12/17/2012 6:12PM

Fair Grounds: Classy Zip offers shaky value

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It’s a twisted situation a handicapper regularly encounters: Classy Zip might be the best horse in the featured eighth race Wednesday at Fair Grounds, yet she also looks like a bad bet.

The 4-year-old filly, trainer Hugh McMahon’s second starter of his first Fair Grounds meet, is admirably consistent: In 11 grass races she has finished worse than third only once. She nearly always hews to her baseline high-end allowance or low-end stakes form, a snug fit for the allowance conditions of the Wednesday feature, a 5 1/2-furlong turf race also open to $62,500 claimers.

Yet those 11 grass starts have yielded only one victory, that in a heavily restricted $50,000 stakes race in August 2011, a victory that also was Classy Zip’s most recent trip to the winner’s circle. Classy Zip also drew the rail and was shipped from Maryland to New Orleans sometime since a Dec. 10 workout at Laurel. And keeping all these factors in mind, the 8-5 morning-line price feels lower than fair.

Next problem: Finding a suitable alternative. Seven other fillies and mares were entered, but none jumps out. Palazzo Babe – one of two entrants, along with Monono, trained by Michelle Lovell – won a Fair Grounds turf sprint at this class level Nov. 30, but in so doing beat a Louisiana-bred 3-year-old filly by a mere nose. This field, while not great, is better.

Sam’s Bliss and Seeking Ms Shelley both would be easier to back on dirt than turf. Sam’s Bliss won a Fair Grounds grass sprint two seasons ago, but was fourth and sixth in two such races this past March, and subsequently has performed better on dirt, including a solid third-place finish in a listed Churchill stakes Nov. 23.

Seeking Ms Shelley has won 9 of 16 races and has finished worse than third only once in her career. It also bears noting that she turns 7 in couple of weeks, and has raced twice in 2012 after a three-start 2011. And while Seeking Ms Shelley has won three times on turf, she has finished no better than third on the Fair Grounds grass.

Vera Belle and Tweedy look slightly overmatched, which, by process of elimination, could lead a handicapper to Smartys Emperoress. The lightly raced 4-year-old hasn’t raced since she finished second in a Churchill turf-sprint stakes in May, but she came back from a layoff about this time last year with two good performances in Florida. The turf rail will be placed 10 feet outside lane 1 Wednesday, a configuration that can help closers like Smartys Emperoress. And her 10-1 morning-line odds are a lot more appealing than the 8-5 on a flawed contender like Classy Zip.