11/06/2010 7:26AM

HandiGambling 209 (Breeders' Cup Classic)

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Today's HandiGambling 209 exercise is the eleventh race from Churchill Downs, the 27th running of the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic for three-year-olds an upward at 1 1/4 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. Please post your plays and analysis to the blog.  Past performances are available two 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.

I'm posting this early so don't have the track condition or any late changes.

Despite the quality nature of this year's Classic, the focus for most racing fans and horseplayers, and rightly so, is Zenyatta's quest for a 20th consecutive victory.  Zenyatta doesn't seem to conform to conventional handicapping principles.  Her Beyer Speed Figures never tower over her competition, and thus she is considered vulnerable by many.  I feel that it's very hard for Zenyatta to receive a fast final time as, in most of her races, her opponents slow down the pace to a crawl, and the real running doesn't begin until after six furlongs.  If the pace is slow, the final time (and speed figure) will more than likely be slower than expected.   
To me, it is amazing that there is a "debate" regarding Zenyatta's place in history.  Win or lose this afternoon, I have to consider her one of, if not the best I've seen.  While "great" is thrown around far too liberally in this day and age, I have no problem labeling Zenyatta, and her accomplishments, that lofty award. 

Anyway, on to HandiGambling the Classic.

It is a competitive group with, seemingly, a good amount of early speed.  That may hinder my top selection, #3 HAYNESFIELD, the gate-to-wire winner of the historic Jockey Club Gold Cup at this 10-furlong distance at Belmont Park.  Haynesfield was able to make a fairly easy lead in the JCGC, something that may not happen with QUALITY ROAD, FIRST DUDE, ETCHED, and MUSKET MAN in tonight's lineup, but I can't deny that, easy lead or no, Haynesfield was very, very good that afternoon.  And Haynesfield was very good when winning the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont on July 3 after breaking awkwardly and prompting the pacesetter from the two path.  The bad Haynesfield showed up in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga on August 7.  Haynesfield was very fractious before the start, was rank early, forced to rate behind Quality Road, and soon said, "Forget this."  We'll see which Haynesfield shows up later this evening.  At 12-1 on the morning line, the "good" Haynesfield, pace scenario or no, is worth inclusion.

#8 ZENYATTA carries the hopes of a nation of racing fans as she seeks her 20th straight victory, second consecutive Classic win, and third consecutive Breeders' Cup victory.  If the pace is as quick as anticipated, her late-running style should be aided greatly.  While Zenyatta is rightly labeled a "closer," it's interesting to note that the longest single defecit she's overcome in a race is 13 lengths (last year's Classic with a half in 47 4/5, and the 2009 Clement L. Hirsch with a half-mile in 48 4/5).  If the leaders burn a half in 46 and change, will Zenyatta be 20 lengths out of it down the backstretch?  Can she be expected to make up that kind of ground against the top horses in the country?  With Zenyatta, nothing would surprise me.  She's a super-heroine.  But, I'm a bettor.  And, at 8-5 on the morning line, I must root only with my heart and not with my wallet (although she's certainly in my Pick 4's).

#7 MUSKET MAN is a gutsy little campaigner that tried his heart out when finishing ahead of Haynesfield in the Whitney.  He hounded Quality Road every step of the way while three wide around both turns, and still kept giving it his throughout the entire stretch.  He just missed as the favorite in the Monmouth Cup in his most recent start, a race in which it looked like he would win with ease in midstretch.  Perhaps he wasn't cranked up fully for that race with the Classic looming on the horizon.  He's an interesting value play, but I'm not totally convinced that 10 furlongs is his best trip. 

#1 QUALITY ROAD has had a wonderful year with the only blip coming when headed in the Whitney.  He responded by beating six overmatched opponents in the Grade 1 Woodward at nine furlongs at Saratoga with a 106 Beyer, and shows a quick recent workout over this surface.  Quality Road likes to hear his feet rattle.  Breaking from the inside post, it will be interesting to see how his rider, John Velazquez, plays this game.  Does he send hard from the gate, figuring that Quality Road is the speed of the speed, and not wanting to be locked down on the rail?  Or, does he let the race unfold naturally?  He may be darned if he does, and darned if he doesn't.  If Velazquez guns, he may be forced into an early speed duel.  If he rates, he could get blocked inside.  Quality Road is a good enough horse to overcome adversity.  But, 10 furlongs may be pushing it.  If he gets bet, I can't play him to win.  But he's another that shouldn't be ignored in multi-race wagers and exotics.

Neither should #12 LOOKIN AT LUCKY, the probable three-year-old champion, despite once again drawing a terrible post position for a major ten-furlong race at Churchill Downs (remember the one-hole in the Derby).  It's unwise to doubt Lookin At Lucky's ability (last year's champion juvenile is 9-12 lifetime, and really hasn't run a bad race in his life).  He should get plenty of pace to attack, is comfortable at this distance, and is in the right hands.  The outside post is a nuisance, however.  If Martin Garcia sends looking for early position, Lookin At Lucky may be forced wide throughout.  If he takes back, he'll have to make up a ton of ground while utilizing the same running style as Zenyatta.  Either way, this is a good horse.

#6 FLY DOWN is a late-running three-year-old that should also benefit from a quick and contested pace.  He failed to fire in his first start against elders in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but the pace scenario should be much different this time around.  He's capable of running very quickly (note the 105 Beyer in the Travers), but his poor lead changes concern me.  He'll have to really do everything professionally and correctly if he is to overcome some of the best older runners.  He has some upside, however, and deserves 'C'-level status in the Pick 4. 

#4 FIRST DUDE may be the most talented N2L runner in the country, but these aren't 'N2L' runners.  Plus, his early speed may work to his disadvantage as he draws outside Quality Road and Haynesfield.  First Dude is a grinder.  You'll usually see his rider scrub on him with three-eighths to go before he continues on with his steady beat.  There are more explosive runners than First Dude in the Breeders' Cup Classic.  As with Fly Down, he's a deep 'C'-level play in the Pick 4.

#10 ETCHED is an inspiration.  After winning three of his first four races including the Grade 3 Nashua in 2007, Etched reportedly cracked a cannon bone in his left foreleg and had to miss time.  Since his return, he's won four of five races, but the only loss came to Blame at Churchill Downs after pressing the pace.  A talented and courageous runner, Etched may not have the right running style for this year's Classic, and could be in a bit steep.

#5 BLAME is the blue-collar racehorse that you love to root for.  He doesn't receive the press of a Zenyatta or a Quality Road, but all he does is perform on the track, winning five of his last six, and seven of his last nine.  Although beaten by Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he may have been compromised by the dearth of pace up front, but never stopped trying, plugging away in the stretch to finish four lengths in arrears.  He'll get more pace to attack this evening, and he's tactical enough to get first-run on the late kickers like Zenyatta.  A true horse for the course, Blame is very, very dangerous.  It will be interesting to see what odds he'll end up being.

#9 PLEASANT PRINCE was wisely given a break after a dull Preakness as he was really asked to do too much in an unsuccessful attempt to garner enough earnings for a Kentucky Derby run.  He's been pretty good since returning to races, and he popped his first triple-digit Beyer when winning the Oklahoma Derby on October 10.  He is a closer that should be helped by the scrum up front, but he may not be ready just yet for these hard-hitters.

#11 ESPOIR CITY, the pride of Japan, will try 10 furlongs for the first time, and he may be more of a miler.  The winner of last year's Japan Cup Dirt at nine furlongs, he switched back to his wrong lead after making a late advantage in the Kashiwa Kinen on May 5, and failed as the favorite off a long layoff in the Mile Championship on October 11.  Cigar-like in his transformation from non-descript turf runner to top dirt performer, he'll need to perform like Cigar in order to beat these horses.  I don't think he's Cigar.

#2 PADDY O'PRADO is probably the best three-year-old turf runner in the country, and you really have to admire his versatility.  Grade 1-placed on synthetics, Grade 1-placed on dirt, and a Grade 1 winner on turf, Paddy O'Prado can do it all, and he has the right running style for the race.  This will be his toughest test to date, however, but I can certainly see why he's in this race.  The Mile may be too short while the Turf is too long.  Ten furlongs is just right for Paddy O'Prado, and that's why he's here.  He has a puncher's chance.

One of the toughest races of the year. 

I'll keep it simple and play $50 Win-Place - Haynesfield (#3)

My paper selections are Haynesfield, Zenyatta, Musket Man, Quality Road

I'll be rooting for Zenyatta.

Best of luck to all.

***

Other quick plays today:

Juvenile Turf -   Master of Hounds, Utley, Mantoba, Soldat

Sprint -   Big Drama, Girolamo, Smiling Tiger, Atta Boy Roy

Turf Sprint -  Bridgetown, Grand Adventure, Stradivinsky, Central City

Juvenile - Boys At Tosconova, Uncle Mo, Stay Thirsty, J. B.'s Thunder

Mile - Paco Boy, Goldikova, Delegator, Sidney's Candy

Dirt Mile - Morning Line, Mad Flatter, Tizway, Vineyard Haven

Turf - Workforce - Behkabad, Dangerous Midge, Debussy

Enjoy a great day of racing!