01/06/2010 6:06PM

HG 167 (Delta)

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This week's HandiGambling 167 exercise is the fourth race from Delta Downs, an optional claimer (30k/n3x) for older horses at one mile 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.  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.

In my multi-race wagers, I would probably go four deep using Steve Crist's "A,B,C,X" method.

Southern Image (#10) may be a bit of a "trap" horse as his last two wins came over wet tracks, this will be his first career route effort, and it didn't look like he beat much last time out (of the four horses to return from the Sam's Town Stakes on December 4, two finished fifth while the other pair finished seventh), but I'm going to fall for him anyway. 
He looked pretty good repulsing the other pace challengers that evening and any of his last three Beyer Speed Figures are faster than the last-out numbers of all of tonight's opposition.  He has tactical speed and should be forwardly-placed from his far outside post.  The distance may be a question as his pedigree screams sprinter, but he's won around two turns, and need only stretch out another furlong here. 

First Regent (#5) is 20-1 on the morning line as he steps way up in class, but he looked okay drawing off to win his local debut by 6 1/2 lengths.  His new trainer, Allen Milligan, is 14-78 (18%, $2.31 ROI) over the last five years off the claim, and First Regent has a hint of back class (stakes-placed at Oaklawn as a three-year-old).  There may be enough speed to setup this veteran's late kick and his speed figures aren't that far off the par for this race (87).

Ashe's Cat (#3) didn't have the easiest trip when third against 'n4L' optional claimers last time out and I'm guessing he's going to try and make the front tonight.  The horse that beat Ashe's Cat by 3 1/4 lengths on October 24, Angelonmyshoulder, returned to finish second in the B-Connected Stakes at Delta on November 6 before winning a $62,500 optional claimer at Fair Grounds on December 4 with a 96 Beyer.  Ashe's Cat was claimed out of his last race by a barn that boasts 26% wins (88-342, $1.99 ROI) off the claim over the past five years.  He shows a string of five-furlong workouts and can be a solid pace factor here.

Takin' the Bullet (#4) has been overmatched in his last three starts as he took on star Louisiana-breds Star Guitar and Desert Wheat while still a three-year-old.  He should really appreciate the class relief presented to him tonight and he should be in the thick of things when the real running begins. 

As for the others:

Valid Stripes (#1) goes second off a long layoff and he can improve after pressing very fast fractions in the $100,000 Star of Texas Stakes (three next-out winners) at Sam Houston on December 5.  He has enough speed to make life tough on the other frontrunners, but he hasn't gained ground from the stretch call to the wire in his last five outings.  The three-time stakes winner can certainly take this, but another fast pace could leave him vulnerable late.

Senor Gold (#7), on the other hand, would benefit from a fast pace.  A late-running gelding, he failed to hit the trifecta against weaker last time out, and may be in a touch steep.  He is making his third start of the form cycle, but has yet to race past seven furlongs.

Sligo Joe (#6) can contend here.  He gamely battled back to defeat a pair of next-out winners three back at Louisiana Downs and wasn't disgraced when third to the streaking Harlan Street (returned to win the Delta Mile on 12/4 with a 92 Beyer and the Christmas Stakes at Mountaineer on 12/26 with a 95 Beyer) and the aforementioned Angelonmyshoulder.  He prefers to race close up so his destiny may lie with the fractions.

Hawk's Tunnel (#9) utilized similar off-the-pace tactics as Senor Gold when finishing ahead of that one on December 18, but it looks like this gelding needs everything to fall his way from a pace and race standpoint. 

Settler's Hawk (#8) is only 1 for his last 23 and hasn't shown much pop since front bandages were added to the equation.  The 8-year-old benefits from a hot pace, but may not be this good.

Headstart (#2) deserves a second look as he goes out for the high-percentage Steve Asmussen barn and is 3-4 over this oval.  He may work out a nice trip from midpack, but I'm hoping he's going to need a race in his first start since April. 

For HandiGambling, I'll play it like this:

$40 Exacta - Southern Image over First Regent (10-5)
$40 Exacta - Southern Image over Ashe's Cat (10-3)
$20 Exacta - Southern Image over Takin' the Bullet (10-4)

Best of luck to all.

Back next time with questions, comments, pp requests and more.