09/26/2013 5:07PM

Byron King: Strapping Groom should get more respect in Vosburgh Invitational

Tom Keyser
Strapping Groom enters the Vosburgh Invitational as the 5-1 fifth choice on the morning line.

Picture the wagering appeal of a runner starting Saturday with these credentials: a Grade 1 win last out, a 3-for-5 record over the surface on which the race will be run, three Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or higher over his last four races, and the tactical speed to sit first or second early, in prime position.

Such a horse, not facing any clear-cut division leader, surely would deserve to be favored.

Yet, Strapping Groom is not favored in Saturday’s Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont. He’s the fifth choice at 5-1.

Why? More than likely because Strapping Groom is a former claimer.

The betting public sees former claimers in stakes and usually regards them as cheap or somehow fluky – that their form cannot possibly hold. As a result, the odds on such runners typically are higher than they would have been had they never raced for a tag.

A horseplayer rarely can have everything in a horse he chooses to bet. Either accept some faults in a horse’s past performances or back a short-priced favorite, and even then, that is a huge fault: no value.

I’d rather take my chances on a former claimer like Strapping Groom, a horse whom trainer David Jacobson astutely claimed for $35,000 in May.

Admittedly, he is not a sure thing. As one would expect, there are some good sprinters in the Vosburgh – such as Forty Tales, Justin Phillip, Bahamian Squall, and Private Zone. And it isn’t lost on this handicapper that Strapping Groom’s most significant victory, in the Forego at Saratoga on Aug. 31, came on a sloppy track.

One could make the case that he handled the footing better than others. Saratoga can be a love-or-loath surface when it’s wet. But provided he doesn’t drop too far below his morning line – starting at 7-2 or higher – he still seems like a risk worth taking.

Awesome Baby should rebound

As at Belmont on Saturday, Santa Anita’s card is a horseplayer’s delight, with five Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup preps.

Among the most appealing is the Chandelier Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, a race in which beaten Del Mar Debutante favorite Awesome Baby should show significant improvement over her last race.

A quick winner at first asking Aug. 4 at Del Mar, she subsequently disappointed when breaking from the fence and dueling for the lead in the Del Mar Debutante, fading to seventh.

Now, she stretches out in distance to a route, and my hope is that some bettors will look elsewhere, figuring she doesn’t get the distance. At least I hope that’s what they think – because fading in a sprint doesn’t necessarily mean a horse is doomed to weaken more in a route. A route is different, played at a slower pace.

Awesome Baby has the pedigree to relish going long, being by Awesome Again – something that can’t be said of Del Mar Debutante winner She’s a Tiger, a half to crack sprinter Smiling Tiger by speed sire Tale of the Cat.

Even-money in the Del Mar Debutante, Awesome Baby is 4-1 on the morning line for the Chandelier, and with trainer Bob Baffert keeping the faith and still having her on the path to the Breeders’ Cup, a form reversal of the Del Mar Debutante looks to be in order.

Joyful Victory likes Santa Anita

Lastly, Joyful Victory is my selection to win the Zenyatta Stakes, the race that serves as Santa Anita’s prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Managed successfully this year with a campaign emphasizing spacing between races, she has performed at a much higher level than in 2012. She has won three of four races this year, including the Grade 1 Santa Margarita over the Santa Anita strip in March.

In addition to that race, she was second in the 2012 Zenyatta at Santa Anita, providing further evidence of her affinity for the track surface.

She also seems favorably drawn in the Zenyatta, outside the other two principal speed horses, Beholder and Authenticity. From post 7, she has the natural speed to get involved from the start but not be forced into going too quickly under regular jockey Rosie Napravnik.

Whether she is an adequate price to support a win wager remains to be seen, as she already is at 2-1 on the morning line, but horseplayers looking for a single in the multirace gimmicks Saturday at Santa Anita will want to give her long consideration.