11/12/2008 11:45AM

HandiGambling 109

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Today's HandiGambling 109 exercise is the ninth race at Churchill Downs, an $80,000 optional claimer with 'n3x' allowance conditions to be contested around a one-turn mile.  I have to admit I'm not a big fan of horses like Sam P., Forty Grams, and Shone, but if these types of horses are going to win races, it will be in spots like this against middling up-and-comers, never-will-bes, and has-beens instead of stakes races in which they're overmatched. 
Sam P. will probably one day go to stud, and the fact that people will actually breed to him is one of the reasons why this game is suffering.  His "big" race was a third-place finish in a woefully slow Santa Anita Derby, and he hasn't really come close against stakes competition.  His last race at Monmouth wasn't very pretty either.  True, he probably didn't want any part of 12 furlongs, but he sat the garden spot behind an early duel (47 4/5 for the half is fast for the distance), and couldn't make up any ground.  He's now been away for almost two months, and is sure to be an underlay.  Pitch him and move on, right?

I love him...

...well as much as a horseplayer can love a runner like Sam P.

The alternatives just don't appeal to me.  Shone earned a 93 Beyer two back at Saratoga running seven furlongs in a tepid 1:25.10.  While the main track was slow that day, it must be noted that an off-the-turf maiden special weight for two-year-old fillies went in 1:23.57 earlier on the card.  I don't like Shone's race, and I didn't like his recent non-finish behind Sam P. at the Spa on August 29.  He draws inside, and that's a tough post coming out of the one-mile chute.   He is a Churchill Downs horse for course, but the plethora of recent layoffs has me looking elsewhere. 

Timbucto will certainly be aided by the late scratch of My Private Lake, and he looms the main speed under Rodney Prescott.  I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for his loss two back as he set the pace over an extremely closer-friendly Keeneland surface.  He didn't do much going six furlongs last time out, however, and has a tendency to be a little late with his final lead change.  He's an interesting pace and value play, but I don't see him holding on.

Let It Rock has gotten support on the blog as well as from Mike Beer on drf.com's "Race of the Day" feature (Mike had last week's winner and really does a number on Sam P. this week.  For those so inclined, you can watch the video by clicking on the link below)

http://www.drf.com/video/rod.html

Anyway, back to Let It Rock.  He's one of the few up-and-comers in the field, and he has more than a puncher's chance from the back of the pack.  He rarely runs a bad race, and should get enough pace to attack in the stretch.  He has the turf-to-dirt angle in his corner, and the number earned in the Prairie Meadows Derby is just as good as most of Sam P.'s Beyers.  He has a good chance.

Rhapsodybohemian was a late scratch.

Longley hasn't done much since being taken away from Graham Motion.  He's lost ground during the stretch run of his last three races, and while he faced better animals in his last couple of tries, his recent form is concerning. 

I gave a long look to Coach Ryan before eventually relegating him to "underneath" status.  He's really put it all together with the addition of blinkers, and the stretchout to this one-turn mile won't be a problem.  He loves it at Churchill Downs, and should be sitting a nice second-flight stalking trip under Miguel Mena (replacing Calvin Borel).  I didn't like that he may have been aided by the closer-favoring Presque Isle Downs surface when winning a 'n3L' allowance on September 7, and he was able to save every inch of ground that day.

Geste has some speed, and may attempt to keep Timbucto company on the front end.  He seems to be at his best when he's on or near the lead, but his numbers are light when compared to those of the top contenders.  If he presses Timbucto, he really helps out the stalkers and closers. 

One of those late ralliers is Itsallboutthechase, a three-time winner over the Churchill Downs main track.  He looks like an intriguing longshot in this race.  He's going second off the layoff, and is utilizing the same turf to dirt move that resulted in a one-turn mile allowance win at Churchill earlier in the year.  As a matter of fact, Itsallaboutthechase is 2-2 going turf to dirt in his career as he won his maiden at Churchill in 2005 off the surface switch.  He's a solid late threat.

Forty Grams makes the third start of the form cycle, and the stakes-winning son of Distorted Humor has run some decent numbers in the past.  He just doesn't seem very reliable, however.  He drifted out badly entering the stretch in the WinStar Derby last year, then didn't change leads in the 2007 Lexington.  He "raced erratically along the backstretch" in the Amsterdam, then failed to benefit from the strong closers bias at Keeneland last time out.  He's a bit like Sam P. in that he's an underachiever, but Sam P. simply runs faster races more consistently.  I do think he'll get a nice setup, and his best race puts him in the mix.


My Private Lake was a late scratch.

Sam P. is not much horse, but I think he beats these on his best day.  He's the most consistent runner from a Beyer perspective, and can work out a good trip from just off the speed.  I'm probably setting myself up for a disappointment, but here are my plays:

$20 Exacta - Sam P./Forty Grams (9-10)

$20 Exacta - Sam P./Coach Ryan (9-6)

$10 Exacta - Forty Grams/Sam P. (10-9)

$10 Exacta - Coach Ryan/Sam P. (6-9)

$10 Exacta - Sam P./Let It Rock (9-3)

$10 Exacta - Sam P./Itsallboutthechase (9-8)

$5 Exacta - Let It Rock/Sam P. (3-9)

$5 Exacta - Itsallboutthechase/Sam P. (8-9)

$5 Exacta - Sam P./Timbuctu (9-2)

$2 Exacta - Timbuctu/Sam P. (2-9)

$3 left over so put it to win on Sam P.

This strategy of keying one horse in the first and second spot hasn't worked out well for me in the last couple of HandiGambling races as my second and third picks have completed the exacta while my "key" was up the track.  I'm not sure if the strategy is as flawed as the handicapping.  I believe if I can't get my key at least into the second spot that I don't deserve to win.

In this race, as you can see, I'm not really going for a score as I'm just not that confident.  The above play is more of a grinding style of attack.

Want to get these losing plays out to you quickly so will save the Past Champions Retrospective for tomorrow. 

Take care, and Julien, you owe me 10%.

Dan