Thursday, July 28, 2011

Spa Watch: Week 2

--Brian DiDonato

The first five days of the Saratoga meet have certainly lived up to expectations. We've been treated to high-quality, competitive racing, and some jaw-dropping performances from the likes of Winter Memories and J C's Pride. The upcoming action figures to offer more of the same, and there look to be some very good wagering opportunities in the next few days. See below for analysis of some of those spots.

Bias notes: There was clearly somewhat of a speed bias on the turf during the opening days of the meet, but Monday's rain softened up the grass significantly, and no bias was apparent on Wednesday. I would treat both surfaces as fair at this point.


Race 5 - MSW, 1 1/16mT, f, 2yo -  My original inclination was to use three of the horses who had run before--Tiana, Illegally Blonde and Honey Talk--as experience and race conditioning are significant advantages in maiden routes, but an impressive win by Team Valor's firster State of Play Wednesday has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into that plan. Trainer Graham Motion had previously been 0-for-16 with juvenile firsters on the grass over the past five years* before unveiling the son of War Front, whose sire was looking for his first 2-year-old debut winner in North America despite an excellent start to his career at stud. Now Motion's still just 1-for-17, but recent trends tend to be more relevant than past ones, and he sends out Vapour Musing here for the same ownership group. State of Play and Vapour Musing have very similar-looking worktabs, and they appear to have worked in company at Fair Hill July 7. It's usually a safe assumption that trainers pair their young horses together based on comparable ability, and if Vapour Musing is as good as State of Play, she should help Motion continue to augment his stats. Note that State of Play opened as a favorite Wednesday before drifting up to 7-2, and look for similar early action on Vapour Musing to signal her own readiness. The remaining firsters in this race still have significant knocks against them, so pair Vapour Musing with the three logical second timers mentioned above in vertical wagers, and give all four consideration in your Pick 3s and 4s.

Race 7 - Quick Call S., 5 1/2fT, 3yo - While speed is a huge asset in shorter turf sprints, this race looks destined to collapse--there are simply too many speedy types for the pace not to get out of hand. The three most intriguing raters offer significant value on the morning line, and here's to hoping that their odds aren't deflated too much by the fairly obvious expected pace scenario. First-time turfer Philippe, at double digit odds, is the value of the Quick Call. His best Beyer figure (88) was earned at Turfway, a venue whose Polytrack plays similarly to turf, and he endured a tough, wide trip before fading last time in the Chick Lang S. at Pimlico. The Jim Baker trainee appears to have worked very well since, and he has the pedigree to take to this trip. Philippe's half-brother T.D. Vance (Rahy), winner of the GII Hall of Fame S. routing over the Spa lawn in 2005, also took the Troy S. at this distance here two years later. Another dangerous late runner is Fastest Magician, who upended the A Gift S. at Belmont in his turf debut in May. While the Fipke homebred did save ground that day, he also dealt with some minor traffic trouble, and showed a very nice late kick, good trip or not. He turns back to a more suitable distance off a sixth in the GIII Hill Prince S. Great Mills had carried his speed over a route of ground before, but he faded from first to a distant last in the Oliver S. over yielding ground last time as the chalk at Indiana Downs. He is two-for-two over surface and distance, and has proven capable of rating at this shorter trip. Philippe's odds warrant a win wager, and the aforementioned trio could be used in exactas and the Pick 4.

Race 9 - Alw, N1X, 1 1/8m, f+m, 3yo/up - The hype has been plentiful for Kinda Spicy, who took her debut at Belmont by 6 3/4 lengths with an 82 Beyer for Tom Albertrani, whose numbers with firsters have dropped in recent years. The Darley homebred had a perfect trip that day behind three dueling rivals, however, and the field she beat was decidedly mediocre. She can still win, but will be terribly overbet. Authenticity, on the other hand, is much more talented than she looks on paper. The late-on-the-scene 4-year-old overcame a very slow start at a mile on debut at Churchill last month to be a decent fourth while racing greenly, and her maiden breaker last time must be seen to be appreciated (TDN Video). Off slow again behind a glacial pace while stretching out half a furlong, the $250,000 KEESEP yearling swung seven wide when asked and ran down a pacesetter who had shaken free at the top of the lane to be well-clear of the rest of the field. It's not as if the runner-up Empress of Gold was slowing down (despite some lead change issues)--she got her final 5/16 in :29.87 to Authenticity's :29.30. Those look like come-home times in a turf race, not a dirt race. The third-place finisher, a next-out winner at Ellis, came home a full second slower than Empress of Gold. Because of the slow early fractions, Authenticity's performance looks mediocre on paper--she only earned a 75 Beyer Speed Figure--but she ran significantly better than that figure would indicate. A little more pace and a little more ground this time make her extremely dangerous at a square price.


Race 2 - MSW, 1 3/16mT, 3yo/up - D'marin, a stablemate of the aforementioned Philippe, took to the turf, as many progeny of More Than Ready do, in his fourth career effort at Churchill Downs July 1. He was a non-threatening third from well off the pace, but could have been much closer at the finish with a better-timed ride and more efficient lead changes. He had a tough time maintaining a straight course when mounting his wide bid, and appeared dissuaded by Calvin Borel's persistent reminders, but D'Marin still covered his final quarter in the eight-furlong contest in :23.85--more than a full-second faster than the winner and two-fifths of a second faster than the runner-up. He's probably bred best for a slightly shorter trip, but another step forward could be all D'marin needs to earn his diploma at somewhere around 10-1.

Race 7 - Curlin S., 1 1/8m, 3yo - This race isn't so much attractive from a wagering standpoint based on the merits of longshots, but more on the potential vulnerability of the two favorites. Regally bred Bold Warrior has done nothing wrong so far in his career. He boasts a 3-2-1-0 record with a pair of open-length victories and relatively high speed figures, and based on blood alone figures to run as far as he's asked to. He has shown speed going short, however, and plenty of horses matching his description end up ultimately being better sprinters. Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens is just 1-for-23 over the past five years going sprint to first time route on dirt, and that one winner earned her victory in a three-horse race. Raison d'Etat, the first foal to race out of Sightseek, turned heads with a 7 3/4-length romp at Belmont June 18 in his third start. The runner-up from that heat, however, came back to be beaten 22 3/4 lengths as the 3-4 chalk with no apparent excuse. Of the remaining runners (Will's Wildcat is expected to scratch and run instead in the Jim Dandy), Golden Gulch offers the best value relative to his merits. Now two-for-two routing, the Windmill Manor Farm homebred has a win at this distance and a steady Beyer progression in each of his four starts. The horse who finished third behind him last time, another Mott/Juddmonte representative like Raison d'Etat, returned to take an allowance at Ellis by 6 3/4 lengths with a 92 Beyer. He doesn't have the flash of a couple of his competitors, but Golden Gulch is a dependable alternative who can land in the winner's circle somewhat by default.


Race 6 - MSW, 1 1/16mT, 2yo - Master Achievement didn't do much running in his sloppy, off-the-turf debut sprinting at Belmont, but the chestnut never looked comfortable over the wet surface. His trainer David Fawkes does very well with second timers trying the turf for the first time--he's 6-for-29 (21%) with a $3.60 ROI over the past five years. The Florida-based conditioner had a string at Belmont this spring and three of his runners there fit the criteria above--one, a 2-year-old, won at 9-1; and another older runner was second at 7-1. Freshman sire Master Command had a recent synth sprint to turf route second time winner at Arlington, and Master Achievement worked an upbeat four furlongs on the Oklahoma turf last week in company with a Monmouth maiden claiming winner who has a lot of early speed. Master Achievement will be dismissed off a non-effort in his debut, but surface and distance changes should prove very valuable.

Race 10 - GII Jim Dandy S., 1 1/8m, 3yo - This race looks basically paceless, and whoever guns for the lead will have a distinct advantage. Will's Wildcat is very likely to be the one who grabs the early edge (Looks like I'll live and die with the Baker barn this week). Prior to the Long Branch, Will's Wildcat was two-for-two in dirt routes, winning by a combined 12 1/4 lengths and earning Beyers of 95 and 98. He won both those races on the lead while setting average paces. He didn't make the lead from his far outside draw in the July 9 Long Branch, however, and instead pressed an above-average early pace set by a hopeless longshot. That frontrunner threw in the towel prematurely, causing Will's Wildcat to take over the lead earlier than expected and softening him up a bit late to be fourth. He won't have to worry about a similar scenario this time, as both Moonshine Mullin and Dominus, the two horses coming off front-running victories, only found themselves in front early in their respective races because nobody else wanted the lead. Neither horse's early Moss Pace Figures compare to what Will's Wildcat figures to run, and if he's allowed to travel at his preferred clip, distance becomes the only issue. The mid- to high-90s Beyer that Will's Wildcat is capable of running when having things his own way should take this. Add to that Baker's display of confidence by scratching from the Curlin to run here, and you've got a live wire-to-wire threat who could light up the tote.

*All trainer stats courtesy of DRF Formulator.

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