02/10/2010 2:56PM

HG 172 (Gulfstream Starter Allowance)

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Today's HandiGambling 172 exercise is the eighth race from Gulfstream Park, a $40,000 starter allowance for older horses at 6 1/2 furlongs. 

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.

As of this writing, the track is fast.  Let's scratch Another Success (#1).

I don't feel very strongly about this race at all.  I've narrowed it down to three contenders that I would use in multi-race wagers. 

Dramatic Trip (#2)seems like an enigma.  What do we make of the recent 98 Beyer Speed Figure over course and distance?  If he runs back to that race, despite the presence of other speed horses to his outside, he should win another.  But was the drastic improvement due to racing on a sealed, sloppy track, or has Dramatic Trip simply improved since trainer David Fawkes removed blinkers three starts back (resulting in two wins on dirt and a close sixth on grass)?  He seems like the fastest leaving the gate, and should be a strong pace factor once again, but there are questions to consider on fast going.

Chief Bear (#6) looked so good winning a conditioned claimer around two turns at Woodbine on August 23 that I touted him to upset the Grade 3 Durham Cup at 16-1 in his subsequent start.  That race didn't turn out so well as he faded to last after chasing the pace.  The knock on Chief Bear is that his best running has come in polytrack routes, and this is a main track sprint (0-7 on dirt, 0-5 in sprints).  The pace scenario may work to this stalker/closer's favor, but let's note that trainer Barbara Pirie is 0 for her last 42 in sprint races.  Chief Bear is taking a drop in class out of a solid race (the runner-up from the January 8 race, Jet Set Vinny, returned to run second with a career-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure), and should be charging hard late. 

Red Elephant (#4) is a lightly-raced gelding with hope for upside potential, but he hasn't been out since July when he was under the whip a long way out as the beaten 9-10 favorite.  That race hasn't come back strong as of the four horses to race again, only one cracked the top three in their next outings (two horses did win their second starts following this race), and none reached an 80 Beyer in those races.  Red Elephant has the tactical speed to work out a nice trip just behind the leaders, but the layoff does concern (even with Kelly Breen showing a 3-11 record with similar layoff runners over the last two years)..

As for the others:

Grand Bailout (#3)steps up off a solid longshot win over $30,000 maiden claimers over course and distance.  Perhaps the addition of blinkers was all that was necessary to turn this horse around, or perhaps the switch to dirt did the trick.  Whatever it was, Grand Bailout earned a competitive Beyer Speed Figure, and may have enough tactical speed to stay close to the early leaders.  Of the four horses to exit that maiden claiming race on January 13, none have won, but two returned to hit the board (best Beyer 68).  I'd like to see him do it again before I'm completely convinced.

Greatbillsoffire (#5)went gate-to-wire around two turns in his final start of 2009, and may have been a bit short going a one-turn mile in his first start of the meet.  He showed an affinity for this surface last year, but his preferred running style is to be on or near the lead, and there may be simply too much pace for him to deal with if he goes that route this afternoon.  On a positive note, that was a pretty salty field Greatbillsoffire faced for $32,000 on January 20.  The winner, It's Never Too Late earned a 97 Beyer in defeating backclassers Rehoboth (580K in earnings), Cuba (747K in earnings, returned to finish second for $25,000), and Lord Snowdon (511K in earnings).

Sharpsburg Shuffle (#7) has good early speed, but has been away since May.  His only career win came in the slower division of $40,000 maiden claimers last April over Keeneland's polytrack, and only two of the seven horses to come out of that May 16 race at Arlington returned to hit the board next time.  He draws a comfortable outside post position, but a early pace battle would likely doom him to minor award status.  Note that Rusty Arnold has a sharp record of 8-34 over the last two years with horses returning from similar layoffs.

Valentino's Trick (#8) has good speed and may be the one most likely to hassle Dramatic Trip from the get-go.  He just missed in his last two races at Philadelphia Park after controlling the pace from the outset, and it will be interesting to see how  Edgar Prado attacks this race from the outside post.  Does he try to conserve a bit, or does he go after Dramatic Trip right away?  The winner of that November 24 race returned to run second in a similar $25,000 starter allowance at Philly with a career-high 77 Beyer, and Valentino's Trick's trainer, Terri Pompay, shows a flat-bet profit with similar layoff runners over the past four years.

Fun race, but one that I probably won't do too much with in "real life."

For HG purposes, I'll play it this way:

$50 Exacta - Dramatic Trip - Red Elephant (2-4)
$50 Exacta - Dramatic Trip - Chief Bear (2-6)

Best of luck to all