and 114, respectively, last time out.  Summer Front was the more impressive as he ran down Tetradrachm despite that one being loose on the lead.  Tetradrachm is always competitive, but his 0 for 5 mark in stakes appearances is a major cause for concern at a short price.

Imagining broke through this summer and fall in New York, winning three stakes races.  The last and most impressive was a win in the G3 Red Smith H. at Aqueduct.  He has run consistently in the 110-117 range speed figure-wise and certainly would not be a surprise if he wins this race.  However, it is still a big jump to go from a G3 to a G1.  He has failed to hit the board in his last three tries above the G3 level.

Amira’s Prince (IRE) has been perfect since arriving in the United States.   He added both Lasix and blinkers when arriving, and strung together four impressive wins, capped off by a 122 speed figure win in the G2 Muniz Handicap in his last. 

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He has been on the shelf since, a layoff of more than 300 days, but his trainer, Bill Mott, is very good in these situations. Mott's returns from layoffs in this category score a near-perfect 96 on the TimeformUS trainer rating scale.  Amira’s Prince has proven versatile, winning on the lead, as a tracker, and from well behind.  He is the selection.

Selections:  #6 Amira's Prince, #5 Summer Front, #2 Tetradrachm, #7 Imagining

Recommended betting strategy:
Win bet on #6 Amira’s Prince, and small exacta box of Amira’s Prince and Summer Front


Saturday, Santa Anita, Race 8, Local Post Time 4:05pm PT
The G2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, 1 and 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3YO
By Robert Finnegan

Ten Kentucky Derby points are on the line in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis, and seven horses are entered in this 1mile and 1/16 race, which will be run on the Santa Anita main track, which was taking a bit of rain at time of writing.

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The Robert B. Lewis presents the TimeformUS Pace Projector with a nasty little puzzle. What is one to think when the Pace Projector projects a fast pace (favorable to closers) and yet the two horses projected to be first and second at the opening half are trained by the same man? That is the case here. Bob Baffert trains both Midnight Hawk, who is projected to be the early leader, and Chitu, who is projected to be in second-place early.

TimeformUS Pace Projector

Even allowing for the presence of other possible frontrunners in this field, it is hard not to question whether the expected fast pace will materialize in these circumstances. And to this one can add the fact that Baffert has reportedly been using his mornings to teach Midnight Hawk how to rate. With this "Baffert Puzzle" in mind, our working assumption will be that the Robert B. Lewis will have a pace that is honest, or maybe even a little bit more than honest, but one that falls short of being destructive, and we consider this significant because this field contains a couple of talented horses (Candy Boy and Cool Samurai) who, as the Pace Projector indicates, figure to be coming from well off the pace.

OK, let's see if we can thin this field out a bit. Diamond Bachelor, Home Run Kitten, and El Nino Terrible are all promising horses who seem to be in a tad deep today. We are tossing them. That leaves us with four contenders:
Candy Boy: His second-place finish in the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity, run over Hollywood Park's cushion track in December, earned a strong speed figure of 96 and was scintillating from a visual perspective. Possibly concluding that his horse could not beat Shared Belief without getting the jump on him, Gary Stevens uncorked a delicious backstretch move to try to take charge of the race, going from 10th place to 1st by the middle of the far turn. Candy Boy's TimeformUS pace figures for that race, lopsided as they come, reflect this: 22 86 94 for the first three fractions. It was quite a show, and it makes one wonder what could have been accomplished with a more balanced trip. What is more, the dark red highlighting of the December 14 Race Rating box in our PPs indicates that Candy Boy was racing over a racetrack that was highly flattering to early speed that day. Candy Boy will be running on real dirt this time, but his lone speed figure on real dirt fits beautifully with his surrounding efforts. Candy Boy is a strong contender here, though much will depend on the pace and on how the track is playing.

Midnight Hawk: Got into a speed duel in the Grade 3 Sham, but came away from his rival in the stretch and earned a speed figure of 98. We expect him to be stalking his barnmate Chitu in this the third start of his career. Any improvement over his first two starts will make him exceedingly hard to handle. But his Pedigree Rating of 68 for this dirt route serves as a caution flag. How far does this talented son of Midnight Lute want to run? In addition, how will the style change (if it comes) affect him? And how short of a price is one willing to take with these questions still unanswered?

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Cool Samurai: Ran a strong speed figure of 95 while breaking his maiden, but we did not love the effort visually. We see Cool Samurai as a strong candidate to make a late run (his Late Pace rating is a powerful 94) and hit the board at a decent price, but we don't like his chances of winning the race.

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Chitu: Makes his first route attempt after winning a bottom-level allowance race in interesting fashion. After bobbling into a decent break, he stalked the pace from the outside, engaged for the lead, dropped back, took the turn three-wide, briefly looked as if he was going down at 3-5 odds, and then asserted himself to pull clear, earning a speed figure of 95. Chitu has a solid Pedigree Rating of 81 for this dirt route, and his trainer, Bob Baffert, gets a 100 rating (the maximum) with first routes and a 91 with 3rd start of career. If Chitu's odds flirt with 5-1 (or go higher), he is our selection.  

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Saturday, Santa Anita, Race 7, Local Post Time 3:34pm PT
The G2 San Marcos Stakes, 1 and 1/4 miles, Turf, 4YO+
By Jason Perlmutter

After several weeks of stakes races featuring small fields and tough favorites, the Grade 2 San Marcos provides a golden opportunity for horseplayers to score big.  No fewer than 14 runners are slated to compete in this skull buster of a turf race.  The San Marcos is devoid of any true standout, and thus our main objective is to avoid keying on the favorite.  In the unlikely-but-not-impossible event that this race comes up chalky, we are more than willing to accept defeat and move on to the next one.

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The first course of action is to look at the Pace Projector, which greatly helps this handicapper get a quick gauge on how the race may shape up:

TimeformUS Pace Projector

The San Marcos figures to feature an honest pace, as #1 Slim Shadey should receive sustained pressure from the likes of #10 Bio Pro and #14 Dubai You X Y Z.  Although Slim Shadey is one of the fastest horses in the field, we doubt he'll be able to repeat as defending champion of this race.  Last year he was able to get a tepid half mile on his way to a wire-to-wire conquest.  This year, we will play the six-year-old to regress off the 107 speed figure he posted in his layoff race.  The main problem for Slim Shadey is Dubai You X Y Z, who is marooned in the 14-hole and will likely have little choice but to gun it early in order to avoid an impossibly wide trip.  If Dubai You X Y Z's connections were to scratch their gelding due to the poor post position, handicappers will want to move up Slim Shadey, but we still think he will be vulnerable to a stalker who sits just off the leaders.

This brings us to the lightly raced Segway, who we feel offers value at his 20-1 morning line.  In his last race, the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup, Segway made all the running, and the red-colored fractions in his past performances indicate that Segway's splits in the middle part of the race were fairly rapid.  In the end, he was worn down by two rivals whom he faces again on Saturday, but it wasn't until the final furlong that he yielded.  Saturday's race is a full quarter-mile shorter, and we note that early in his career, Segway showed the ability to rate.  Trainer Richard Mandella has a 99 rating with this sort of short layoff.  With Mike Smith having defected to ride Lucayan, Mandella is handing riding responsibility to a young and relatively unknown French jockey named Flavien Prat.  Note that Prat has quietly won three of ten races for Mandella during his short tenure in the US.  We think a coup may be in the offing, and we will pounce if the morning line holds up.  In fact, anything over 12-1 seems like fair value.

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Many of the heavy hitters in this race figure to be coming from well off the pace.  Jeranimo, the 7-2 morning line favorite, is one cool hard-knocker, but at eight years old, racing 10 furlongs, his late kick may prove lacking. Although Temeraine breaks from a difficult outside post position, five of his last six speed figures have been in the 108-110 range, which makes him a prime contender.  We also like the improved tracking speed he showed in his most recent race, coupled with the fact that the T/J combo of Proctor and Stevens has been red hot (a 100 rating, the maximum).  Plus he gets a seven-pound weight shift in his favor from the horse who outkicked him last time.

 TimeformUS PPs

Prior to a recent layoff, Vagabond Shoes was in the best form of his career.  The beautifully bred son of Beat Hollow cracked the exacta three consecutive times in graded stakes races before running a strong fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf, coming up just short against four top class runners, any one of whom would be a solid favorite in the San Marcos.  He has been training well for his 2014 debut and is very dangerous here, although we would be reluctant to take a short price.

Lucayan has been very consistent on firm turf and is coming off a last-to-first victory in the Hollywood Turf Cup, but we have our doubts about this one-run plodder's ability to sweep past such a huge field in the final quarter mile.

Looking at other horses that may offer value, we think Bio Pro (12-1 ML) may be the type who can sit just off the speed and inherit the lead at the top of the stretch.  He has shown tractability in his past performances, and he has a sneaky, improving overall form pattern and 37 days of rest going in.  His 89 Pedigree Rating indicates that although he has never run this far, there's a chance he's going to handle this distance just fine.  

The Wager: #8 Segway to win.  Exacta Box: #2 Vagabond Shoes, #8 Segway, #10 Bio Pro, and #13 Temeraine.   Press-up exacta part-wheels, Segway with the other three on top and on the bottom.

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