01/14/2009 12:05PM

HandiGambling 116

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Today's HandiGambling 116 exercise is the eighth race at Gulfstream Park, a 'n2x' optional claimer for older runners going a one-turn mile on the main track.  Past performances are available on the previous blog entry.  Remember that you have a mythical $100 with which to wager on the race, and the entrant with the highest money total will receive a "Monthly Enhanced 60-Card Past Performance Plan" (a $136.95 value).

Good luck!

Let's start off with the scratches.  Take out #1A - Alaazo, #3 - Song Shan, and #9 - Whos Crying Now

In my opinion, the key to this race is Zayat Stables' Z Humor (#1).  Winless since dead-heating for first in the 2007 Delta Jackpot, Z Humor may be overlooked by the wiseguys despite racing exclusively in stakes competition during the interim.  It's hard to make reasonable excuses for most of his races as the Delta Jackpot was a major negative key race, he failed to make a dent despite a good trip when third in the Illinois Derby, and probably shouldn't have blown an easy lead after setting moderate fractions last time out.  The main track at the Big A on November 16 seemed to favor outside paths, however, and Z Humor was forced down to the deeper footing near the inner rail for the stretch drive.  Perhaps that made the head difference between first and third.  Trainer Todd Pletcher removes blinkers for this afternoon's assignment, but the scratch of Song Shan leaves this race without much pace, and jockey Eibar Coa should have Z Humor up close from the opening bell.  Although trying older runners for the first time, Z Humor has run races fast enough to win at this level, and should give a good account of himself. 

Morning Line favorite Forest Command (#10) may end up on the lead despite breaking from the far outside post.  The pacesetter of the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs, Forest Command ran a decent race two back against straight 3-year-olds in the Super Derby.  On a track where inside speed was king, Forest Command raced three wide around both turns, and still was only beaten 4 1/2 lengths by rail-skimming My Pal Charlie.  My major issue with Forest Command is that he has an annoying tendency to drift out during the stretch drives of his races, and I wonder if that is a lingering effect of the hock injury that delayed his career debut until June of his sophomore season.  Still, he's never been off the board, shows a quick recent workout, and should be relaxed near the front in this spot.

Dream Maestro (#7) has run quickly in his last few starts at Calder.  In fact, any of his last three Beyers are faster than the last-race Beyer of all his opponents in this race.  Those starts were around two turns, however, and Dream Maestro still must prove that he can succeed around one bend.  He has good tactical speed, won his maiden over this track last year, and goes out for a barn with excellent stats (22%, $3.04 ROI) off 31-60 day layoffs.  He wouldn't be a surprise, and may be the best price of the top three.

In multi-race wagers, I'd play Z Humor, Forest Command, and Dream Maestro, but HandiGambling rewards the single-race bettor.  Anyone else strike my fancy?

Bernulli (#5) responded positively to the addition of blinkers, and although being bred stoutly for turf, he was able to handle the switch to dirt for the first time without much fuss.  He's another runner with decent tactical speed that doesn't have to be so far out of it during the first quarter-mile or so.  Still, with a best Beyer of 85 on his page, he'll need another move forward to win this. 

Golden Age (#2) handles a one-turn mile nicely, but he's been away since November, and only shows three half-mile published drills in the interim.  While I'm usually not thrilled with the rail post coming out of the Gulfstream mile chute, Golden Age seems like a professional type, and Cornelio Velasquez may attempt an in-out pace-tracking trip.  He shouldn't be counted out completely, but is another that needs to run faster (90 Beyer top)

Beautifully-bred Cosmic (#4) prefers to come from off the pace, and that may work against him in this spot.  Both of his wins came around two turns, and one has to wonder if Shug McGaughey is using this as a prep for something longer down the road.  Cosmic hasn't raced since late July when he was overmatched against Mambo in Seattle in a restricted nine-furlong stakes race that went faster than the Jim Dandy (run on the same day) at Saratoga.  With this pedigree, one shouldn't be surprised if he explodes one day and runs a career-best race, but I'll hope it isn't this time.

Izanagi (#6) makes his first start with Lasix, his first start for Bobby Frankel, and his first start in the United States.  He showed a fondness for synthetic racing in France, but Gulfstream dirt is the real stuff, and Izanagi may be more comfortable at longer distances to boot. 

Inti (#8) carries the colors of Shadwell Stable for his first North American start, but recent South American invaders for Kiaran McLaughlin have bombed at Gulfstream.  Shadwell-owned Rock in Bage, a shipper from Argentina trained by McLaughlin, finished sixth in a 'n1x' allowance here on January 10.  Like Inti, Rock in Bage worked a half-mile in 50.40 at Palm Meadows on December 10.

I don't love the race from a single-race perspective so I'll play this bet, and hope to squeak out a profit:

$16 Exacta Box - Z Humor, Forest Command, Dream Maestro ($96)
$4 for Admission and Parking

***

I'd like to take a minute to address the perceived snub against Zayat Stables in the Eclipse Award balloting.   In my opinion, if an ownership group wins the money title, then they should be in the final three.  Unfortunately for Zayat Stables, when the ballots were mailed out to voters in mid-December, they were still $200,000 behind Stronach Stables for the money title.  I'm guessing that many voters unwisely sent in their ballots before the final end-of-year tally, and that may have hurt Zayat in 2008.  Also, this past year seemed to be inundated by owners that were constantly "in the news."  You had the IEAH partnership with Big Brown, Kip Deville, and other top-flight racehorses.  You had Jess Jackson being hailed as a "sportsman" for running Curlin at four.  Godolphin won nine graded stakes.  It's possible the vote was split several ways. 
To avoid something like this from happening again, the Eclipse voters probably shouldn't receive their ballots until after January 1.  With e-balloting, there wouldn't be a timing issue with the announcements.  I completely understand why Team Zayat should be upset.  They won the prestigious money title, and still couldn't crack the final three.  That's wrong, but I don't think it's a snub as much of a timing issue.  It is unfortunate.

Back tomorrow with more.

Take care,

Dan