03/29/2014 10:15AM

Brad Free's Santa Anita handicapping notebook March 29

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Friday, March 28, review

Winners were not hard to find on a sleepy Friday.

Favorites won five of the eight races; the highest-paying winners – Bench Light ($12) in race 3 and Swift Eagle ($9.60) in race 5 – were from the same hot stable of trainer John Sadler. Both were turf miles. The past three days of racing, Sadler is 6 for 7.

Sadler entered two Saturday, but race 6 entrant Phantom Lover is a “dot horse.” That means a scratch was submitted. He is likely to come out. Moone’s My Name might be the only Sadler runner on Saturday, in race 7.

The race 5 win Friday by Swift Eagle was his first start since being claimed by Sadler from Paddy Gallagher. When a high-percentage stable claims from a low-percentage stable, handicappers must recognize the possibility for improvement. Through Friday, Gallagher was 2 for 32 at the meet; Sadler was 28 for 135.

As for the 1:32.61 clocking by $25,000 claiming winner Bench Light, it was the meet’s third-fastest turf mile. (Peace and Justice went 1:32.36 winning a N3X on Feb. 14; Winning Prize went 1:32.44 winning a Grade 1 on March 8). Bench Light earned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure.

Bench Light benefited from a blazing pace (45.25 seconds and 1:08.16), rallied from more than eight lengths back, and won going away. When the fractions are that fast, it does not matter where the rails are positioned. The rails were at 30 feet Friday, and deep closer Bench Light took advantage of the pace.

Apprentice Drayden Van Dyke, who has been riding only four months, won his 40th race in race 5. A seven-pound apprentice, his weight allowance is now five pounds. Van Dyke will ride as a five-pound bug until Jan. 19, the one-year anniversary of his fifth career win.

Miscellaneous notes:

* Rafael Bejarano returned from a three-day suspension and went straight to the winner’s circle his first mount back. Scarly Charly ($4.60) won race 1 for older maiden sprinters. Runner-up Mank, the second favorite, was in traffic much of the stretch and might have made it a race with a clean trip. Mank is 5, but appears to be sitting on a maiden win.

* The maiden This Cat’s Awesome was claimed for $40,000 from a dull fourth in race 4. But the claim by Troy Taylor later was voided when This Cat’s Awesome returned with a tendon injury. He goes back to trainer Gary Sherlock.

* When his main pace rival scratched two minutes to post for race 7, that left Pathway to Yes as the controlling speed in the N1X turf sprint for 3-year-olds. He took advantage, racing gate to wire. Speed has been holding on the hill.

The pace rival that scratched was Al Baz, an import that had shown speed in Europe. He was dead on the board (7-1 from a 9-2 morning line) at the time of the scratch. No specific reason was offered for the scratch. He reportedly “did not warm up properly.”

* The racetrack on Friday played normal and fair.

Horses to Watch

MANK
Trainer: John Shirreffs
Last race: March 28, 1st
Finish: 2nd by 2 1/4
Beyer: 81
A lightly raced 5-year-old maiden (four starts), he was blocked much of the stretch in this special-weight sprint. It was his second straight runner-up finish since returning from a two-year layoff. He appears to be sitting on a win.

UNCLE LUCK
Trainer: Art Sherman
Last race: March 28, 4th
Finish: 3rd by 2 1/4
Beyer: 62
A first-time starter in a California-bred maiden-40, this 3-years-old Pulpit gelding had a rough go. He veered in and bumped hard with a rival at the break, dropped to last, picked up momentum saving ground on the tu,rn and then finished with run. He galloped out strong past the wire in a promising debut.

Saturday, March 29, preview

Lone speed

The turf rails are coming down Saturday, from 30 feet to 8 feet. At 30 feet, front-runners often hold an advantage. But more important than rail position is pace. As evidenced Friday, rails-at-30 does not preclude closers from wining fast-pace turf races.

More important than rail position is pace. In that regard, lone front-runner Belle of the Fleet can win race 2 in gate-to-wire style. The turf sprint is an allowance for 3-year-old fillies, and Belle of the Fleet figures to be loose on the lead. She is 3-1 on the program.

Well bred

Race 3, a dirt sprint for maiden 3-year-old fillies, marks the debut of the 13th named foal from the brilliant filly Lakeway. Front Range, by Giant’s Causeway, is trained by Bob Baffert and listed as the 9-5 favorite. Front Range has worked well, in blinkers.

An interesting DRF Formulator statistic would apply to Front Range if she does go favored. The past five years, Baffert is 7 for 10 with debut 3-year-old fillies that start favored in special-weights.

Front Range’s dam, Lakeway, won four Grade 1’s in 1994, but her broodmare career was less successful. Though she was bred to Storm Cat, Seeking the Gold, Deputy Minister, and Unbridled’s Song, few of her foals achieved more than moderate success. Nine started, four won, and only one (Sluice) won a minor stakes.

The main rival for Front Range is Indian Safari, an Indian Charlie filly with terrific works for her debut for Mark Glatt. A second Baffert entrant is speedster Zensational Beauty.

Class drop

The $75,000 American Beauty is race 7, and Fanticola is the 5-2 favorite in the mile turf race for fillies and mares. Her final workout March 22 was a team work with Grade 1 winner Egg Drop. According to National Turf clocker Andy Harrington, Fanticola and Egg Drop finished together in the work.

Fanticola will “drop in class” Saturday (from the workout) when she faces non-graded company in the American Beauty.

Moone’s My Name also drops, from midpack finishes in graded stakes, with speed figures and a hot stable (Sadler) that make her a tempting alternative to the favorite. Moone’s My Name is listed at 5-1.

Overlay opportunity

The Grade 3 Tokyo City Cup is race 8 and offers an attractive opportunity to bet against vulnerable 5-2 favorite Blueskiesnrainbows. One reason for his perceived vulnerability is that Blueskiesnrainbows is using the $100,000 Tokyo City as a prep for the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic. No reason to be fully cranked Saturday in a prep race that is his first start in almost two months.

Secondly, Blueskiesnrainbows has been dull in morning works. According to National Turf, Blueskiesnrainbows did not finish well in his two most recent works.

There are two attractive alternatives to the favorite – Majestic Harbor (7-2) and Tiz Dynamic (5-1). Majestic Harbor has worked super since two good efforts against tougher; Tiz Dynamic continues to improve and might be the controlling speed depending on strategy employed by Blueskiesnrainbows.

A bold strategy would be to toss the favorite entirely and key Majestic Harbor and Tiz Dynamic in vertical wagers.