04/13/2010 6:20PM

HG 181 (KEE turf sprint)

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Wednesday's HandiGambling 181 exercise is the eighth race from Keeneland, a 'n2x' allowance for older horses going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. 

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.  Please post your plays and analysis to the blog. In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference.  One entry per person please.  I reserve the right to approve or deny any entries.

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.

Since I'm posting this the night before due to "double secret work detail," there are no program changes at this time.

I was going to pick AFFIRMATIF (#4) in last Saturday's Shakertown at Keeneland, but trainer Todd Pletcher opted for this much-weaker spot, and Affirmatif very much looks like the horse to beat.  After earning a 100 Beyer Speed Figure in his career debut going a mile on turf at Gulfstream last year, Affirmatif had to be considered an underachieving disappintment for much of his 2009 campaign.  Sure, he earned Beyer Speed Figures of 90 or over in five of his seven starts, but he wasn't visually impressive in many of his races, and bombed at odds of 7-2 or less on four occasions. 
Affirmatif was a hulking horse at three, prone to bouts of inexperienced behavior on the racetrack.  He's been away for seven months and it's possible that he needed the time for his mind to catch up with his body.  The very helpful "Keeneland Clocker Report" on the Keeneland website noted that Affirmatif "was going well on own in splits of 23.3 - 47.3" for the April 8 drill. 
Andy Serling mentioned in the drfplus video for the Shakertown that Pletcher is only 1-19 over the past five years with turf sprinters returning from similar layoffs.

Affirmatif should be tough despite the layoff, but he figures around 6-5 or shorter at post time.  In an attempt to improve his price potential, I'll go fishing for a couple of others to complete the exacta. 
It's possible that this CONNECTICUT YANKEE (#6) was in King Arthur's Court as he hasn't visited the starter in over a year.  Although only 1-9 on dirt, Connecticut Yankee did win his maiden on polytrack at Keeneland in 2008, and wasn't disgraced (career-best speed figure) in his lone turf start to date.  That day, October 24, 2008, he chased three-time stakes-winner English Colony in that one's gate-to-wire gambit.  Both of his lifetime wins have come following layoff lines (albeit none of this length), and Connecticut Yankee may show fresh speed in a turf sprint that, surprisingly, doesn't boast a ton of early lick.   Boy, I'm hoping that WHITLEY (#2) isn't using this turf sprint off the layoff as merely a prep for something longer.  It seemed like that was the plan last June at Churchill Downs when he finished seventh of nine in a five-furlong, entry-level allowance only to return a month later to finish a decent third going long at Saratoga.  Whitley may be compromised by the expected moderate fractions, but he's run some good races on the grass in his career.  If Robby Albarado can get him moving at the right time, Whitley can get a piece of this.  For the March 28 workout, the Keeneland Clocker Report noted that he "came home nicely for a last quarter in 24."  The April 3 workout, while quicker on the clock, may not be as promising. It was reported that Whitley finished two length's behind Cauy's Humor, a four-year-old filly that won her debut here last spring and hasn't raced since.  Another possible negative - trainer Rusty Arnold is only 1 for his last 37 with turf sprinters.   If Affirmatif isn't ready to fire, then EVACUATION ROUTE (#1) may be the best one to capitalize.  A lightly-raced gelding, he raced in excellent form at the Fair Grounds this winter, and will now make the third start of the form cycle with improving speed figures on display.  Only two horses have returned from the March 22 race that Evacuation Route won at Fair Grounds.  One finished second in an entry-level allowance over Woodbine's polytrack with an 84 Beyer while the other won an entry-level optional claimer on dirt at Oaklawn with an 85.  Both are trained by Steve Asmussen.  Evacuation Route figures to run well here.
KNOCK OUT CAT (#3) figures to be on or near the lead and his career-best "fig" came in his lone start on turf (of the eight horses to return from that race, seven hit the board next-out).  That race was over a year, and three trainers, ago and Knock Out Cat hasn't beaten the count of ten in his last three races.  

SPANISH BARON (#5) hasn't been out since winning an entry-level optional claimer over Arlington's polytrack in August.  The second-, third, and fourth-place finishers that afternoon (including Stephen Taylor's recent claim, Galloping Gulch) all returned to run second next-out.  Note that trainer Andrew McKeever is 0 for his last 23 with horses returning from similar layoffs. 

CUBAN MISSILE (#7) has speed, but one has to wonder if he's better on synthetic surfaces than he is on the grass.  He hasn't been out since October and he tired badly (at longer distances) in both previous grass outings.  Expect him to be close to the pace in this spot despite turning back in distance, and in his most recent start, he finished ahead of Successful Mission (88 Beyer next-out in a turf sprint).  Trainer Doug Matthews is 0-16 over the past five years going synthetic to turf. 

CLAPHAM (#8) won a similar turf sprint over yielding Keeneland sod during the fall meet, but was beaten double-digits in his subsequent three outings, and has been away since early January.  He has a hint of early speed and has been facing some tough optional claimers over Turfway's polytrack in recent starts. 

FRANKS PROSPECTER (#9) looks up against it for his turf debut.  He exits an Ohio-bred 'n2L' win at Beulah, but is still looking for his first Beyer of 55 or higher in his 16th lifetime start.  Two of the four horses he beat on March 23 returned to finish seventh...with a best Beyer of 35.    Here's how I'll play it:   $50 Exacta - Affirmatif - Connecticut Yankee (4-6)
$50 Exacta - Affirmatif - Whitley (4-2)   Best of luck to all!