11/27/2009 12:39PM

HandiGambling 161 (Clark Handicap)


This week's HandiGambling 161 exercise is the eleventh race from Churchill Downs, the 135th running of the Grade 2, $400,000 Clark Handicap for three-year-olds and upward at 1 1/8 miles on the main track. 

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.

We're fast and firm at Churchill Downs, and there are no scratches as of this writing.

Many of these runners have had long, hard campaigns, and I'm looking for a runner that fits the bill as a "now" horse.  I landed on #8 Etched, a lightly-raced four-year-old that has yet to taste defeat in North America for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.  A Darley homebred by Forestry out of Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine, Etched easily won his first two starts as a juvenile before being shipped to Dubai to prepare for his three-year-old season.  As we've seen with many North American imports to Dubai, Etched imploded under the hot desert sun.  He finished fourth in his only start overseas, and has suffered from myriad injuries since that race.  He missed over nine months with a cracked cannon bone to his left foreleg, but returned better than ever at four, a testament to the training job from McLaughlin and his team. 
In his first start this year, Etched was asked to navigate nine furlongs at Saratoga, and he showed no rust from the injury-induced layoff, winning nicely after being prominently-placed throughout.  In his most recent start, the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup over sloppy going, Etched tracked the pace of a rabbit before taking the lead with three furlongs to go.  At that point, Etched was attacked from both sides by challengers, and it looked as if his rider, Alan Garcia, was taken aback by the brazen moves from his rivals.  Etched responded once asked for run, however, and the outcome was never really in doubt. 

There doesn't seem to be much quality speed in the Clark Handicap, and Garcia should have Etched on or near the lead heading into the backstretch run.  This should be his toughest test to date, but I'm hoping for another forward move as he only makes the third start of the form cycle. 

As for the others:

#1 You and I Forever is 2-3 at Churchill Downs, and 1-10 everywhere else, and you may want to throw out his last three races on wet tracks (he's 0-7 on wet going, and 3-5 on fast dirt).  He missed a lot of time earlier in the year due to knee surgery, and his Beyers have yet to return to his best races of 2008.  He should save ground for a top barn, but needs to pick up his game a bit to stage the upset.

#2 Macho Again missed the Breeders' Cup Classic due to a cough, and he shows a 19-day gap in the work tab between October 17 and November 5.  Like You and I Forever, he thrives at Churchill Downs, winning the Derby Trial here at three, and a slow running of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap earlier this year.  He's been in with some of the better horses in the country in 2009, but this will be his eighth start this year, and the late-runner may not get a ton of pace to attack in the stretch.

#3 Giant Oak has yet to live up to his potential, and the gargantuan son of Giant's Causeway may be slightly better-suited to turf and synthetic surfaces.  He did run a bang-up second in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes here last year, but hasn't cracked the triple-digit Beyer plateau, and is another closer that would appreciate more pace up front.

#4 Demarcation is a graded stakes winner on both turf and dirt, but he took advantage of a hot early pace when swooping past his foes in the Ack Ack Handicap around one turn here three weeks ago.  Like the two rivals breaking directly to his inside, Demarcation needs some help up front.

#5 Blame has never finished off the board in his career, and was a sharp entry-level allowance winner at Churchill Downs during the summer meeting.  He enjoyed a perfect rail-skimming trip to win the Curlin Stakes at this distance at Saratoga, and then was stymied by slow fractions set by loose-on-the-lead Regal Ransom in the Grade 2 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.  Blame rebounded by winning the Grade 2 Fayette Stakes over Keeneland's polytrack last time out, but he has a bad habit of drifting in the stretch, and he may not be able to get away with that against these kind of horses. 

#6 Anarko, a Group 3 winner in his native Chile, has yet to win after stateside trips to the post, and has been dealt losses at Hoosier Park and Remington Park.  He had things his own way on the lead in a short field at Keeneland last time out, but was no match for Dubious Miss, a runner he'll have to face once again this afternoon.  He's hard to recommend.

#7 Anak Nakal won the Kentucky Jockey Club here in 2007, but is only 1-13 since that race, and his lack of early speed often puts him behind the eight ball.  He wasn't embarrassed when third behind Etched in his first start since finishing last in the Dubai World Cup in the spring, and can move forward off that run, but will need some pace and race luck.

#9 Bullsbay missed a week of training leading up to the Breeders' Cup after injuring the frog on the bottom of his right front foot, and he never lifted a hoof in the Synthetic Mile.  Bullsbay won the Grade 3 Alysheba Stakes over this course earlier in the year, and he showed an explosive turn of foot when capitalizing on a hot early pace and wonderful ride by Jeremy Rose in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.  He's yet another that likes to run from off-the-pace, and this will be his eleventh start of the year.  One has to wonder if he's a bit over the top.

#10 Kiss the Kid was scheduled to retire to stud after the Meadowlands Cup, but his connections had to be heartened by the career-best Beyer effort in the slop that day, and re-routed him to the Clark before his date with the fillies and mares in the breeding shed.  I wonder if his big race at the Meadowlands had more to do with the wet racing strip than anything else as he's 2-4 on wet going, and only 1-8 over fast dirt.  A multiple Grade 3 winner on grass, he may be worth a flier at long odds as he prefers to race close to the lead.

#11 Timber Reserve has been plagued with physical problems since winning the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at three.  He split the frog on the bottom of one of his feet on three occasions leading up to a disastrous ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Whitney last year, and suffered from a respiratory problem and suspensory injury prior to a seventh-place effort behind Etched at Saratoga.  He has some early speed, but the five-year-old has yet to regain the form from a couple of years ago.

#12 Misremembered took the measure of Giant Oak in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby in his first start on dirt, and his good tactical speed should serve him well this afternoon.  He must avoid a wide trip from an outside post position, and his only stakes start against older runners resulted in a tenth-place finish behind Richard's Kid and Einstein in the Pacific Classic over polytrack.

#13 Dubious Miss, like Misremembered, has excellent positional speed, and he fought Breeders' Cup Synthetic Mile winner Furthest Land all the way to the wire when a neck shy in the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic two starts back.  He's 4-5 at Churchill Downs, but nine furlongs against top-class opponents may be just a bit out of his reach.

#14 Einstein disappointed when eleventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but the likeable seven-year-old has been dependable throughout his 29-race career, and the defending champion obviously likes this surface.  The outside post is somewhat concerning for a horse that seems to find trouble more often than not, and he may be bet into underlay status.

I'll play $100 to Win on Etched (#8)

Best of luck to all.

Back Monday with the recap of the big holiday weekend of racing.