03/02/2013 12:05PM

HandiGambling the Gotham

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The HandiGambling exercise for Saturday, March 2 is the tenth race at Aqueduct, the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles over the inner dirt course.

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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.

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As of this writing, the main track is listed as FAST

Let's scratch #1A NOW AND THEN.

Cornelio Velasquez will ride #6 SIETE DE OROS.

While the two starting highweights look dangerous on paper, there are some question marks hanging over their heads.  We saw a huge longshot upset last week's Risen Star Stakes and I'm going to swing for the fences with a big bomb in the Gotham while using the logical favorites in the late Pick Four.

#10 WEST HILLS GIANT is a New York-bred that needs to improve on the numbers in order to win this race, but is proven at this distance, goes out for a red-hot trainer/jockey combination (Terranova and Espinoza won the Sam F. Davis with Falling Sky) and has some angles in his corner (second off the layoff, blinkers on, sprint to route). I liked both of his efforts on dirt, albeit against weaker company.  In last year's New York Breeders' Futurity at Finger Lakes, West Hills Giant overcame a bad stumble at the start to win in comfortable fashion.  The most recent effort, the Java Gold Stakes at six furlongs on February 10, may serve as a nice prep for the Gotham.  He raced inside every step of the way and was only beaten a length despite not looking that comfortable on the rail.  Perhaps he'll focus better with the blinkers and he figures to be outside after breaking from post eleven.  Admittedly, he's a stab, but I'll be rewarded handsomely if he comes through.

#11 OVERANALYZE is the horse to beat for the Pletcher/Velazquez juggernaut based on his quality efforts against good competition last year.  If he runs anywhere near the 99 Beyer he hung up for the Grade 2 Remsen in November, the others are likely scrambling for second money. Overanalyze will have to go two turns off a 3 1/2 month layoff, however, is giving weight to most of the field and is stuck in the widest post position.  He ran well in the Remsen, to be sure, but the runner-up may have hung just a bit after making a grueling half-mile bid to contention in midstretch.  He's dangerous.  He's also a short price.

#7 VYJACK is undefeated from three starts for Rudy Rodriguez and has earned competitive figures in all of his races.  He passed the two-turn test when winning the Grade 2 Jerome over some of these horses, but he may have been aided by a speed-friendly track that day.  Vyjack has good tactical speed and figures to be prominent when the field swings into the stretch.  Despite the Jerome win, I'm still a bit leery of him at this distance, especially considering that he's giving seven pounds to all but Overanalyze.  Like Overanalyze, he's a very logical contender but won't be a bargain at the betting windows.

On paper, #3 ESCAPEFROMREALITY looked the main speed in the Grade 3 Withers, but he was wrangled back behind horses after he made the lead on the first turn.  He still ran a game race, finishing second behind the talented Revolutionary and he is two necks away from being perfect in his three-start career.  He drew a comfortable inside post position and should be close to the early pace.  That last race may have been a good learning experience for him and he is an intriguing alternative to the favorites at fair odds. 

#9 SKY CAPTAIN makes his third start of the form cycle after chasing gate-to-wire winner Cerro in the faster division of optional claimers at Gulfstream on January 26.  That was his first start around two turns and he was hardly disgraced.  After winning his maiden by a country mile, he missed the remainder of his juvenile campaign due to a wrenched ankle. and looks to be rounding back to his best form for a dangerous trainer. 

#8 ELNAAWI has yet to race on fast ground and is stepping up from a maiden win, but he earned quality pace figures in that score and has the look of a very promising sophomore for Shadwell Stable and Kiaran McLaughlin.  A half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner To Honor and Serve, Elnaawi adds Lasix and owns a good amount of upside potential.  I'm expecting a move forward and it will be interesting to see how much action he'll take although I question the quality of competition he defeated on January 12 (the runner-up returned to finish a well-beaten third at 4/5 at Parx while the third-finisher came back to just miss with an 87 at Aqueduct). 

#6 SIETE DE OROS is a pretty cool horse.  A $2,000 yearling purchase that won his maiden for $40,000 at Parx last year, he has emerged as a multiple graded-placed 3-year-old.  He ended up on the lead in the Withers after Escapefromreality handed it to him and he battled gamely to the wire although no match for the top two rivals.  Perhaps he's more effective from slightly off the pace, but I wonder if we've seen his best already. 

#5 AMERIGO VESPUCCI wasn't disgraced in both starts at the meet and is a very consistent performer for trainer Tim Tullock.  He has good tactical speed and will probably run well once again.  He may be a notch or two below the top contenders ability-wise, however, and may be best utilized on the bottom of exotic wagers.

#4 ORE PASS is an intriguing invader from Maryland for Michael Trombetta.  He received a good pace setup in beating weaker foes on January 19 and will be tested for class and stamina in the Gotham.  By juvenile champion War Pass out of a sprint winner, Ore Pass figures to be close to the lead on the stretchout.  He beat mostly exposed rivals in Maryland, but has some upside.  I'll take a wait-and-see approach for the time being.

#2 CHAMPION BOY finished evenly for fifth in the Withers and is a maiden facing some decent stakes horses.  He should save valuable ground from his rail post, but may need a pace collapse to pull off the upset.

McLaughlin also has #1 TRANSPARENT, who has faced some good competition (Archwarrior, Darwin, Orb, Revolutionary) and overcame trouble to prove a popular maiden winner around two turns on January 26.  Only one of the four horses that have returned from that race were able to crack the trifecta (63 Beyer).

Here's how I'll HandiGamble:

$50 WIN-PLACE - WEST HILLS GIANT (#10)

Best of luck to all.

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The handicapping videos that Mike Beer and I produced for the weekend's major stakes races should be up on these links.

http://www.drf.com/events/gotham-stakes-aqueduct

http://www.drf.com/events/santa-anita-handicap-santa-anita

http://www.drf.com/events/swale-stakes-gulfstream-park

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More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.

You can follow me on Twitter at DRF_DanIllman.