Cheese Stakes and Weird Allowances: Betting Against Three-Year Old Debut Class Droppers

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Ed DeRosa

April 15th, 2014

A potent handicapping angle has emerged on the Triple Crown trail in recent years: (Eventually) betting against horses who return in spots seemingly beneath their class.

This doesn’t always work in a horse’s first start back because they often tower over their lesser rivals, but it’s worth remembering when they return to graded stakes company.

The four horses I’m thinking of are War Pass, Uncle Mo, Honor Code, and Bobby’s Kitten.

War Pass was the champion two-year-old male of 2007 and returned to the races three months after his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win with a 7 ½-length victory at 1-to-20 in an allowance race that Gulfstream Park wrote especially for him. His stock went Enron, however, when seventh at 1-to-20 in the Tampa Bay Derby before ending his career with a runner-up finish to Tale of Ekati as the 9-to-10 favorite in that year’s Wood Memorial.

Like War Pass, Uncle Mo was an undefeated two-year-old male champion who made his three-year-old debut as a 1-to-20 favorite in a race Gulfstream created to lure the champ. This was the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes, and Uncle Mo obliged with a 3 ¾-length victory. Four weeks later, Uncle Mo finished third as the 1-to-10 favorite in the Wood and like War Pass went on to miss the Kentucky Derby, though he did race three more times as a summer-fall three-year-old before retiring.

These examples were on my mind earlier this year when Honor Code and Bobby’s Kitten made their three-year-old debuts in spots softer than a newborn’s rump.

Well, that’s not completely fair, as Honor Code ended up losing to eventual Wood Memorial third-place finisher Social Inclusion despite his Racing Hall of Fame trainer Claude R. “Shug” McGaughey using Oaklawn Park to mask his true intentions. I imagine several in Hot Springs, Arkansas, thought it just that the Remsen Stakes winner was beat like a drum at 1-to-2 and subsequently declared from the Triple Crown trail.

Maybe The Jockey Club Chairman and last year’s winning Kentucky Derby co-owner Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps will lead by example and show us all the vet work Honor Code had done during the six weeks in which he only had one published workout causing him to miss the Fountain of Youth Stakes.

Bobby’s Kitten returned in the easiest spot of anyone mentioned so far, using a conditioned allowance race on the Tampa Bay Derby undercard for his three-year-old bow and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes prep. Bobby’s Kitten won gate-to-wire at 2-to-5 fueling Derby dreams for his Kentucky native owner-breeders Ken & Sarah Ramsey, but those were dashed quicker than you can say Anbesol when Bobby’s Kitten finished 12th of 14 as the 19-to-5 Blue Grass favorite.

It’s a small sample size of four, and I’m sure there are other examples of top two-year-olds racing into world-class form as three-year-olds, but you don’t need to be right many times against a short price to pay attention to this trend, and it’s important to stick with it since three of the four mentioned horses won their three-year-old debuts but lost next-time out.

For those wondering the inspiration for the blog title, it’s a riff on this song from The Fugue owner Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me On a Sunday.