Betting a Newcomer in the Harlan's Holiday

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

At first glance, Saturday's $100,000 Harlan's Holiday (G3) at Gulfstream Park isn't the most appealing betting race. Just seven horses have been entered in the 1 1/16-mile event, including four graded stakes winners. In situations like these, the best betting approach is usually to support the classy favorites and call it a day.

But a different approach might be necessary to make a successful score in the Harlan's Holiday. Although quality runs deep, the established class horses haven't been in the best form, opening the door for an up-and-comer to steal the show.

Consider, for example, the morning line favorite #1 Tax (5-2). Winner of the Jim Dandy (G2) and Withers (G3) as a 3-year-old, the son of Arch hasn't run since May, when he finished a fifth in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2). This followed a ninth-place effort when heavily bet in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), so even though Tax is fast enough to challenge on his best day, his disappointing form when last seen makes him hard to trust off the layoff.

The same can be said of #6 Math Wizard (9-2), who rallied to an upset victory in the 2019 Pennsylvania Derby (G1). By virtue of his Grade 1 victory, the stretch-running 4-year-old is technically the most accomplished horse in the Harlan's Holiday field. But he's gone 0-for-5 in 2020 and enters off distant fifth-place efforts in the Charles Town Classic (G2) and Woodward Handicap (G1), so Math Wizard is another runner tough to endorse at a short price.

Generally speaking, 2019 Harlan's Holiday runner-up #2 Phat Man (5-2) has been in better form, most notably prevailing in the 1-mile Fred W. Hooper (G3) during the winter at Gulfstream. But the veteran 6-year-old has run only once since February, flattening out to finish sixth in the Nov. 7 Lafayette Stakes dashing 7 furlongs at Keeneland. The quality of competition was solid—runner-up True Timber came back to win the Cigar Mile (G1)—but Phat Man actually lost a couple of places down the lane and will need to produce a much sharper effort while returning to his favorite track.

#3 Identifier (15-1) has also shown an affinity for Gulfstream Park, as evidenced by his 60-1 upset triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Hal's Hope (G3) last spring. But four straight defeats, including an 11-length loss in a Gulfstream Park West allowance race, suggest a spot on the board might be the ceiling for Identifier's potential on Saturday.

For all these reasons, I'm keen to oppose the established graded stakes winners and instead favor #7 Tatweej, a lightly-raced 4-year-old conditioned by Gulfstream's perennial leading trainer Todd Pletcher.

A son of three-time leading sire Tapit out of the Grade 1-winning Tiznow mare Tiz Miz Sue, Tatweej has always been a highly regarded prospect—he actually sold for $2.5 million as a yearling. And while he could only finish third in his debut at Gulfstream during the summer, he's since rattled off three straight victories by a minimum of 2 1/2 lengths.

To date, Tatweej has raced exclusively over a mile at Gulfstream Park, in the process displaying a clear affinity for the local main track. He was last seen in a Sept. 25 allowance race, where he took command through 6 furlongs in 1:09.73 before edging clear to win by 3 3/4 lengths.

With improving Beyers in the 85-89 range under his belt, Tatweej is gradually progressing in the right direction. He'll need another step forward to reach the winner's circle in the Harlan's Holiday, but I'm optimistic he'll do just that. He's bred to relish stretching out around two turns, and he's been training sharply at Palm Beach Downs, cranking out a pair of bullet 5-furlong workouts in recent weeks.

Pletcher's stable tends to heat up at Gulfstream each winter, so the Harlan's Holiday appears to be the perfect spot for Tatweej to make his stakes debut. In a race containing very little pace on paper, Tatweej's tactical speed figures to be a major asset. He'll have every opportunity to set or stalk a modest pace before shifting into high gear down the homestretch.

Assuming Tatweej's 4-1 morning line odds hold up, I'll happily bet him to win and key him on top in the exotics.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Harlan's Holiday?


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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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