Betting on Lone Speed in the Miner’s Mark Stakes

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

There are plenty of competitive graded stakes races on the agenda this week. Woodbine alone is hosting four such events, including the Woodbine Mile (G1), Natalma (G1), and Summer (G1)—all "Win and You're In" qualifiers for the Nov. 6-7 Breeders' Cup World Championships. Belmont Park will also join the Grade 1 fray with a postponed renewal of the Belmont Oaks (G1).

With so many quality races on the agenda, some folks might be disappointed to discover this week's feature race on Unlocking Winners is an ungraded stakes on Friday. Worse, there are only five horses in the field—what was Keeler thinking picking such an uninteresting race??

But wait—let me explain! The $80,000 Miner's Mark Stakes at Belmont Park might not be the biggest race of the week, but it's one of the most intriguing from a wagering standpoint. Despite the small field, I think there's a strong chance we'll witness a longshot winner.

A few factors could combine to trigger surprising results. First and foremost is the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Miner's Mark, coupled with a complete lack of early speed in the entries. There isn't a single front-runner in the field, so whichever horse happens to seize the early initiative could enjoy a significant tactical advantage.

Secondly, there's the muddled speed figure picture. None of the entrants have managed to surpass the 90 Beyer plateau in 2020, and three of them have failed to exceed 90 at any point in time. The favorites #4 Rocketry (6-5) and #1 You're to Blame (7-5) have posted higher figures in the past, but both are aging veterans in the midst of long losing streaks, and they appear unlikely to step up with significantly improved efforts in the Miner's Mark.

Meanwhile, #2 Counter Offer won a 1 3/8-mile allowance race at Saratoga with a 90 Beyer, but that was on turf, and he's 0-for-3 on dirt. And while the French-bred #5 Petit Fils has put up figures in the 83-87 range, he hasn't finished better than seventh in three starts since arriving in North America and has never run on dirt.

In short, a modest ~90 Beyer might suffice to win the Miner's Mark, so even a former claimer like #3 Danny California (8-1) won't need a big step forward to vie for victory. And speaking of Danny California, I don't think it's unreasonable to conclude this 5-year-old gelding has a live chance to upset the Miner's Mark.

Conditioned by high-percentage trainer Orlando Noda, who went 9-for-29 (31%) during the Saratoga meet, Danny California enters the Miner's Mark in hot form. The son of Afleet Alex won a pair of 1 1/8-mile allowance races during the Saratoga meet, trouncing New York-breds by seven lengths before beating open company by 1 1/2 lengths over a muddy track.

The Beyers Danny California received (79 and 81) are a little light, but he posted higher figures during the winter at Aqueduct and could certainly take a step forward on Friday. The distance of the Miner's Mark shouldn't be an issue—remember, Afleet Alex won the Belmont Stakes (G1) racing 1 1/2 miles at Belmont Park, and he's passed on plenty of stamina at stud, counting 1 1/4-mile Travers (G1) winner Afleet Express and 1 3/4-mile Breeders' Cup Marathon (G2) champion Afleet Again among his most successful foals.

Danny California has also shown flashes of tactical speed, and in the Miner's Mark, this could be his greatest asset of all. Danny California employed pace-pressing tactics to dominate a $20,000 claiming race running a mile at Belmont last October, and he was never more than 1 1/2 lengths off the pace in his allowance romp against state-breds at Saratoga.

Manny Franco has been assigned the mount on Danny California for the Miner's Mark, and I believe they'll make a perfect team. Franco does well riding front-runners, as he demonstrated quite clearly in the Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga a few weeks ago. Riding longshot Channel Maker—who usually races rankly behind the pacesetters—Franco boldly allowed his mount to seize a clear early lead, and Channel Maker showed his thanks by drawing off to win by 5 3/4 lengths.

Considering the lack of speed entered in the Miner's Mark, I'm optimistic Franco will send Danny California to the front and play a game of "catch me if you can." If the chestnut gelding shakes loose and gets brave on an uncontested lead, he might just forget to stop and lead his pursuers on a merry lap around the Belmont Park oval.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like this weekend?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!

J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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