Hanson handicaps Thursday's NHC Mandatory Races
For those who failed to qualify for this week's National Handicapping Championship (NHC) or, if you're like me, didn't attempt to qualify, the next best thing might be to play along at home.
While it wouldn't feel so good to find out you had the weekend of your life picking winners and weren't sitting at Treasure Island Las Vegas to collect the big check, doing such an exercise has some benefits -- namely honing your handicapping skills and discovering whether a future attempt at qualifying for the NHC might be worth your while.
Of course, playing at home for no real money is a lot different than being in the actual pressure-cooker environment of the tournament itself. Decisions made in the contest room are often dependent on where you are on the leader board, information those sitting at home aren't quickly privy to. Still, the aforementioned benefits remain.
I have no clue which 10 optional races I would choose to play if I were participating in Thursday's first round, but for the sake of fun I'll see how I'd do in the eight mandatory races with these horses:
Aqueduct Race 6 -- GATO AZUL (#11, 7-2) makes his first start off the claim for trainer John Parisella, whose first five starters at the meet have finished first or second four times. This lightly-raced gelding lacks the back class of many of his rivals, but arrives here in peak form with a pair of bullet five-furlong works in tow.
Oaklawn Race 4 -- MAN OF STATURE (#2, 8-1) broke slow from the rail in his local bow 10 days ago and was a non-factor. Drops a notch in class here and might be more effective with a solid pace up front and a clean trip.
Oaklawn Race 5 -- VALID DECISION (#2, 10-1) has already defeated first-level allowance company, which is more than what others in this optional claimer/starter allowance field have accomplished. Subsequent stakes attempts are tosses, and expecting more in his debut for a new barn.
Fair Grounds Race 7 -- LEROIDESSIOUX (#6, 10-1) was overmatched on a muddy track in his first start off the re-claim by Gary Scherer. Aging veteran has done very well over this track and for Scherer in the past, and jockey Mitchell Murrill has been an effective go-to rider for this barn since the beginning of last year.
Gulfstream Race 11 -- LITTLE CATON (#3, 7-2) was impossibly placed in the Old Hat (G3) last time, but is a solid fit here off a second-place finish versus similar at Gulfstream Park West two back.
Oaklawn Race 9 -- FAR RIGHT (#6, 3-1) was the leading three-year-old at this track last year not named American Pharoah, and any concerns about his deep-closing tactics are alleviated to some degree by the likelihood of a contested pace here among those with early speed.
Santa Anita Race 6 -- GIANT EGO (#9, 9-2) has not run on dirt in awhile, but has a 6-2-1-1 record on the surface and was hardly embarrassed against second-level allowance company the last time he ran over this track. Obviously fits well at the class level based on recent outings.
Santa Anita Race 7 -- TIZ A CLASSY LASS (#3, 5-1) is two-for-two with Mario Gutierrez in the saddle, and that dual classic-winning rider is back aboard here. That might help this mare fare better following a fourth-place finish behind several of these in a similar spot earlier this month.