03/08/2013 3:26PM

HandiGambling Gulfstream Turf

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The HandiGambling exercise for Friday, March 8 is the ninth race at Gulfstream Park, a $25,000 claimer for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

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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 turf course is listed as FIRM.

Let's scratch #13 WITH MOMS BLESSING, #14 SUPAH JALENE and #15 SUGARTIME JAZZ.

The temporary rail will be set at 24 feet.

This race is a real skullbuster.

Perhaps #3 SOLA GRATIA can't run anymore as she didn't pick up her feet in her first start in over eight months, but that race was on dirt and she may be a bit more effective on the grass.  The last time she dipped her hooves on the green was on March 29, 2012 and she overcame some adversity to defeated conditioned claimers over this course and trip.  That afternoon, she was looped and blindswitched by a horse making a premature wide move entering the final turn.  Sola Gratia stayed to her task, however, and eventually wore down the leaders in the final strides.  She takes a drop in class for her second race back and it's interesting to note that she won her maiden going dirt to turf in her second race following a layoff.  There doesn't appear to be much early speed in this race and Sola Gratia has enough positional zip to find a good spot under Joe Bravo.  It's difficult to trust most of the horses in this race, but I'll take a small stab with Sola Gratia.

#6 PROUDROAD TO GLORY was the beaten favorite in a similar spot fifteen days ago when she may have been compromised by a lack of pace to attack (the winner went gate-to-wire after setting moderate splits).  Claimed out of that race by David Vivian (4-21, 19%, $2.30 ROI over the past five years off the claim), Proudroad to Glory may face another difficult pace scenario in this spot.  Also, she hasn't reached the winner's circle since New Year's Eve 2011 and is on a ten-race losing streak.  She has the back numbers to compete, but I wonder if she'll get bet once again (5-1 or less in all starts save one since August 1, 2011), and I don't want to play any short prices here. 

#11 SPEEDY'S GAL received a beautiful trip when beating two next-out winners at Saratoga, but she failed to find that form in two subsequent starts (one over "good" going, the other off a two-plus month layoff).  She drew a tough post position for her first start of the year and trainer David Donk may be prepping her for the New York turf season later this spring (Donk has only run nine horses at Gulfstream over the past five years and is 1-25 over the past two seasons with horses returning from 61-180 day layoffs).  A repeat of that Saratoga race would put her in the mix here, however, and she figures to be a decent price under Joel Rosario.

#2 COUGAR AT HEART has back races that are certainly good enough to win and she takes a prodigious drop in class from an 'n2x' optional claimer at Tampa Bay on February 9 (four horses have returned from that race to crack the trifecta with 80+ Beyers).  The main issue with Cougar At Heart is that she hasn't won a race since September 5, 2011, but the class relief may solve that problem.  She ran well when wide off a glacial pace at Parx on September 16 and goes second off the layoff for a top, albeit struggling, trainer.  Cougar At Heart can certainly contend.

#9 SANSANNAH received a beautiful ride and trip when a half-length winner over similar at 7 1/2 furlongs on December 6.  She saved ground, eased out on the turn and prevailed despite being late to change leads and drifting out in the stretch.  She exits a race that was dominated by speed horses (the 1-2 finishers ran that way around the track) and she may have somewhat compromised by the way that race set up.  Sansannah was claimed from that start by Jose Garoffalo (2-39, 5%, $0.43 ROI over the past five years off the claim), a trainer that is 0-33 over the last year with turf starters.  I believe that Sansannah is better than her last running line and she was in decent form prior to that race.  She's not out of this at decent odds.

#1 ISLAND TIME has some angles in her favor as she drops in class for her second start following a five-month layoff.  She has good tactical speed, an excellent post position and figures to be in the thick of things when the field swings into the stretch.  The winner of the $91,000 Desert Vixen Stakes at Monmouth in 2010, Island Time also has the back class to factor.  She's very logical after chasing the solid Lemons to Lemonade (returned to finish third in a $25,000 starter allowance with a 78 Beyer), but she's going to get bet and I want a bigger price in a race like this.

#10 HERE'S D'BRIDE rallied stoutly for fourth behind the aforementioned Lemons to Lemonade (returned to beat Island Time for 40K) and Lexington Pearl (returned to win an optional claimer on dirt with a 78 Beyer before finishing second, ahead of the top pick, with an 89 Beyer on February 18).  She has a big stretch kick, but horses like this are usually at the mercy of race and pace luck, and the fractions may not be hot enough for her to truly appreciate.  Expect a good late rally, but she'll need pace help up front.

#8 JALAL hasn't raced since March 7, 2012 and has the tendency to be overeager in the early portion of her races.  She was in good form prior to the layoff and trainer Scooter Dickey has decent numbers with long layoff runners (Flat Out won off a 603-day break, Kingship finished second in a turf sprint stakes race at Saratoga following 502 days off).  Still, Jalal may need a run and she also likes to rally from out of it.  I'll take a wait-and-see approach for the time being.

#7 EXCHANGE MISS is 0-15 on grass and has beaten a total of six horses home in her last six starts.  The gray mare has been over 100-1 odds in her last two races and needs a major step forward to upset the apple cart this afternoon.

#5 STARSHIP SHAWTY is another that may have been compromised by the slow pace in that February 8 event and may be rounding back into form for the third start of the racing cycle.  Like several of the other entrants, however, Starship Shawty prefers to make one run and would likely need a good amount of hitting up front to properly setup her kick. 

#12 SEAMLESS has some early speed and might get good position going into the first turn despite being hung in the outside starting stall.  She might the one to take out of that February 8 race as she broke poorly and rallied for third despite the presence of much pace.  An alert break and aggressive ride could put Seamless into the race earlier today and that could be a big advantage.  I've never been a huge fan of hers, but she's not out of the equation.

#4 PLAYING FOR FUN has some positional speed and it would nice if Emma-Jayne Wilson decides to put her on or near the lead.  Playing for Fun didn't have the easiest trip in that February 8 race and would likely benefit from an aggressive early placement.  Still, I have the feeling that she may be a tad better on synthetic. 

Here's how I'll HandiGamble a very tough heat:

$50 WIN - SOLA GRATIA (3)
$20 EXACTA BOX - SOLA GRATIA - PROUDROAD TO GLORY (3-6)
$5 EXACTA - SPEEDY'S GAL - SOLA GRATIA (11-3)
$5 EXACTA - ISLAND TIME - SOLO GRATIA (1-3)

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/tampa-bay-derby-tampa-bay-downs

http://www.drf.com/events/san-felipe-stakes-santa-anita

http://www.drf.com/news/oaklawn-park-donoharm-faces-toughest-foes-yet-razorback

http://www.drf.com/news/oaklawn-park-flashy-gray-steps-stretches-out-honeybee

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

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You can follow me on Twitter at DRF_DanIllman.