Looking for Longshots in the Valedictory Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

December 8th, 2017

The final stakes race of the 2017 Woodbine meet will be held this Sunday, and believe me, it’s a good one.

It’s not every day that you get to see a field of talented stakes competitors vie for supremacy in a 1 ¾-mile marathon, but those are the conditions of the $125,000 Valedictory Stakes (gr. III), one of the longest graded stakes races held in North America each year.

In handicapping the race, all eyes will be on #11 Melmich, a former claimer that is now a five-time graded stakes winner. The six-year-old gelding has run in the Valedictory twice before, romping to a stunning 10 ¼-length win in 2015 before missing by a half-length as the heavy favorite last year.

With five wins from six starts this season, Melmich will surely be a heavy favorite once again, and all things being equal he should prevail. Then again, all things won’t be equal this Sunday—due to his success, Melmich will have to carry 124 pounds, seven to nine pounds more than his rivals. According to one scale, that equates to conceding about six to seven lengths.

Therefore, I’m tempted to take a chance with a horse emerging from Woodbine’s eighth race on November 10th, a 1 5/8-mile allowance race that serves as a prep for the Valedictory. What was noteworthy about this race is that it unfolded at a very slow pace (:26.03, :52.64, 1:17.89, and 1:43.75) that resulted in the final three furlongs being timed in a fantastic :36.94. Such a quick finish to the race put deep closers at a disadvantage, particularly #12 Major Production. Following a slow start, Major Production trailed the field by a good margin early on and could only pass one horse in the homestretch, but though it’s easy to overlook he was actually staying on quite well and did gain a bit of ground through those quick finishing fractions.

In his two previous starts, Major Production showcased his staying abilities by winning a 2 ¼-mile starter allowance race over the synthetic track at Presque Isle Downs and a 2 ¼-mile turf allowance race at Woodbine. He could be in the mix if he gets a better setup in the Valedictory.

I also respect #8 Pumpkin Rumble, who was beaten just a neck in the November 10th allowance race despite a wide trip that saw him run 62 feet farther than the winner. #7 Portree, who finished seventh, likewise had a wide trip and was rank while rating behind the slow pace; his previous form was excellent and he too could improve with a better trip.

My strategy will be to play a series of exactas, betting larger amounts on the tickets with lower probable payoffs. Melmich will be included on the first two tickets, but I’ll also leave him off and play one all-longshots ticket with a chance for an impressive payoff.

$3 exacta: 11 with 7,8,12 ($9) $2 exacta: 7,8,12 with 11 ($6) $1 exacta: 7,8,12 with 7,8,12 ($6)

Good luck!