11/05/2009 9:05PM

HandiGambling the Classic

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This week's HandiGambling exercise is the Breeders' Cup Classic, the ninth race at Santa Anita on Saturday for three-year-olds and up going 1 1/4 miles on the Pro-Ride racing surface.

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.

The Ladies' Classic - Classic daily double looks like an interesting bet so I'll go that route with this week's challenge:

Music Notehas been handled wonderfully by Godolphin in 2009.  After a disappointing first run in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap, Music Note was found to be stiff in behind, and the folks in blue backed off until Saratoga.  I had to admit that I wasn't sure what we were going to get from Music Note in the Grade 1 Ballerina in the slop against sprint stalwarts Indian Blessing and Informed Decision, but I never would have guessed that the 2008 Coaching Club American Oaks (10 furlongs) winner would outsprint the big two going into the turn en route to a runaway victory. 
After that win, Godolphin could have even considered a tilt in the Filly and Mare Sprint this coming weekend, but they are more comfortable with their daughter of A.P. Indy going a route o

f ground, and she rewarded their confidence with a facile final prep over next-out graded winner Unbridled Belle in the Beldame at Belmont Park on October 3.
The major question is whether she'll handle a synthetic track as well as she races on dirt, but it wasn't like she was disgraced when third to Zenyatta in last year's Ladies' Classic, and one could argue that she's fresher and more mature right now.
She's tactical enough to race in the second flight, and should be gearing up to challenge likely pacesetter Careless Jewel on the turn.  Barring that bad performance in the Phipps, she's been remarkably consistent.

I have more confidence in Music Note's chances on Friday than I do with anybody in Saturday's battle royale.  So, I'll spread a little bit in the Classic and hope for the best.

I gave a very tepid nod to Rip Van Winklebased on his solid campaign in Europe, but I have to admit that I'm very concerned about his foot issues.  He's had problems all year, and is still a tiny bit of a question mark at ten furlongs.  I think he's just as talented as Raven's Pass, last year's European Classic winner, but he's hard to totally trust at what could be underlaid odds.  

I mentioned Twice Over's credentials in a previous blog, and don't want to go overboard hyping him once again, but he looks like a solid chance at a good price.  He needs to run the race of his life to win this race, but he's always had ability, and it looks like Henry Cecil has his confidence back at 100%.  He's a true ten-furlong runner.

Summer Bird has had an excellent campaign, grabbing the Belmont, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, and he's shown much-improved early interest since Tim Ice added blinkers in the "Test of the Champion."  The Pro-Ride question rears its ugly head once again as Summer Bird was taken away from Southern California last year after injuring himself while training over synthetics.  Was the injury caused by a dislike for the synthetics, or was it simply a matter of a young horse going through growing pains?  We'll find out Saturday afternoon, but I can't throw him out based on his recent form.

Quality Road couldn't stay with Summer Bird in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and it's possible that ten furlongs is a bit beyond his scope.  He still has shown a lot of potential during an injury-marred campaign, and his good early speed could allow him to get the jump on his main competition.  The synthetic question is here as well, but if he stays near his 12-1 morning line odds, he's worth the gamble. 

I have a lot of respect for the other Classic contenders, but I won't be spinning the wheel.

Mine That Bird makes his second start off throat surgery, and always has a puncher's chance, but he's had a lot of hard races this year, and may be past his peak form.

Colonel Johncan certainly win this. He's shown a lot of grit in 2009, returning from a pulled muscle in his hind end and a bout with pleural pneumonia to win the Wickerr, and just miss in the Goodwood  It seems like he's rounding into his best game, and he could certainly spoil my HandiGambling party.

Zenyatta is a wonderful mare, and my heart will be rooting for her to keep her unbeaten streak intact, but she's going to have to improve off her recent Beyers, has never raced at 10 furlongs, and will probably be overbet.  My heart says 'yes,' but my wallet will stay closed.

I think that Richard's Kidmay be even better over longer distances, and he's been a revelation since adding blinkers, switching to synthetics, and coming under the tutelage of Bob Baffert.  You know he'll be with Mine That Bird and Zenyatta early.  Let's see if he can outkick them.  It wouldn't be a huge surprise if he does.

Gio Pontipreviously won four Grade 1 races on turf, and was beaten by a combination of the 12-furlong distance and boggy ground in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on October 3.  He has a nice burst of speed, is proven over the Pro-Ride, and would be a very deserving winner.  I wonder if he is a bit over the top after a tough stretch of races.

Einsteinis one of my all-time favorite horses, and he showed his affinity for the Pro-Ride when winning the Big Cap.  His Pacific Classic was good, and his tactical speed should have him in a comfortable spot heading into the final turn.  He would be another feel-good story as a hard-hitting oldtimer getting his just desserts.

Girolamohas potential, and may turn out to be a big time 4-year-old, but I wonder if this is a case of too much too soon.  He changed back to his wrong lead once he made the front from Kensei in the Jerome, has never raced around two turns, and has never run on synthetics.

Regal Ransom will likely be among the early leaders, but he walked on the lead in the Super Derby, and I'm not sure if he got enough out of that race, his first since the Kentucky Derby, to have the proper foundation to beat this kind of field.

Awesome Gem is a joy to own, but doesn't win very often.  He may be at his best on wet dirt at this point in his career, and is another that might appreciate more distance.

Here's how I'll play it:

$25 Daily Double - Music Note with Rip Van Winkle (7-10)
$25 Daily Double - Music Note with Twice Over (7-5)
$25 Daily Double - Music Note with Summer Bird (7-3)
$25 Daily Double - Music Note with Quality Road (7-12)

Best of luck to all.

I don't really have many clever opinions during the weekend.  I like Forever Together to repeat in the Filly and Mare Turf, and she'll be bet hard.  

One possible longshot is Vale of Yorkin the Juvenile, a speedy colt adding Lasix for Godolphin that may try to take them on a merry chase on the front end. 

After initially discarding her earlier in the week, I'm going to include She Be Wild in the Juvenile Fillies.  She was in and among horses heading into the far turn of the Alcibiades, and may have gotten a lot out of that race.