It’s officially fall, time to start gearing up for the Breeders’ Cup to be held at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 31-Nov. 1. And if you’ve already got the BC bug, Belmont Park is the place to be this weekend.
On Saturday, Big Sandy is the home of — count ‘em — six Breeders’ Cup prep races: the Grade II Kelso (race 4), the Grade I Beldame (race 5), the Grade I Flower Bowl (race 7), the Grade I Vosburgh (race 8), the Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (race 9) and, the granddaddy of them all, the Grade I, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (race 10).
Links to my FREE handicapping reports can be found below, along with an in-depth analysis of the Kelso and some other horses to watch — at a variety of tracks — on Saturday:
4th Belmont Park
Grade II Kelso ($400,000 purse)
1 mile (dirt)
Avg. ESR: -1 (soft/moderate)
Avg. LSR: -10 (fair)
1-CAPO BASTONE (20-1 morning line odds)
The blinkers experiment is over, so it appears that Todd Pletcher’s charge will, once again, attempt to make a single run from the back of the pack. In a race without a lot of early zip, it will take a herculean effort for the son of Street Boss to find his way into the winner’s circle; however, he is one of just three Grade I winners in the field (Golden Ticket and Itsmyluckyday are the other two).
Fair odds: 20-1
2-GOLDEN TICKET (8-1)
Despite an off-the-pace running style, this guy has placed in all four of his attempts at a flat mile — including a runner-up performance in last year’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile over a racetrack (Santa Anita) that is far more cruel to closers than today’s strip.
Fair odds: 8-1
Prior to the 2013 Kentucky Derby, this four-year-old gelding had won four of five starts. Since his 52-length drubbing in the Run for the Roses, the Rudy Rodriguez trainee has visited the winner’s circle just once in seven starts — while consistently recording subpar speed and pace figures to boot. Obviously, there’s still room for improvement, but I question how good this son of Into Mischief really is.
Fair odds: 10-1
4-RIVER ROCKS (5/1)
Ranks first in both early speed and overall speed on my Pace Profile Report and looks like an intriguing price play in today’s event. Yeah, he’s 0-for-2 routing, but he had excuses both times:
1) The Lexington Stakes represented River Rocks’ first — and, until today, only — foray into graded stakes company and was run over Keeneland’s old Polytrack surface, which was hardly kind to frontrunners. At 1-1/16 miles (the distance of the Lexington), Keeneland produced 21 percent wire-to-wire winners and a 35 percent speed bias in 2013, according to Brisnet.com statistics. Compare that to the 29 percent wire-to-wire win rate and 71 percent speed bias at Belmont Park thus far in 2014.
2) In a narrow loss at 1-1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park on March 17, 2013, River Rocks battled for the early lead while recording a demanding -13 ESR. He finished second to eventual Iowa Derby (G3) champ Looking Cool in that event, while the second-, third- and fourth-place horses at the half-mile call finished eighth, ninth (last) and seventh respectively.
If River Rocks can set a reasonable pace in the Kelso — and I suspect he can, given that the other pace horse (Bradester) has ESRs that are mediocre at best — I think the son of Western Pride can go a long, long way.
Fair odds: 7-2
I thought this guy was ultra-impressive in the Grade III Ack Ack at Churchill Downs last time, but I’m not sure the son of Lion Heart is capable of passing horses in the stretch, which I believe he’ll have to do to win the Kelso.
Fair odds: 6-1
6-SCARLY CHARLY (30/1)
Was tossed into what is, perhaps, the most prestigious dirt mile race in the country — the Metropolitan Handicap — after breaking his maiden (in his seventh start, no less) and finished OK, beating fellow Kelso entrants Vyjack and Capo Bastone, as well as Moreno and Normandy Invasion.
He followed his Met performance up with an excellent effort (98 Brisnet speed figure, -3 LSR) in a N1X allowance event (again at a mile) and a so-so fourth-place finish in an optional claimer at seven furlongs.
Call me crazy, but I kind of like his chances of hitting the board at what are sure to be generous odds.
Fair odds: 15-1
On paper, this guy looks best: recent Grade I winner, top overall LSRs, outstanding speed figures… and that’s precisely what gives me pause. While the horse he defeated in the Grade I Woodward, Moreno, can be seen later on the card mixing it up with the big boys in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, won by such turf luminaries as Curlin, Cigar, Affirmed and Kelso (a record five times), Itsmyluckyday is entered here — in the $400,000, Grade II Kelso Stakes boasting a roster of winners that includes Tam Lin, Trippi’s Storm and San's The Shadow.
In fact, of the eight horses that finished behind Itsmyluckyday in the Woodward, six — that’s right, s-i-x — are coming back in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. So, why in the world is the winner of that race running in a Grade II affair for less than half the money?
Those of you shouting “Lawyer Ron” (Itsmyluckyday’s sire and a horse who never won beyond 1-1/8 miles), I hear you. But it’s worth noting that Lawyer Ron recorded his lifetime best Brisnet speed figure (117) in this very race back in 2007, when he finished a scant neck behind two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. What’s more, Lawyer Ron’s progeny have averaged a 72.9 Brisnet speed figure in routes compared to a 69.1 Brisnet speed figure in sprints.
In addition, while I’m not a breeding expert like Evander Holyfield, I fail to see how the Kelso enhances Itsmyluckyday’s stud value — even assuming that the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile is the colt’s ultimate objective. (Although the Dirt Mile has increased in stature over the years, it’s not exactly the Met Mile now is it?)
All of this makes me think that Itsmyluckyday may not be as dominant on Saturday as he looks on paper. He’s still the horse to beat, of course, but he looks like an underlay to me.
Fair odds: 8-5
HORSES TO WATCH ON SATURDAY, SEPT. 27, 2014
12-OZILDA’S LAST SON (AP8): Ranks first in early speed and overall speed on my Pace Profile Report and qualifies as a Win Rating “super favorite.”
3-VIVA RAFAELA (BEL7): She has a significant early speed edge in a race with an average ESR of +8. Although her median LSR of 0 ranks eighth — and last — in the field, she did earn a +6 LSR last time and cuts back in distance on Saturday. She’s playable at 5-1 or greater.
8-TANNERY (BEL7): Former Grade I winner who I think may return to form this weekend — especially if there is some give in the ground. I make her fair price 6-1.
3-IMAGINING (BEL9): Competitive speed and pace figures and a tactical advantage over his main foes. 3-1 looks fair to me.
6-MEDAL COUNT (BEL9): Dale Romans is absurdly good in graded stakes and Medal Count’s turf tries have been encouraging.
11-MORENO (BEL10): Ranks first in early speed (-3 ESR) and overall speed (97) and second in late speed (-6 LSR) on my Pace Profile Report. As witnessed (again) in the Woodward, Eric Guillot’s stable star is tough to get past when he’s allowed to dictate the early splits.
2-TEN ITEMS OR LESS (FL7): Has the top ESRs, overall speed and LSRs in the field.
7-WHITE CRANE (FL8): Wheels back quickly after being claimed and is well-spotted today.
6-PRMIAL MIGHT (GP8): Son of Graeme Hall improved greatly in his latest and I believe he still has more to give. He’s worth a deuce or two at 3-1 or better today.
6-BAT CAVE (MTH10): Claimed in his latest following a parachute drop in class, he moves back up the ladder today.
4-SHARED BELIEF (SA8): The return to dirt should pose no problem for a gelding that looks like something special. I’ve pegged his fair odds at 3-5 and will be looking for value using 1-FED BIZ (11-1), 2-SKY KINGDOM (13-1) and BIRD E HOUSE (6-1) underneath in exactas.
FREE HANDICAPPING REPORTS
Below are links to my Win Factor Reports and Pace Profile Reports for Belmont Park and Santa Anita on Sept. 27, 2014: