10/07/2009 4:45PM

HandiGambling 154 (Oak Tree)

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Today's HandiGambling 154 exercise is the seventh race from Oak Tree at Santa Anita, a 'n2x' optional claimer for three-year-olds and up going a flat mile on the turf.

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."   Anyone going over the $100 limit will be disqualified.  In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference.  Past performances are available on the previous blog entry.

I know that there is a time issue for some of you, but let's remember why we began the HandiGambling races in the first place.  The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses, and why we're betting them the way we are.  I'm not asking for a novel, but if you could spare a sentence or two outlining your handicapping angles, and thought processes about wagering, it would be appreciated.

Let's scratch #4 Man to Man and #9 Sartorial.  There is a rider switch on #1 Pleasure to Ride to Alex Solis.  #7 Ridge Dance is listed as a first-time gelding.

I narrowed this race down to two main contenders, and will side with the longer-priced runner.

#1 Pleasure to Ride showed a strong turn of foot to win an entry-level optional claimer at this distance at Del Mar in his most recent appearance.  Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Pleasure to Ride had previously finished close to solid turf performers Massone and Gretsky, and newfound rating tactics seemed to cure him of his second-itis.  He was aided by a strong pace at Del Mar, but there should be solid fractions for him to rally into this afternoon, and it's not like he has to be well off the leaders.  He seems sharp, and has been given some time to recover from his most recent start.  With #2 Black Bear Island likely, and deservedly, taking all of the money, Pleasure to Ride should offer decent enough odds in the Win pool.

#2 Black Bear Island is certainly the horse to beat based on his company lines, and he was just nosed out by the good turf runner Take the Points in the Grade 1 Secretariat for his North American debut.  I think the turnback to a stiff mile will hit the Sadler's Wells colt right between the eyes, and he's the horse to watch when the field turns for home.  If he runs to his paper form, the Group 2 winner is likely headed to the winner's circle. 

As for the rest:

#3 Don Pedro Mendoza was sold by Coolmore for 65,000 guineas at the Tattersalls sale on October 29, 2007 after finishing fifth in an allowance race over polytrack.  Unfortunately, this will be his first start for his new connections, and you have to assume that he's been battling physical problems for the last two years.  He's a half-brother to Oaklawn Handicap (Grade 1) winner Atticus, and showed some speed in his native Ireland, but it's likely he'll need this run.

#5 Mr. Rod showed a lot of promise as a juvenile, but he was sidelined by a foot abscess and a leg chip after winning the Grade 3 Generous Stakes at this distance.  You can forgive his most recent start, a five-furlong turf sprint in his first race following the injury-induced layoff, and Mr. Rod seems like the most likely pacesetter in this spot.  The winner of that August 14 optional claimer, Dancing in Silks, returned to win a pair of statebred stakes races on synthetics including the California Cup Sprint with a 106 Beyer Speed Figure.  The third-finisher, A Lil Dumaani, came back to take a five-furlong turf sprint at this class level with a 93.  Bruno De Julio, the crack workout analyst for Today's Racing Digest (available at http://www.drf.com/data/handicapping/trdigest.html), reports that Mr. Rod is a "good workhorse that showed his turn of foot here and finished well" for the October 1 workout (Bruno caught Mr. Rod in a minute flat while the offical time of the drill is 59.60).  I'm expecting this colt to improve today.

#6 Great Siege didn't impress me when lugging in during his 'n1x' win at Hollywood, and has only raced twice since that November 9, 2008 event.  He returns off a short layoff for David Hofmans, seems at his best when pressing the pace, and may have to work too hard chasing Mr. Rod going into the first turn and down the backstretch.  Bruno notes that he is "carrying good size and weight.  Went OK and was not asked for best" for the October 1 workout clocked in 1:02 flat (official time 1:02.40).  Great Siege seems fond of this course, but the $300,000 yearling buy may be in a bit steep.

#7 Ridge Dance is listed as a first-time gelding for Neil Drysdale, and he was only beaten a length for all the marbles in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes.  That race was two years ago, however, and Ridge Dance hasn't raced since the Del Mar meet...of 2008.  Bruno mentions that Ridge Dance "worked in a threeset for Drysdale and was set as the pacemaker in front of Gotich Samurai and Artiste Royal, both very good horses.  Finished third best but was miscast" for the September 30 workout (clocked in 1:31 flat, official time 1:31.20).  The long layoff is a major concern.

#8 Tangled Tango seems to be rounding into his best form for John Sadler, and he'll make the third start of the form cycle with improving Beyers on display.  He ran some good races on turf at Del Mar last summer, and Rafael Bejarano may have him in a comfortable outside stalking spot for the backstretch run.  He's certainly not impossible, but he caught a tough group.

I'll play it this way:

$50 Win - Pleasure to Ride (1)
$25 Exacta Box - Pleasure to Ride - Black Bear Island (1,2)

Best of luck to all.

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Be back next time with questions, comments, and more.

Take care,

Dan