03/17/2011 2:18PM

HandiGambling 225 (Gulfstream Turf)

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Today's HandiGambling 225 exercise is the seventh race at Gulfstream, a maiden special weight for 3-year-old fillies at one 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. 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.

As of this writing, the turf is FIRM.

Let's scratch #13 LADY LINDY, #14, SILVER SCREAMER, #15 PASSIONATE GOLD, and #16 REFUGIO.

The portable rail is scheduled to be out 36 FEET.

Uncle Steve T. picked a wide-open maiden event.  As I'm not too enamored with the runners with established turf form, I'm going to lean on some new faces.  I will feel more comfortable playing this race from a multi-race perspective as I'll use my top four selections in the Pick 5 and Bet 3, but, alas, this is HandiGambling.  Here goes nothing.

#9 SEX APPEAL's sire, Dynaformer (77-782, 10% with firsters; 98-702, 14% with first-time turf performers) has been in a bit of a slump with debut runners (2 for his last 40).  Also, trainer Shug McGaughey is only 1 for his last 36 with first-time starters (that winner came last week in a turf route at Gulfstream with a runner out of an A.P. Indy mare). 
Those numbers aren't very appealing, and the immediate female family (dam was 1-15, 0-1 on turf, and has yet to drop a turf winner from two previous grass starters) doesn't provide a ton of excitement as well.  Add in the fact that Sex Appeal, a $120,000 RNA as a yearling, only shows one published workout since Valentine's Day, and I'm beginning to wonder why in the world I'm picking her on top. 
The Dynaformers, historically, do well on grass, however, and the dam is a half-sister to American 1000 Guineas (turf route) winner Consequence (dam is a full sister to stakes-winning router Strategy).  There is a good amount of class deep in the pedigree (second dam is Educated Risk, female family of Inside Information), and I'm not too worried about the distance.  Plus, the price should be right in a race where I don't trust many of the horses that have previously raced on grass. 

#3 CELESTINA may be the most intriguing runner in the field.  A daughter of Ghostzapper (9-53, 17% with first-time turf runners), Celestina attempted to rally over a speed-favoring dirt track in her career debut.  The dam won the Zadracarta Stakes going six furlongs on the grass, and has foaled 1 prior turf starter (2-0-0-1 on grass). 
Celestina shows fascinating recent workouts.  The February 27 and March 8 works match up with trainer Reade Baker's Sligovitz (Grade 2-placed older performer with 102 turf Beyer) while the March 12 drill matches Baker's older performer, Lord Justice (multiple stakes-winner ran 84 Beyer in only grass start). 
Baker, a high-percentage conditioner based in Canada, does not show good stats at Gulfstream, however.  He is 5-97 here over the past five years, and is only 1 for his last 23.  I'm expecting Celestina to show improved speed on the stretchout, and she should be a nice price as well.

Of the horses that have raced on grass, it's possible that #2 CELESTIAL KITTEN is the best of the lot.  A daughter of grass-loving Kitten's Joy, Celestial Kitten has hit the board in all three starts, but it must be noted that she has lost ground from the stretch call to the finish in each of those races.  Last time out, she finished ahead of My Redbyrd, a filly that returned to graduate on grass at Tampa Bay Downs with an 80 Beyer.  The layoff is somewhat of a concern, but trainer Chad Brown shows excellent numbers with similar layoff runners.

#12 RACE TO URGA must avoid a wide trip from the far outside post position, but she shows some solid workouts for trainer Christophe Clement, and need not be All Along to win this race.  A daughter of Bernstein (30-300, 10% with firsters; 28-198, 14% with first-time turfers), Race to Urga is out of a dam that finished third in the French 1000 Guineas (she was a listed winner at one mile on grass in Ireland).  She certainly has the pedigree and connections to win this.

As for the others:

#1 FRONTSIDE removes blinkers while stretching out in distance, and could work out a good ground-saving trip from close to the pace.  She's improved drastically since being switched to turf and has been well-supported at the windows in each of her races.  Last time out, she finished ahead of Silver Gem, who returned to score in a $35,000 maiden claimer going five furlongs on grass with a 67 Beyer.  Frontside's dam was stakes-placed on turf at Ellis Park.

#4 PAMPERING is the first starter out of Hot Attraction, a mare that finished third in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes sprinting on the main track in Southern California (she was 0-1 on grass).  Pampering raced wide in her first start of the year, and can do better with that race under her girth.  I'm not completely sold on the quality of the field she faced last time out, but Pampering has some upside.

#6 LADY ASPEN is by Grand Reward (7-55, 13% with first-turf runners) out of Candace in Aspen (1-5 on grass).  From the family of Preakness winner Timber Country, Lady Aspen has a wonderful pedigree, and adds Lasix for her second start after being bet down to 7-2 at Keeneland last fall.  Although trainer Ken McPeek does very well with first-time Lasix runners, it's interesting to note that none of the nine runners that returned from the October 17 race came back to crack the trifecta next-out. 

#5 STRIKE IT GREEN didn't have an easy trip when finishing behind Celestial Kitten, and she'll add blinkers for a barn that is having a nice meet.  The dam was a multiple stakes-winner on grass, and Strike It Green is a full-sister to stakes-winning turf performer Noble Strike.  She has as many layoff lines as she does races, however, somewhat calling her fitness into question.

#8 EXCHANGING SMILES broke poorly in her career debut, but passed some tired horses to hit the board going five furlongs.  She is a full sister to a turf winner and the dam's only career win came on grass.  Exchanging Smiles finished ahead of My Donna Jean on February 3, and that filly returned to score on dirt in a $50,000 maiden claimer with a 68 Beyer. 

#7 OVERRATED has a strong turf pedigree.  The dam was a multiple Grade 2 winner on grass, and has already foaled stakes-winners Love Kiss and Love Sting (both added-money winners on turf).  Overrated can be forgiven her debut going a one-turn mile at Woodbine in a race that featured a pair of next-out winners (Smart Sting made it 2-2 in her career with an entry-level allowance win on grass at Gulfstream with a 76 Beyer). 

#10 GHARBIAH hasn't done much running to date, but it's possible that the addition of blinkers will wake this filly up.  She's kin to Grade 3 winner Cuando Puede, multiple stakes-winner Cuando (4-13 on grass), Grade 3-placed Cuanto Es (3-10 on turf), and multiple Grade 1 turf winner Honey Ryder.  She certainly has the bloodlines, and didn't have a great trip in her turf debut.  It's probably too early to give up on her.

#11 SUSANS STRONG HOPE adds blinkers and stretches out in distance so I won't be too surprised if she shows improved early speed with the five-pound apprentice named.  The sire is 4-57 (7%) with first-time turf runners, and the multiple stakes-winning dam went 6-0-0-2 on grass.  Susans Strong Hope is a half-sister to multiple stakes-winning sprinter Im a Dixie Girl, and stakes-winning turfer First Ascent.

It's a really fun race for pedigree buffs as well as followers of trainer patterns.  Again, I'll go four deep in the multis and take a HandiGambling swing with this wager:

$50 Win-Place - Sex Appeal (#9)

Best of luck to all.