Santa Anita, Race 7
The Gamely Stakes
By Justin Finch
The Grade 1 Gamely has attracted a field of nine fillies and mares to run nine furlongs on the grass for a purse of $300,000. The morning line gives a good indication of just how contentious this field is: Five horses are listed at odds between 3-1 and 5-1. With so many horses closely matched, it seems likely that the winner will be determined as much by trip as by ability.
The TFUS Pace Projector indicates that the Gamely will be run at a pace that favors neither frontrunners nor closers, but at the opening half, three horses are shown dueling for the lead: Changethechannel, Miss Serendipity, and the morning line favorite, Emollient. They are followed in close order by Premier Steps and Parranda. The others should be considered closers in this field.
To us, a major question in this race is whether the talented filly Emollient will be able to do one of these two things: 1: Make it to the rail by the first turn. Or: 2: If forced to lose ground on the first turn, do so while pressing a pace that is not too fast.
Frontrunners who lose ground on fast fractions do not do well on this turf course, as a rule.
Emollient is the most-accomplished horse in this field, having won three Grade 1s, albeit two of them on synthetic. She has a turf top of 112, which would hit hard in this field. She is going third off the layoff for Bill Mott, who gets a Trainer Rating of 88 in this category. She figures to be very tough if she can get her trip today. But with two frontrunners drawn to her inside, getting her trip could be problematic. And she's favored on the morning line.
We prefer two horses over Emollient today: Emotional Kitten and Stormy Lucy.
Emotional Kitten returns to California for Wesley Ward after finishing a close fourth in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland, a race in which she earned a strong speed figure of 110 despite losing an awful lot of ground racing wide. If Victor Espinoza can manage to minimize her groundloss today and still find clear sailing (a tall order when riding a deep closer), we think she has a big chance today. She has the top Late Pace rating (a 105) by a clear margin and should be rolling late if the pace is honest.
Stormy Lucy is looking for her third straight victory today and her first Grade 1. Like Emotional Kitten, she is a closer, but she seems to be a closer of the quick-footed, nimble variety, one who can get herself decent trips through her athleticism (witness the tape of her rousing victory in the Grade 2 Santa Ana). She has a strong record at this distance, a good post, the second-best Late Pace rating in the field, and a smart, patient rider (Joe Talamo) to replace the injured Rafael Bejarano.
Use Emotional Kitten and Stormy Lucy in multiple-race wagers.
Win bet on Stormy Lucy if her morning line odds of 7-2 hold up.
Protect in exotics under Emollient.
Belmont Park, Race 8
The Poker Stakes
By Mike Beer
Monday's feature at Belmont is the Grade 3 Poker, scheduled for one mile on the widener turf course, and it is expected to feature a fast pace. Za Approval (#5) is the 6/5 favorite on the ML and the horse to beat. Considering that he is already a multiple graded-stakes winner (his opponents here have but a single graded stakes victory among them), and that he came within a length of Wise Dan in a fast-paced running of last years' Breeders' Cup Mile, it is not hard to see why he is favored, and why he is the horse to beat.
He makes his third start off the layoff here, and while he hasn't been that impressive in either of his first two starts this year, he did have a bit of a trip behind Wise Dan at Keeneland last time, and may be sitting on a top effort. We view him as a must-use in the late multi-race exotics, but feel that Monday may be the day to try an up-and-coming runner who is making his graded-stakes debut in the Poker. That horse is Peace and Justice (#2, 2-1). Anyone who watched Peace and Justice bury maidens first-time out with big speed, or saw him blitz back-to-back allowance fields earlier this year in California, knows that he has a lot of ability. On the other hand, anyone who saw him run off and bolt in both his second and third lifetime starts, or has noticed his refusal to change leads in the stretch of his races, also knows that he is still a work in progress.
Pace Projector indicates that there is a fast pace on tap for this Poker, but there is always going to be a fast pace when Peace and Justice is in the field--because he is really fast.
We think that he is going to like the big layout of this widener course, and that he is going to be very hard on the other speed-types in this field. He will then have to hold off the expected late charge of Za Approval in the stretch, but we think he has the right amount of ability to play at this level, and Monday may be the time to be on him, before he is fully exposed.
Peace and Justice is 2/1 on the ML, which isn't a price that interests us for win betting, but we will key him in the late Pick 4 and play him on top of Za Approval in exactas.
Lone Star Park, Race 8
The Lone Star Park Handicap
By Peter Kleinhans
Sometimes there's just no getting past the obvious horse, and that seems to be the case in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap, the eighth at Lone Star on Memorial Day. Grand Contender (#3, 6-5) simply holds all the cards here, whether you're evaluating the race from a speed-figure perspective, a form perspective, a class perspective, or a pace perspective.
In five out of his last six efforts, Grand Contender has competed in races with TFUS Race Ratings of 109 or higher. Two of today's horses, He Has Bling (#2, 20-1) and F J Uncle Vic (#5, 20-1), have never competed at such levels, and haven't even been dominant at the lower class levels. Texas Air (#6, 15-1) tried a good field last time, in the G3 Texas Mile against Grand Contender, and was soundly trounced. All three of these horses are simply pretenders in here against Grand Contender, and can be summarily tossed, which leaves only two possible threats to the favorite.
But first let's examine Grand Contender more closely for signs of weakness. Starting with his first 2014 start, four races back, he set a very legitimate pace in the Louisiana Handicap (113 first and second pace figures) and finished a solid second, defeating Prayer for Relief, who just finished second against a very strong field in the Pimlico Special. His next effort, in the G3 Mineshaft, was perhaps his most disappointing, setting reasonable fractions, getting caught, and earning only a 102 speed figure. Still, he was finishing second in a graded stake. It was a regression, but not a disgrace. Dropped in class into an ungraded stake at Delta Downs, with a TFUS Race Rating of 99 over a sloppy track, he asserted his dominance, leading from pillar to post, receiving a 120 pace figure en route to a 6 3/4-length smashing score. But his last race was perhaps his best of the set. Showing more versatility, he sat off the pace for a bit before advancing through the solid middle fractions of the race and gutting out the victory.
Today, he should be back to his loose-lead ways, and that can only add to his chances. No one in here can run with him early. Can either of the other two not-outclassed horses run with him late?
What's the deal with Called to Serve (#1, 3-1)? Last year at this time, he would have been 4-5 against this field. In a three-race run between November 2012 and March 2013, he posted speed figures of 118, 118, and 121, the first two of those numbers being victories and the third being a third-place finish (missing second by a nose) in the G1 Santa Anita Handicap won by Game On Dude. And then he was gone, missing 378 days. When he returned, now in the Steve Asmussen barn, he looked like a shell of his former self, losing by over 23 lengths in the Razorback. Dropped into an allowance race, he performed marginally better, stepping up his speed figure from 87 to 99 and losing by only 14 lengths this time. Still, he checked in eight lengths behind Donoharm, who is in today's race.
A case can be made for Called to Serve, but it is a speculative one that assumes continued, and significant, improvement off of that last race. It's very hard to know if he'll improve. The answer lies in the nature of the ailment that kept him on the sidelines for over a year. Personally, I wouldn't bet on it. Would I bet against it? Sure, as long as the value is there.
The one remaining horse is the aforementioned Donoharm (#4, 9-5). Donoharm is sharp and he is consistent. In his last three starts, he has a win in an allowance with a Race Rating of 102, a second-place finish in an allowance with a Race Rating of 103, and a third-place finish in an allowance with a Race Rating of 104. He does his job. But when matched up against Grand Contender, he is simply outgunned. He will be behind the favorite because his ordinary speed won't be able to pressure him. He won't be sitting off sizzling fractions that will weaken the favorite, because no such horse exists in here to push Grand Contender to sizzling fractions. And he simply isn't as good. True, his best figures are better than Grand Contender's worst, but with the pace scenario working so strongly in favor of his classier rival, it's hard to seem him winning this even on one of his better days, unless Grand Contender really comes up short.
How do you play a race like this? Even if you see Grand Contender as a lock, which I pretty much do, Called to Serve is such a question mark that it's hard to go with cold exactas either with him or against him. And with a big favorite on top, spreading out in exactas and trifectas is simply bad business. As ordinary and anticlimactic as it may seem, if forced to make a play in this race, I come up with:
(3) Grand Contender to win
Belmont, Race 9
The Sheepshead Bay Stakes
By Mike Beer
Only seven fillies and mares entered this Grade 2 event to be run over 1 3/8 miles on the inner turf course, but with no standout in the field, and with distance posing no problem for the main contenders, it has the makings of a solid betting race.
Pace Projector for this race favors runners on or near the early lead, and indicates that Fitful Skies (#3, 7-2 Morning Line) can make the front in here as she stretches back out off of a shorter run in Grade 1 company off the layoff.
Poor efforts are unfamiliar to this Godolphin-owned mare, who just missed in the Grade 1 E. P. Taylor in her first North American assignment, at the end of last year, and she figures to be in contention for a major share of this purse all the way around the track.
Irish Mission (#7, 8-1) also projects for a favorable up-close trip, and she may offer the most value of the main contenders today, which is why we are going to make her the focus of our play in the Sheepshead Bay. Irish Mission handles distance without issue, and her seasonal debut in the Beauguy, which was also her first start for Christophe Clement, is viewed as nothing more than a prep for this longer route. She was rated at the back of the field in that race, with her rider conscious to keep her out in the clear, and then she raced on through the stretch without threat, before galloping out with good energy.
We view Riposte (#2, 3-1) as another major contender here, and perhaps this Dansili four-year-old trained by Bill Mott is the horse to beat. Riposte arrived stateside with proven group and distance form overseas, and has yet to get the run of the race in any of her three starts in the United States. She has yet to get out beyond nine-furlongs over here, was stymied behind slow paces in both graded stakes tries, and took all the worst of it vs. allowance company last time, when caught four-wide throughout the running without getting a breather, but raced on gamely nonetheless to just miss at the end. We think she will appreciate getting stretched back out today and find it impossible to eliminate her from our play.
Abaco (#6, 5-2) has been installed as the ML favorite for this race, and while we respect trainer Shug McGaughey and the work he has done with this mare over the past couple of years, Abaco figures to have much to find over this trip if the three horses we have already discussed show up with their best stuff.
We think Irish Mission may offer the most value in this race. We will make her our key, while using her with Riposte and Fitful Skies in both the vertical exotics and the multi-race exotics.
Santa Anita, Race 7
The Charles Whittingham Handicap
By Justin Finch
The Grade 2 Charles Whittingham has attracted a field of nine horses to run 10 furlongs on the turf course for $200,000. This is a contentious group, and this is reflected on the morning line, which shows five horses at odds of 9-2 or lower.
According to the TFUS Pace Projector, the race will be run at a pace that favors neither frontrunners nor closers, and the leader at the opening half will be Bright Thought (#3, 3-1 Morning Line), followed by Soi Phet (#1, 15-1) and Dr Action (#9, 8-1).
At the morning line odds, the two horses who have the bulk of our interest in the Whittingham are Quick Casablanca (#2, 7-2) and the longshot Soi Phet.
Quick Casablanca shocked the gamblers (pardon us this lone "Casablanca" reference) at 16-1 odds in the Grade 3 Last Tycoon, pulling off the upset at nine furlongs on turf and receiving a speed figure of 109. Our speed figures are adjusted for pace, and Quick Casablanca's final-time figure of 100 was upgraded by a full nine points in order to do justice to his effort. Note that the pace figures for this race are color-coded in blue, denoting a slow pace. And note also that Quick Casablanca was coming from off the pace while himself recording pace figures of 49 65 80 91 en route to his final-time figure of 100.
This was a very, very powerful effort, and it looks even more powerful if one watches the videotape and notes how wide Quick Casablanca was around the far turn.
Quick Casablanca's speed figure of 109 is the best last-out speed figure in the race, and if he can repeat this effort today, at 10F, he is going to be very hard to handle. We are encouraged by the fact that he has run his race at this distance (and longer) in the past. Quick Casablanca draws a good post position for today's race, and jockey Joe Talamo, who gets a 93 rating with trainer Ron McAnally, remains aboard. McAnally's work with South American horses is well known. Let's see if he can get this horse to fire another huge shot today.
Soi Phet is winless in four grass attempts, but only one of those was a bad effort, and that was at 6.5F down the notoriously quirky hill. His other three grass races resulted in speed figures that fit reasonably well with the dirt and synthetic figures that surrounded them. His grass breeding is solid, and so is his distance breeding as he prepares to go 10F for the first time in his career. In addition, it is worth noting that to date this gelding has been at his very best in his longest (meaning 9F) races. This bodes well for the stretch-out to 10F. If Soi Phet is prepared for his best in his second start off the layoff, he can run with any horse in this field--and do so at a price.
Use Quick Casablanca and Soi Phet in multi-race wagers and in vertical exotics while protecting under Bright Thought.