How to bet the Awesome Again
Two standouts on class, kin to a Triple Crown winner, and some additional filler comprise the six-horse field for Saturday's $300,000 Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita, a 1 1/8-mile "Win & You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge prep for the November 3 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs.
The standouts are Accelerate, leading older horse of the year in training following wins in the Santa Anita H. (G1), Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), and Pacific Classic (G1). The other is West Coast, last year's champion three-year-old who is making his first start since second-place efforts last winter in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and Dubai World Cup (G1). Also in the mix is The Lieutenant, Justify's Grade 3-winning older half-brother.
With morning line odds of 3-5 on Accelerate and 7-5 on West Coast, the Awesome Again doesn't appear at first glance to be a tremendous betting opportunity. They are head and shoulders above every other horse in the field and should occupy the top two slots either way.
How to play? Given trainer Bob Baffert's suggestion this week that West Coast is less than 100% ready for the Awesome Again and is simply using this as a get-fit prep for the Breeders' Cup, a vast majority of bettors will naturally gravitate toward keying Accelerate in first, West Coast in second, and then finding the right horse for third in the Trifecta.
I'll take the opposite stand, and if I'm wrong I'm wrong. Baffert's knack at getting many of his best runners to run huge off lengthy layoffs is well known. A recent case in point was McKinzie's effort in last week's Pennsylvania Derby (G1). We could go through a laundry list of other examples. Logically, West Coast will desperately be in need of this race and might arguably be the better Breeders' Cup prospect for it five weeks from now. On the other hand, we've seen too many Baffert-trained horses slice and dice their way through various obstacles, such as long spells, to dismiss his chances out of hand.
In addition to the Baffert angle and the prospect of a higher payoff, two other factors entice us to key West Coast on top. The return of Mike Smith is a plus as the colt is undefeated in three starts with the Hall of Famer in the saddle. The other is that West Coast's two defeats this season, to Horse of the Year Gun Runner in the Pegasus and to Thunder Snow in Dubai over a speed-favoring strip favorable to the winner, were arguably as strong (if not more so) than Accelerate's three wins.
For example, West Coast earned a BRIS Speed rating of 116 for his second in the Pegasus, while Accelerate's peak Speed ratings were 111 (Gold Cup) and 114 (Pacific Classic). For what it's worth, international handicappers currently rate West Coast in the top 10 worldwide based on his two runs this year. Thunder Snow is also in the top 10 off his Dubai score, but Accelerate so far has failed to crack the top 10.
As far as the rest of the field, The Lieutenant and Grade 3 winner Prime Attraction have a mixed bag of form this season and are hard to split for title of the next best horse in the race. But they do seem superior on bare form over outsiders Shades of Victory and Isotherm.
In our Trifecta play, we'll key West Coast in first and Accelerate in second, and toss The Lieutenant and Prime Attraction in the third slot. Obviously, we're crossing our fingers and hoping West Coast will be much more ready than his connections are letting on.
$25 Trifecta 5 over 6 over 3,4 = $50