10/21/2010 12:03PM

HandiGambling 207 (Sycamore Stakes)


Today's HandiGambling 207 exercise is the eighth race from Keeneland, the Grade 3 Sycamore Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on the turf course.

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. Please post your plays and analysis to the blog.  Past performances are available at the previous blog post.  In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference. One entry per person please. I reserve the right to approve or deny any entries.

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 #9 CLOUDY'S KNIGHT and #14 LEIPZIG.

The turf course is FIRM.

This race could be renamed the Methuselah Derby as there are some salty old-timers that have been around for a good long while. 

In my opinion, it's a contentious race, and I can make a case for most of the field.  Thus, I'll try to find a price.

#5 YATE'S BLACK CAT is an in-and-outer that has banked over a half-million bucks, and the seven-year-old grandson of Storm Cat has done some good work at Keeneland, hitting the board in all five tries over this turf course.  He was second in the Forerunner here in 2006, won an entry-level allowance at Keeneland the following season, missed by a neck in a conditioned allowance here in 2008, was third in last year's Sycamore at 20-1 odds, and was third in a conditioned allowance during the 2010 spring meeting. 
He received a nice setup to win his seasonal debut at Gulfstream Park, but hasn't been able to put it together in six subsequent races.  Last time out, in a listed race at Ellis Park, he was in good position turning for home, altered course to the rail in midstretch, and simply lacked a stretch kick. 
It's possible he's beginning to get a little bit long in the tooth as his speed figures  are in decline, but he has some tactical speed, and it's possible that trainer Dale Romans has been pointing to this race all along (this will be Yate's Black Cat's second start following a layoff line). 

#2 FREE FIGHTER seems like a tough gelding to ride as he often makes premature mid-race bids in these marathon races, and then, understandably, has nothing left when the real racing begins.  He does have some back quality, however, as a multiple graded winner at this twelve-furlong distance.  It wouldn't be surprising if he's sitting a loose second in the early going, and he should be among the first to challenge PRESIOUS PASSION on the final turn.   The "Keeneland Clocker Report" for October 14 noted that he gave a "nice finish, handled the going well." 

#11 TAJAAWEED, a Group 3 winner in England at ten furlongs, suffered from hind-end problems that sidelined him for almost a year prior to his North American debut.  Trained by Dan Peitz, he did win his first start in this country, and can go better here in his second start of the form cycle following a prep on synthetic behind runaway winner Successful Dan.  He wheels back on only 12 days rest and has price potential. 

#1 SOUTHERN ANTHEM disappointed last time out at Colonial Downs, but he was in against the sharp Vanquisher (won next two runs in stakes at Mountaineer) while the fourth-place finisher, Pleasant Strike, returned to win an optional claimer at Saratoga with a 92.  The distance is the main issue as he's never raced past nine furlongs.  The "Keeneland Clocker Report" for October 4 mentioned that Southern Anthem gave a "strong finish under strong urging."

#12 REZIF's last race was so unlike his previous 16 starts that one must wonder if it was an anomaly based on the yielding ground.  He had never Beyered higher than a 91 in his career, but he popped up 23 points to win the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf by open lengths over Free Fighter.  It seems as though he's found his niche as a turf stayer, but he'll have to do it again before I'm totally on the bandwagon.

#10 YOUR ROUND removes blinkers in preparation for his first start past ten furlongs (he's 0-2 at that distance), and he's likely to sit in the second flight behind a clear Presious Passion.  He's only 2-24 lifetime, and failed as the favorite last time out over the Woodbine polytrack.  While the third-finisher from that race returned to Beyer 87 when thiird in a $60,000 optional claimer, the winner that day came back to run eighth in the Ontario Derby.  Your Round may be in a bit steep.

#3 LIGNON'S HERO, a Group 3 winner at this distance on grass in Brazil, won his North American debut over "good" going at Churchill Downs, but hasn't run back to that race in two subsequent starts.  We may forgive his most recent non-effort, a last-place finish over synthetic, and he made a late move in the restricted John's Call Stakes two back at Saratoga.  He'll likely get a fast pace to attack for an underrated barn. 

#8 SOLITAIRE won the John's Call at 13 furlongs way back in 2009, but never made much headway in this year's running, and now will have to go 12 panels off an early August layoff.  Of the nine horses to run back from the 2010 John's Call, only two returned to hit the board next-out, and one was in a $40,000 claimer on polytrack at Keeneland. 

#7 MUSKETIER has been masterfully handled by top trainer Roger Attfield.  The gray, eight-year-old has suffered from various aches and pains, but when he's healthy, Attfield gets him ready to run.  He suffered from body soreness prior to the Grade 2 Elkhorn during the spring meet, but it didn't stop the veteran as he upset BRASS HAT  at 7-1 odds.  Now, he'll have to deal with yet another long layoff.  He's a solid war horse, but I'm not sure I want him at a short price.

#13 LEMONADE KID has won three times in his career, but all of those victories came against Illinois-bred competition.  He was last seen bombing as the favorite over polytrack during the FormBlog Convention, but he's a better performer on grass.  He almost upset the Grade 3 Stars N Stripes two back on turf and may improve in his third start of the form cycle.  The "Keeneland Clocker Report" for October 14 noted that he gave a "very nice finish on his own, last quarter in 23/4." 

#5 BRASS HAT is a venerable nine-year-old gelding that has earned over $2 million in his career.  He showed a bit of late life last time when finishing ahead of the top pick, and he was facing a sharp winner in Turallure (came back to take an allowance at this meet with a 91 Beyer).  He'll be kicking late, but has been beaten by several of these in the past.  The "Keeneland Clocker Report" for October 15 noted that there still may be life in the old boy yet, as he "looks good, finished well with Borel up, galloped out 112/2."  Seven mornings earlier, he reportedly gave a "good finish on his own, Borel up."

#6 PRESIOUS PASSION is the key to this race.  The old Presious Passion, the very, very good Presious Passion, would likely scoot to the front, run off to a big lead, and easily handle this group.  But, we haven't seen the good Presious Passion since he went to Dubai for the Sheema Classic.  He should be sharper than he was when the beaten favorite at Delaware last time out, and will be uncontested on the lead down the backstretch.  He's very much the horse to beat, but I'm not sure I want to take a short price on a horse that may be tailing off form. 

A fun race featuring some old favorites.  I'll cross my fingers and play it this way:

$50 Win-Place - Yate's Black Cat (#4)

Best of luck to all.

With Keeneland Babies, a trip to Woodbine for a Saturday seminar, and preparing for the weekend DRF videos, I may be incognito until next week.

By the way, if anyone is going to be up at Woodbine on Saturday, I'd love to meet you.