Tuesday, April 29, 2014
TimeformUS Analyst Mike Beer
Race 1: This is the kind of maiden race that lets you know right away that we are back at Belmont Park. A one-turn mile full of well-bred fillies and mares, with several of this circuit's top owners and trainers represented. I like MEI LING as a horse, but realize that she could be approached one of two ways: She is the most experienced horse in the field, with five races already under her belt, has run well more than once for a top-rated trainer/jockey combination (Hushion and Jose Ortiz get a perfect 100 rating on our data), and owns the field's top speed figure (93), which was earned in her last start. We thought she could even get some extra credit for that top-rated effort, as she endured a tough four-wide trip and finished gamely to get 2nd behind an odds-on wire-to-wire winner. On the other hand, Mei Ling has already had those five chances and hasn't come through with the first career win, and she has failed more than once at a short price. She will also be facing some highly promising lightly raced rivals today. The final determination as to Mei Ling's usability in this race will come down to price. If she's the favorite, or even close to it, I would happily bet against her. If she is forsaken for her more progressive-looking rivals, she would be part of my play.
KATE GREENAWAY and GASPARILLA INN are second-time starters that figure to attract their share of attention, and deservedly so. Gasparilla Inn is part of a Phipps/McGaughey entry with GUILTY VERDICT, and has much to offer. By Street Cry out of the multiple Grade 2-winning dirt router Boca Grande, she will relish the stretch out in distance for this race after finishing well into a slow pace in her sprint debut. With Joe Bravo named on both halves of the entry, only one will start, and if it's not Gasparilla Inn, I'm not interested.
KATE GREENAWAY is a horse that figures to be pretty tough for many players to get away from in this spot, and I have no argument with that view of the race. Like Gasparilla Inn, she will stretch out off of a sprint debut, and as a Tiznow half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Grace Hall, she will appreciate having more ground to work with here. The solid 89 TimeformUS speed figure earned by Kate Greenaway for that debut run puts her well within range of the top figure in the race, and with expected second-out improvement, she is going to be very hard to hold off. As if she needed any further help, her trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, sports almost perfect TFUS Trainer Ratings with second-time starters (100) and horses getting lasix for the first time (99).
Race 2: Questions abound in this bottom-level claimer for older dirt sprinters, and there is no one in the field of nine that can be fully trusted. If nothing else, there could be a competitive pace in play, as our Pace Projector indicates that there may be a scramble taking place up front among several horses. As an opening position, I'm strongly against David Jacobson's SEEKER, even as he drops down in price here off a win for $16k less than a month ago. Seeker got away soft on the lead that day, and that scenario does not figure to play out again in this spot, with three rivals to his inside, all with some speed. To me the horse to beat here is RIGBY, who takes a significant class drop here after finding starter allowance foes too tough recently. The key to Rigby's success these days appears to be not only finding the right spots, but also being able to race on the outside of horses, which he figures to be able to do from his outside draw today.
I make Rigby the horse to beat, but for wagering purposes, I have to take a shot with BUCKEYE HEART. Buckeye Heart is going to benefit from any pace that develops in this race, and, simply put, he exits back-to-back no-chance trips at Aqueduct. He appeared to be a sure winner in midstretch of that March 1st race before getting shut off and bounced into the rail, losing all chance; and he was then in an impossible spot, chasing four-wide after that joke pace set by Seeker on April 9th. Buckeye Heart isn't the "best" horse in this field, but he does figure to get the right set up today, goes for a trainer who has a perfect 100 Trainer Rating with runners making their second start off the claim, and should be value on the board.
Race 3: The reality is that this race comes down to something of a match race between ANTIPATHY and the rejuvenated BELLE GALLANTEY, who has won two straight off the Rudy Rodriguez claim. Pace Projector indicates that the flow will favor the horse on the early lead, and it projects that horse to be ANTIPATHY. Antipathy may get the early lead here, but on our data, Belle Gallantey is the faster horse right now, and she is the one to take on top. In her first start after being claimed for $35k, Belle Gallantey stepped up to overpower N1x rivals with a 106 TFUS speed figure. In her next start, she earned a 103 speed figure when defeating Natalie Victoria over Aqueduct's inner dirt, and did so despite racing outside of that rival all the way on a day when the rail was strong. The fact that Natalie Victoria came back in her next start to out-duel Antipathy should not go unnoticed.
She has enough speed to keep Antipathy honest up front, and for me it's an easy call to take the faster horse here.
Race 4: Tough call in the 4th, as the two fastest horses in the field, JACKSON N LORIMER and ENGLAND, are taking big class drops off of dismal efforts. The questions you have to ask yourself are: Do I want either one of these two horses at a short price? Or do I just want to take a shot against, and hope that neither one of them shows up?
I guess the odds are with at least one of them running a better race here, and for me that one would be Jackson N Lorimer, who gets a turn back to go with his class drop. I would never bet real money on either one of these two horses, but after going over their competition once again, I don't see a viable alternative.
Race 5: BILLY THE BULL is a standout on our speed figures (which take pace into account, as well as final time) in this race, and should be very hard for this field to beat. Since returning from a long layoff back on January 10th, Billy the Bull has run figures of 94-95-90, all three of which are faster than anything any of his rivals has ever run. On top of that, Pace Projector indicates that, assuming there are no issues at the start, Billy the Bull will be alone on the lead in a race that favors horses on or near the early lead.
His most serious rival here figures to be BRIDGEVILLE, who was able to stay in contact with a fast pace before taking over and grimly holding on vs. $35k maiden claimers while making his first start off the claim onMarch 20th. He gets a big rider change here, and may be well suited to the turn back in distance, as well.
Race 6: The first leg of the late Pick 4 brings together an interesting group of first-level allowance runners sprinting six furlongs on grass. Both ORATION (95) and ESCAPIST (94) earned solid figures for front-running maiden wins over a shorter distance on turf down at Gulfstream Park over the winter, and FATHER JOHNS PRIDE, while going longer, earned the field's top number of 96 for his game runner-up finish while making his turf debut at the end of March. They seem like the three logical horses in this race, although I don't really care for the chances of Oration in this spot (hot trainer trend notwithstanding). And it is possible that the three of them, all of whom have displayed plenty of speed, will hook up early.
I'll play the race for that contested-pace scenario, and try to beat those horses, while using Father Johns Pride defensively.
I'm going to try RAGTIME on top in this race, assuming that the Shug/Castellano combination doesn't pull too much money his way (realistically, he should be no better than third favorite in this race, and could reasonably be the fourth choice). I thought Ragtime made a very promising debut down in Florida. He showed no speed at all in that race, was outrun early, then commenced to put in a nice run through the turn before finishing well, while no threat to the front-running winner. He did indeed build upon that promising run to win second time out while flashing more early speed, and then was very disappointing when finishing last in his N.Y. debut off a short layoff. There is enough turf pedigree here to suggest that Ragtime may well improve once and for all with the switch over to turf, as his dam (by El Prado) is a half-sister to Shug's multiple graded stakes winning turf runner Dancing Forever, who won the Grade 1 Manhattan here a few years ago.
While I prefer Ragtime, I'll also use a little of likely long shot OTOY. Otoy already owns a win sprinting over Belmont turf, although that win came over the Widener turf course, and he contested a fast pace when returned to grass for the first time since then in his last start, which was also his first turf start vs. non-stakes company since that maiden victory. He is unlikely to be part of the pace as he cuts back in distance here.
Race 7: It will be interesting, at the conclusion of this race, to see exactly where JOHANNESBURG SMILE is in his career. While clearly the best horse in the race, and perhaps a very likely winner in this spot, he does not arrive here without questions to answer. The drop in for $40k is the first red flag to take notice of, since, seven-years-old or not, Johannesburg Smile has been claimed for $100k twice since last January, first by Todd Pletcher, and then by David Jacobson, and has not won a race during that time. He has a bit of an excuse for his last start, as there was no racing going on early in that race, and he was jammed in behind horses for a long way, but I didn't think he finished with any kind of energy once clear, and, to me, that has been the case for this horse over several races now.
Maybe this is just the right drop, into the right spot, and we'll see Johannesburg Smile back in the winner's circle for the 9th time in his career when all is said and done, but at the expected very short price, I have to look elsewhere to try to make money in this race.
After much consideration, the horse I'll try to do that with is new face ST MOOSE. St Moose enters here in good form, for a very good trainer, and has the added benefit of a Pace Projector that suggests contested early fractions are possible in this race. A quick check of his recent running lines shows that he has been confronted with several recent slow paces out of town, yet has managed to overcome them to post wins in each of his last two races. St Moose's trainer, Steve Klesaris, has a strong overall rating of 87, and is rated even higher with dirt routers (95), and in routes at Belmont Park (98, though with a small sample size).
I also want to use NEVADA in this race, underneath both St Moose and Johannesburg Smile. Realistically, Nevada isn't fast enough to win this race without some help. But he is usually running late, has faced some tough competition recently, and would likely have won his last start were he not stuck trying to rally wide in the stretch on March 16, which was one of the strongest rail days of the Aqueduct inner track meeting.
Race 8: It's going to be interesting to see how the featured Elusive Quality stakes plays out, especially early, as our Pace Projector has the flow of this race favoring horses on or near the early lead, and that is just not a reading of this race that I can get behind. Pace Projector has SUMMER BREEZING on the early lead, and at a big advantage, at the opening quarter, and he is certainly a fast horse who figures forwardly placed, if not on the lead outright, in this race. But I have to believe that PLAINVIEW, despite turning back slightly in distance, is going to be up there with him. Save for a start at the end of 2012, when he lost his rider at the start, Plainview has been the early leader in every one of his 13 starts since claimed by Greg DiPrima (who deserves a ton of credit for the job he's done with this horse). I also wouldn't be surprised to see SLIM SHADEY up after the pace in here, either. Slim Shadey has become a distance specialist over the past couple of seasons, but he has also turned into a confirmed front-runner, and seems not to want to be behind other horses early.
I'll take the position that a contested pace is likely to develop here, and look for someone to come running late. While I don't discount that that horse could be BIO PRO, who was apparently privately purchased after his last race by some very sharp connections, and turned over to Bill Mott, or HAVELOCK, I'm going to try to get NINE O WONDERFUL to be that horse. Nine O Wonderful is a horse whose chances are clearly enhanced by contested fractions, and he has shown over his most recent races that he can still come running when things go his way. He is nicely drawn inside to save some ground, and it's worth noting that he won over the Widener turf course first time back from Florida in both 2011 and 2012 (he didn't race in Florida last year).
My other horse in this race is HEAR THE FOOTSTEPS, who has a long layoff to overcome, but is a talented and consistent horse who likes this trip and can sit off the pace.
Race 9: I think STORM is finally getting back to the right surface, after having his solid debut run dirtied up somewhat by three progressively declining efforts on the main track. Although being a Pletcher/Castellano production means that an interesting price isn't likely part of the package, I think this horse may be very hard to beat. For alternatives, I would go to ELROI, who finally delivered on last season's potential when coming with a strong kick into a moderate pace in his 2014 debut, and the consistent NOOSH'S TALE, who had to middle move after rating the break, and continued gamely all the way to be a clear 2nd behind a front-running winner when back to turf last time.