The Championship Meet at Belmont is eight racing days old, but thus far, the track and turf courses there have behaved as though they never had any time off.
Translation: The main track is, as always, decidedly pro-early-speed. The turf courses are, for the most part, the domain of horses that can burst home in the final furlong or maybe in upper stretch, but almost never before.
Which is encouraging to see, since those results mirror the WMFs listed in the 2002 PARS PLUS Special 10th Anniversary Edition book. A nice jump on the crowd, who had to wait for a week and a half before getting down on the main-track speedsters and the late-closing turfers.
The flat-mile and the mile-and-a-sixteenth distances on "Big Sandy" have been prohibitively frontrunner-friendly. Through Thursday's action, no horse has been able to rally to win from the second position even as early as the second call. Main-track sprints are also decided well before the furlong marker, for the most part. One exception has been the elongated seven-furlong sprint.
On turf, the middle distances have promoted the horses with that proverbial eye-catching burst of acceleration put in only after the first six furlongs have been contested. Horses that are a length or more behind with a furlong or two to go aren't out of it, not by a long shot.
The longer mile-and-three-eighths distance on grass has also rewarded the horses making the last or next-to-last moves. Front-speed has been giving it up in the stretch, and the late-run necessary to winning middle-distance turf routes has proven effective at 11 furlongs, too. Indeed, last year's WMF, according to 2002 PARS PLUS was 0, a horrible trip for horses getting involved before the opening mile, believe it or not.
Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey has said on numerous occasions that when he reads that Daily Racing Form of his -- hey, it's not just a prop in all those commericals -- and handicaps his horses, he analyzes the race to the stretch call only, not all the way to the finish. And given the way the tracks he rides on behave -- salt-flats-like strips such as Aqueduct, Belmont, Keeneland, Saratoga and Gulfstream -- who could blame him? If he didn't roust his mounts to the front (or pretty darn close) by the eighth-pole on the main track at those ovals, he wouldn't be winning the ridiculous percentage of races he does. Who would know better than this generation's greatest (or second-greatest) rider? And the WMFs reflect that. Cool.
In a similar way, that likely explains Pat Day's continued dominance at early-speed-unfriendly Churchill Downs. Patience pays off there, and -- it can only be guessed -- Day handicaps that extra furlong, the one Bailey leaves off. Check it out in the WMFs.
Of course, just as these words start splashing across your screen, a 22-1 dead-closer (happily, a Cynthia Publishing Company Live Longshot) takes the fourth at Belmont. At least the horse on the lead at the second call held on for the place at 33-1. And earlier in the card, another CPC L.L. wired 'em over there at six furlongs at 12-1. Ah, win some, don't-win some.
And here are some Belmont Championship Meet trainer angles to consider. We'll look at conditioners who can get their nonfavored charges to successfully pull off things they've never tried before.
First-route move: Bond and Mott are obviously big playahs in this realm, but their horses tend to be obvious. Gary Contessa doesn't suffer here, nor do Juan Serey or Nick Zito. Look at the first-route horses of those guys and expect 'em to be live, even if they're not highly regarded.
First-turf move: Again, as you might expect, Bond and Mott dominate. But Mott throws enough of these that one or two of them should go off at a reasonable price. Linda Rice is the wildcard here. She can undertake this move with the ones that defy logic.
First-claim move: Dickie Dutrow (a.k.a. Richard Dutrow Jr.) is good here, but only when the horses are prohibitively favored. Lake will improve his claims at Belmont, as will Juan Serey and Dominic Galluscio and Frank LaBocceetta Jr.
Hope that helps.
In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Canterbury Park commences its 62-day meet this evening (CDT). Work was done on the main track there, but the WMFs from a year ago suggest a track that's reasonably fair in sprints, perhaps a slight shade toward the horses getting into gear just after the opening-half-mile. In routes, big closers have their say, especially at the weird mile-70 distance. Wet tracks are for the speed in sprints, except that "sloppy" routes seem better for the late-runners.
On turf, the usual grass-racing metric applies. Late-runners will have the advantage.
As for Minnesota trainer patterns, sorry, we don't have any. But maybe you do. If so, we'd love to have you share them with your fellow horseplayers in our lucky new Horsetalk Forum available at the Cynthia Publishing Company Web site. Have at it, but try to keep it factual! We enjoy that distinct element of our Forum.
We don't know how Mike Helm does it, but somehow he does. Maybe we should call this e-newsletter, which, as always, is a public service to you, the Cynthia Publishing Company Web site visitor or customer, "The Cynthia Publishing Company/Mike Helm Handicapping Hour." Or something like that.
The reason we like his stuff is that it's based on hard fact, lots of research, the likes of which characterize all our offerings, from the 2002 PARS PLUS book and supplemental materials to the acclaimed C&X Report to the coming Quick & Dirty Trainer Guides and the coming reissues of some of our classics!
Of course, the scruffier aspects of the Internet crowd these days expect everything for free, or at least a lot of things for free. Ehhh. If we thought it would be of benefit, we most certainly would package up and publish the rants and screeds of every single genius and expert blabbering on all the handicapping message boards out there and give away pages and pages of it. But we don't, and there's a reason: Not much fact there! Really! (However, there sure are a lot of entertaining opinions floating around, huh?)
Come on! If all of a sudden these message boards were pay-for-play, what do you suppose would happen? Goodbye! There's a reason they're free, because, uh, maybe that's what most of them are worth? Yeah, it's great to share, but is everything worth sharing?
Sadly for some, probably not. It's hard to imagine busy, productive, professional people spending all day trolling on message boards and bloviating nonstop, every waking hour. And as for those supposedly superior sibling-societies self-proclaimed as super-study sites, so what? All that handicapping self-teaching just winds up resembling "Lord of the Flies" at the racetrack. The only drama left is finding out who turns out to be Piggy.
Hoo boy, stark raving mad! Your kind indulgence is always appreciated. Thanks. Back to Helm. The guy predicted the rise of Swiss Yodeler as a freshman sire to watch in terms of the two-year-old sprints of spring. It's right there in his excellent Freshman Sires of 2002.
You can also take his findings and superb projections in Debut Sires 2002 and Debut Trainers 2002 and get a jump on the Form-readers of the world. Nothing like a knowing things before everybody else does. Big prices!
Which leads us to Helm's latest offering, Sire Ratings 2002-2003 available next week at the Cynthia Publishing Company Handicapping Store. This is the whole enchilada. If you've gotten the Helm periodical work mentioned above, the Sire Ratings 2002-2003 is the magnum opus, the lasting reference. It's an edge worth having -- it's different and it's solid.
Which is what you'll find in all the Cynthia Publishing Company-produced books, videos, newsletters and software. We think you'll love them. And we support what we sell, not to mention offer a money-back guarantee (less a restocking fee). Some loudmouth know-it-alls refuse to give you even that courtesy. Talk about a gamble! Why buy a big-ticket program you might not like and be out your entire purchase price? What happens then? You're out on the Street!
So, check out the Helm and the Cramer and all the other neat stuff in the Handicapping Store. You'll probably find something you like.
Analyzing one race every six months is ambitious for some, and it might actually work, except that at that rate, the horseplayer would visit the mutuel windows with the exact same frequency as he or she is recommended to visit a dentist. And, judging by the oral condition some racegoers are in, that sort of one-to-one relationship just doesn't reflect how things are in the real world. If only the friendly mutuel teller could dispense novocaine every so often!
Truly, we believe that there should always be more race analysis than uncomfortable squirming in the dentist's chair, which is why we enjoy providing you with solid race outlooks and recommendations week after week. It's our charter, Jonah.
So while most of the mopes out there grab for that low-hanging fruit, we'll aim high and dispense a complete top-to-bottom rundown of all the stakes races on the Preakness Day card at Pimlico in Balto., Md., Balto., Md.
First, a warning about the forecast. Friday was dry, fast and firm at Pimlico, but a stormfront is likely to move into the area this evening and tomorrow morning. The Weather Channel, celebrating its 20th anniversary, and its excellent production values unmistakably show a green-tinged army of slanting lines marching along the Delmarva peninsula for Saturday morning. A deluge would be a god-crying shame, since that would mean a bunch of scratches, races off the turf, not to mention a handy excuse for all the losers in the Preakness. The card, in its clement state, is a dazzler. If they constructed cards like this every week, you might actually be able to analyze a race every six months and that would be satisfying. OK, you're right. Not really. Couldn't fool you there.
The first stakes on the card is the fifth race on the day, the Woodlawn Stakes for three-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf. Obviously, rain would be an unwelcome development in this one. But we shall cross our fingers and clutch the rosary beads and hope for the best. On turf, this one looks like a two-horse shootout between the most-accomplished grass performers: February Storm, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, and Political Attack, the 3-1 second choice. February Storm possesses the crucial turf trait of being able to accelerate late regardless of what happens to the pace in front of him. Political Attack is the opposite. He'll try to hang on for dear life after opening up a lead entering the homestretch. That's not the easiest thing in the world, especially with so many first- and second-time turf horses in the mix.
The surprise candidate is Root With Style. a turf debutante last time who attended a lively pace and still finished well enough to hang on at the wire. He needs another forward move here, but his pedigree says that's not out of the question, and he represents a mildly attractive risk at the 12-1 morning line. Trained by Dale Capuano and ridden by Jeremy Rose, Root With Style is the local hope here, and maybe home-course advantage will work, though without the cowbells that come attached to the Sacto Kings at Arco Arena.
Next up is another mile-and-a-sixteenth event for three-year-olds, except on dirt. It's the Sir Barton Stakes, and the pace figures to be ultra-quick and competitive. Shah Jehan is the fancier half of the second-favored 3-2 morning-line coupled-entry. He just missed hanging on in the Withers Mile at the Big A, and a similar fold-job won't bode well for his chances in this one. If the pace shapes up the way it might, strong ability entering the far turn and into the homestretch should prove decisive. In this case, in this race, that points to the James Jerkens trainee Iron Deputy, perhaps the best late-talent in this field. Beat him to win it.
New Pimlico morning-linemaker Frank Carulli has been praised for his good work in setting the Preakness odds, but his numbers in the Sir Barton are a real headscratcher. Odds of 3-2 usually signal favoritism, but to have a 3-2 as a second choice, with an even-money in the same race? Not just that, but the horse who received the lowest odds, Billy Elliot ("Go Billy!"), is painfully slow. Iron Deputy, third-ranked on the morning line, could escape at not-bad odds. Look out.
Back to the turf in the seventh, older fillies and mares at a mile and a sixteenth in the Gallorette Handicap. If the Mott-Bailey production Watch comes back off the bench with her typical effort, this race could be over without much of a fight in the lane. She'll make her usual late-run and the rest will wonder what hit them. Mott won't settle for anything less from her in her first from the vacation, and the pace here most likely will accommodate her rally.
The other danger off the bench is at a very nice 20-1 on the morning line. It's confirmed late-kicker Cruise Along, who was starting to get pretty darn good in her final three races before the six-month rest. She's surprised before on turf, a surface that transformed her from tomato can to fruit of the vine, work of equine hooves. There's your liturgy, Father.
So we'll watch Watch, and we'll likely witness her win. But we'll take a shot with Cruise Along.
Shannon Sharpe is one fast Baltimorean, but he probably couldn't compete with the nine lined up in the eighth, the Grade III Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap at six furlongs on the main track.
Right off the bat, Snow Ridge would get a big jump on him, even without the five-yard bump-and-run buffer zone from scrimmage. Heck, Snow Ridge might even put the screws to the likes of Caller One and Xtra Heat in the opening furlong. In this race, though, he has that sort of company, in the form of the local blazer Rusty Spur, whose own alacrity transcends the mundaneness of the Maryland Jockey Club and its various racetracks.
With those two stretching mightily for every purchase of ground in the first furlongs of this race, the obvious conclusion would be to dismiss the chances of both. Indeed, many handicappers did just that two weeks ago in a much longer race, when what happened was the horses went around, unbothered, the entire oval. But with one difference.
The prices. The prices on these two guys are not going to be 20-1 and 20-1. More like the morning line of 9-5 and 7-2. The morning-line favorite, Sassy Hound, even-money (Carulli likes 1-1!) figures to swoop in on the dueling duo and leave 'em crying. But the price option here, fourth choice in the wagering, is Peeping Tom, a closer on his day who might not be the most brilliant equine specimen on Earth but might do well enough in here to pass some of the fire-breathers inside the eighth pole. If he gets away in the 6-1 range, and he might, he represents a worthy play.
More sprint action ensues, when three-year-olds follow their elders in the ninth, the Hirsch Jacobs Stakes, to this point in the card its most-challenging and contentious race.
Another even-money morning-line favorite here for oddsmaker Carulli, the deceptively named No Pressure, who has enjoyed receiving and handing out stress to himself and his opponents. He figures as the proverbial sit-the-trip issue in this one, though this will be by far the wickedest (is that a word? call the grammar police!) set of fractions he's ever encountered. Tough, and certainly not worth a gamble at the forecast stingy price.
Rather, a couple of speedsters seem ready to take 'em gate-to-wire. One of them, Listen Here, doesn't figure to offer much in the way of price. Mott and Bailey in his corner only diminish that prospect. But Listen Here should be involved most of the way, sooner rather than later.
And the one he'll need to deal with is City Sharpster, who last time coped successfully with the fastest fractions of his life and managed to hang on respectably. A clean break here and the furlong turnback ought to push him closer to the leaders at the wire, and the price will be appetizing.
The penulimate prelude to the Preakness is the Dixie Stakes, the 10th on the day and a mile and an eighth on the turf. It's an amazing race, given that, by our optimistic outlook, each horse except Dr. Brendler has a measurably meaningful shot at winning. And even if the Good Doctor gave the field its medicine by prevailing, it wouldn't be a surprising prognosis. So, in this green grab bag, settle on the prices, not the contenders. It's hard to make fine distinctions among all these runners, so let the odds do it for you. Unlike dirt racing, turf racing can simultaneously put five or six noses and heads and necks on the wire, and that means the outcomes are more random than discrete. Bombs away!
One more before the Preakness. It's the William Donald Schaefer Handicap at a mile and an eighth on the main track for handicap-types. Ground Storm will try to make it darn close to a clean sweep for the omnipotent Mott-Bailey, but there is an alternative. It's the local confirmed closer Grundlefoot, fresh off the bench and in love with the quirky Pimlico surface. Second-morning-line choice Bowman's Band looks overhyped in this spot. So go with the 'Grundle, straight-up.
Which brings us -- deep breath now -- to the Preakness. But no Preakness analysis would stand without a recap of the race that came before it two weeks ago.
The Kentucky Derby was, in the parlance of a certain Southern California racing publication, a "queer race." The nature of the Churchill Downs strip that day made the entire main-track circuit a No Passing Zone, and all day, the horses that crossed the wire first (regardless of what the stewards dealt them later) were all involved with the lead or flanking it in the opening-quarter-mile, regardless the length of the race. The horses relegated to mid-pack or farther behind were left to fight over bupkis. A quick scan of the Churchill charts from last year's spring-summer meet shows that the largest number of quarter-mile leader/pressers winning on any given day was 6. The Derby Day charts revealed eight (nine if you count a winner who got moved up) such winners.
That's racing, though hardly satisfying racing, where you see some runners actually making menacing moves toward the leaders at at least one or two points of the race. Leave that so-called sport to the bullrings next time!
So the Derby was virtually over before it started, and many good horses looked much worse than they really are.
History repeats, and flash back to 1988, when Winning Colors ran away from the field in the Derby but could manage only third in the Preakness after being death-stalked by Forty Niner and some others, setting up a memorable all-closer exacta between the talented and genuine Risen Star and the opportunistic Brian's Time.
But, as racing journalist Andy Plattner pointed out, War Emblem's final two-furlong split was one of the fastest in history. Which is how it will need to be if he wants to avoid suffering the same fate as Winning Colors.
On those broad themes, who is this year's Risen Star? It would have been Perfect Drift, who, like Risen Star, was third in the Derby after suffering a trip/pace dynamic that didn't suit him. Indeed, Risen Star was ridden by Eddie D., just like Perfect Drift. Indeed, Perfect Drift would have closed lights-out in this Preakness field, just like Risen Star. Unfortunately, trainer Murray Johnson is not like trainer Louie Roussel, who agonized over whether to scratch Risen Star even as late as an hour before post time. Indeed, Johnson is saving the 'Drift for the Belmont, which is too bad.
Medaglia d'Oro could be this year's Risen Star, given that he was the only one making up ground on the Churchill treadmill. He should be able to run well late in this one, too. Only the result may be more to his liking.
The 2002 edition of Brian's Time is the harder one to figure out. Is it hometown hero Magic Weisner, or is it unlucky Derby shutout U S S Tinosa? Or will Harlan's Holiday push Derby favoritism into a bounce-back Preakness score, a la Summer Squall, Hansel, Timber Country?
Great questions, all. From a conventional standpoint, the Preakness melange is not particulalry fast. All these supposed new shooters and fresh faces are new and fresh for a reason -- they probably were not talented enough to compete favorably in the Derby. And even in the Preakness, they seem overmatched.
Talent-wise, War Emblem and Medaglia d'Oro emerge as the ones. Their final-time figures have done the heavy lifting necessary to beating this field. Granted, War Emblem has been able to do it by waltzing through the opening stages of his three-straight stunners, no one getting within breathing distance of him early. But the connections of all his Preakness rivals say they will make sure 'Emblem feels and hears a heavy breath each and every step of the early journey.
That's the wildcard. Will 'Emblem run in and among horses as comfortably as when he was isolated?
Medaglia d'Oro gets Bailey, and that means a guaranteed perfect trip. If he's horse enough, he'll have every opportunity to win it in the final furlong, just the way Bailey prefers to handicap his runners.
Proud Citizen fans will be disappointed. This opportunist doesn't figure to have things breaking his way, literally, at any stage of the race.
U S S Tinosa is the only other one who has run a competitive figure, though its circumstances were unlike the setup he'll see in the Preakness. In his best race, he stayed closer to a softer pace in a much smaller field. When he tries to rally from farther back, he's not particularly eye-catching or keen. And that style is reflected in his lifetime boxscore: 11 3 4 2. Nonetheless, U S S Tinosa should be able to get a piece.
The other viable clunker-upper has to be Nick Zito's Crimson Hero, who has yet to show killer ability but is at least heading strongly in the proper direction. His rally is dependable, another plus, and This will be by far the best-contested pace he's ever had the good fortune to close against.
Now, are Crimson Hero and U S S Tinosa good enough to win the Preakness? Probably not. But hitting the board is another matter altogether. And, after all, they said the same things about War Emblem and Proud Citizen before the Derby -- they couldn't win unless they were prime opportunists of a total setup. Well, guess what. They were.
So, a recap of the Preakness-Day card:
A win or two, and it'll be better than root canal. Come to think of it, it'll be that way even if all of these a-cropper. Happy Preakness Day!
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