12/18/2010 12:57PM

W. L. McKnight Handicap, CashCall Futurity


One of the best betting races of the weekend may be the W. L. McKnight Handicap at Calder on Saturday. 

The 1 1/2-mile turf event features a full field of marathoners that have, for the most part, taken turns beating up on each other throughout the year.  Backclassers like Telling and Presious Passion figure to take their share of money, as will the talented, but fragile, Musketier.  I'm going to take a stab with a price horse in this race.

W. L. McKnight Handicap - Calder - Race 11 - Turf FIRM - Scratch #7 (Black Scorpion):

Free Fighter isn't the most consistent runner in the world, but he's good enough to win the McKnight on his very best day.  Trained by the underrated Chris Block, Free Fighter looked good when defeating Telling at this distance in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap back in May.  Since then, he's underperformed while giving the impression that he's a tough horse to ride.  Often, he'd make premature early moves that seemed to take the starch out of his stretch kick.  Last time out, he was in with a chance at Keeneland, but failed to punch it in during the final quarter-mile.  Because his last few races don't look so hot, he'll be a big price, but he's tactical enough to get the jump on the truly late-running types in this field.  I find it interesting that Block goes to jockey Carlos Marquez Jr. for this race.  Although the two haven't paired up in a long time, it's notable that the duo is 16-53 (30%, $3.75 ROI) over the past five years, according to Formulator statistics. 
Telling drops out of the Breeders' Cup Turf, but that race didn't look very strong on paper after the defection of morning line favorite Workforce, and Telling doesn't show a published move in almost three weeks.  If you take away Telling's two wins in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer over the Saratoga inner turf, you'd have to go all the way back to May 16, 2008 (his turf debut) to get his last victory. 
Presious Passion is a true fan favorite, and he'll be on the engine once again.  If the good Presious Passion shows up, the others could be running for second money only, but the good Presious Passion hasn't been seen on the racetrack since February.  He just hasn't looked the same since his poor showing as the favorite in the Dubai Sheema Classic. 
Horses like Memorial Maniac (dropping out of two Grade 1 races in Canada), Bold Hawk (third start following a long, injury-induced layoff), Rescue Squad (could be another late-developing Phipps homebred), and Simmard (back on firm going) also merit consideration.  Prince Will I Am may have the most upside of any, but could be up against it as a true one-run closer.
Selections:  Free Fighter, Bold Hawk, Simmard

I really wanted to bet Hillswick in the seventh race at Aqueduct this afternoon, but four horses have already scratched out, and Hillswick's price should be adversely affected.  I still prefer him to Black Pen, who may go off the favorite based on his triple-digit Beyer from two starts back.

The CashCall Futurity doesn't feature the stars of the juvenile division, but it looks like a good betting race.  Unfortunately, I don't have a strong opinion.  I'd use the following three horses in multi-race wagers.
Gourmet Dinner may have improved with the addition of blinkers in the Delta Jackpot, but he was probably aided by a quick pace up front in a field that featured several distance-challenged performers.  The switch to cushion track is a question mark, but Gourmet Dinner may get another nice setup, and he is proven at the distance.
I'm not sure that J P's Gusto can handle the distance as he looked pretty tired in the waning stages of the Norfolk, but I wouldn't be surprised if the connections try to rate him in the hope of saving his zip for late.  He gets one more chance to prove himself around two turns. 
Clubhouse Ride may be the surprise package.  Third in the Jackpot, he might appreciate switching back to synthetics.  It looks like the son of Candy Ride has put it together in his last couple of races. 

As for some of the other races this afternoon, here are quick and dirty picks:

Gravesend:  Driven by Success, Endless Circle, Ravalo
Prairie Bayou:  Stately Victor, Hurta, Dynamite Bob

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

Back with questions and comments early next week.